It all started last summer.
Our next-door neighbours have been engaged on a lengthy and all-encompassing renovation project in their house, which included replacing one of their wood-burning stoves. The stove they took out was not very old, and in excellent condition, so we asked if we could buy it* to fit into our fireplace, and thus be rid of the 1970s sandstone crazy paving fireplace which I have loathed since the day we first viewed the house.
I've been looking through my photos to see if I ever took one of it, but I think I must have tried to crop it out whenever I used a camera in there, as it was so awful. I did manage to capture the magic of a new log burner being installed, though.
Once the chimney breast was denuded of the horrible yellow "stone" and given a new coat of plaster, the rest of the room suddenly looked dreadful in comparison.
Mr WithaY and I had several earnest discussions about What Actually Needs Doing In Here, and each time the list grew longer. By the start of this year we had decided that the answer to the question "What do we need to sort out" was "Everything, including the electrics." Time to make some phone calls, then.
The first person to call in any event of this nature, as longer-term readers will know, is Kevin the Decorator. He came round, looked at the walls and ceiling, listened to our plans and then said "Yeah, I can do all that. Not the plastering though. I'll give you my mate's number, he's a good plasterer."
So we called the plasterer. He came round, looked at the walls and ceiling and said "Yeah, I can do all that. Not taking down the ceiling though. It'll be much cheaper if you take the ceiling down yourselves." Mr WithaY and I nodded in agreement. Neither of us has very much experience taking down ceilings, but really, how hard could it be?
I said "At least you don't have to plaster the wall above the fireplace, that's only been done recently." The plasterer ran his hand over it with narrowed eyes before opining "Yeah. But to be honest, it's a bit shit, isn't it?" Reader, it was indeed a bit shit. We opted to have the whole room skimmed.
Once the first blow has been struck, there is no going back.
The first cut really was the deepest. Then it was a festival of hammers and crowbars, and the unstinting practical assistance of our next-door neighbour, who is clearly a bit bored now he's finished renovating his own house.
Mr WithaY spent a couple of days removing nails from the joists, channelling all the electrical and hi-fi cabling where it will be out of sight, and left the room in a fit state for the plasterer to work his magic.
In the meantime, Simon the Electrician came round. I like Simon. He is a thoughtful man, prone to long silences when you ask him questions while he thinks deeply about the answer. He knows his stuff, and takes electrical things very seriously. I asked him why he was so meditative in conversation, and commented that he really does like to consider his options before replying. He looked at me for a long moment, before saying: "That's because with plumbing, if you get it wrong you get a wet floor. With electrics, if you get it wrong, the house burns down."
I hadn't though of it in those terms, and with that in the back of his mind all the time, I can understand why he takes a while to get his ducks in a row.
Anyhoo, Simon the Electrician plumbed in cables and so on for the new lighting we decided to install, and went away until there was a ceiling in place he could cut holes in.
And Lo! There was a new ceiling. And it was good.
The plasterer came back, and in what felt like record time we had smooth walls and a ceiling with no visible lumps and bumps.
A few days for the plaster to dry, Simon the Electrician returned to fit the new lights (with dimmer switches! How posh are we?) and then Kevin the Decorator was back, transforming the room into something which feels like home again.
We moved a chair back in there so Mr WithaY had somewhere to sit and review stuff for work. I think it feels a bit cluttered now, to be honest. Maybe the dog basket could go somewhere else.
The ceiling and walls above the picture rail are the same shade of pale green, and the walls below are a darker shade, which looks absolutely gorgeous. I am very excited about getting our furniture back in there.
We went for Farrow and Ball paint, which left me in a froth of anxiety about being That Woman, but apparently they are top quality and look superb, so I am prepared to suffer the opprobrium of being middle class as fuck.
I've been in touch with a company who renovate parquet floors, and they will (I hope) be getting back to me to let me know when they could come and restore ours to shiny, non-damaged loveliness.
The downside to all this industry, apart from the GAAAAH HOW MUCH cost of it all, is that the house is almost uninhabitable. The kitchen is full of furniture (coffer, coffee table, drinks cabinet, multiple sofa cushions, various electronic items), as is the spare bedroom (blinds, curtains, rug, ornaments, clock), Mr WithaY's study (upended sofa, huge box of DVDs, CD cabinet) and the hallway (upended sofa.)
There's nowhere to sit and eat a meal. We've been either going out to eat, or pretending we're students/in a hotel and eating upstairs in the bedroom, which is not as much fun as you might think.
The dog has found it all a bit trying, I imagine. She has taken to coming upstairs to sleep at night - usually she is not allowed upstairs - but as the house is in chaos I am allowing it for now. The downside to that is that she tends to wander up and downstairs in the middle of the night, and if you get up to use the bathroom (women of a certain age blah blah) at 4am, she leaps up, cavorting around you while she wags joyfully, imagining that you might be about to do something fun. Idiot.
HOWEVER. The end is in sight. The curtains are at the dry cleaner's, the painting is almost finished, the furniture will soon be rid of its thick caking of dust.
Once everything is moved back into the room, we are going to look at the vast WithaY art collection and decide what we want to hang on the walls. There are several new items from JAPAN (we went, it was great, we're going back, more on this anon) which will be framed and hung as a group, as well as some of the pictures which were in there previously.
Doing all this - the last time we decorated was in 2003, there was a date and our names written in the wall under the wallpaper** - has made me feel much more positive about making changes to the rest of the house and garden. Sometimes you can get a bit stuck in your environment, and it feels like it's impossible to move on. This has been like opening a window in a stuffy room, allowing fresh air in.
In the mean time, our kitchen table looks like this.
Don't judge me.
*As they are the best neighbours imaginable, they gave it to us as a present.
**Prior to that it was 1975, by the previous owners I assume.