garden viewed through open doors

I was looking for a house for quite a while. I wanted something in the same locality near my work and viewed about 5 -10 houses.

This is the only one I put an offer on.

An elderly couple were living here with their son. The house just wasn’t working for them at their stage of life. I think one of them had been quite ill.

The house was old-fashioned. The carpets were very swirly… patterned… and there was an old stone fireplace.

That fireplace was the elderly man’s pride and joy – because he had built it himself. Probably in its day it was pretty good, but it was very old fashioned.

The kitchen footprint was very small.

There was only a breakfast bar in it so the three of them would have eaten their main meals in the front living room on a dropleaf table.

kitchen with money plant

When I moved in twenty years ago there were no expectations then that you would have all new furniture and everything at once.

It was just about ‘having’ a house. Not necessarily having it ‘perfect’.

The first few nights I remember lying in bed thinking it was exciting ‘being’ in my new house. I had a sense:  this is mine.  But it wasn’t the way I wanted it.

I was also worried about mortgage payments. That was on my mind… can I afford to pay for all this?

But you get by.

You have plans in your head about what you are going to do with it.. but sometimes life takes over. Those plans don’t happen as quickly as you want.

When I got married my husband moved in and we did some decorating – nothing structural. Just maintaining it.

wood burning stove in house

When I first bought the house it was mine and I enjoyed it – despite its old-fashioned appearance. Then, when the relationship broke down, coming home didn’t give me the same pleasure.

In that period I probably lost interest in making any changes to the house – because I was dealing with so much more.

That was like a defining period.

My enjoyment of the house wasn’t good. I found myself trying not to spend as much time in the house and  spending more time with other people, family, friends.

reflections of house through window

Then – at the same time as I was going through the divorceI had the cancer diagnosis.

Because I was having my cancer treatment through the winter it was quite nice to get into the bath and relax my muscles.

I remember … near the second last chemo treatment – an accumulation of the cycles – I felt really, really awful. My body felt like that of an old person.

I was in so much pain and aching and feeling rotten – and angry – at the same time.

Then I remember looking up at the mould and the awful bathroom –  that I hadn’t done anything to –  and had a wee cry. I started to feel a bit sorry for myself.

And I thought: this is the first thing I’m going to change. I’m going to get this the way I want it. That’s the one thing I’m going to do when this is all sorted.

And I did it.

view of  living area in house

Once it was done, anytime anyone came in I’d say: “come in and have a look at the bathroom”.

The rest of the house was crap but my bathroom was shining.

I remember the guy who was fitting the bathroom said: ‘don’t you worry, I’m going to make this lovely for you.”

I thought.. that’s really nice.

Although it was still ‘my house’, but for some reason at that time I became more security conscious.

 I just wanted to make sure the door was locked and I was inside and secure.

This was my space. My house.

I started to reclaim it, after having shared it.

detail of kitchen countertop and door frame in renovated house

Once all the legal issues were resolved I knew I had the go-ahead to refurbish it.

I had been saving up for this and I did a lot of research myself from the internet, looking at magazines for ideas.

This is a single storey bungalow but there’s more land around the house than the actual footprint of the house. The house had no storage and I didn’t really know how to create ‘the space’.

I couldn’t get my head around the concept of how to do it – or what way to build out or what would be the best design.

I enjoy cooking and having people round and I wanted an en-suite and a better kitchen. A couple of architects I registered online with gave me some ideas. Using a combination of their ideas I then went with one architect.

He suggested  to flip the layout of the house putting my utility room over there and converting the bedroom into the kitchen.

My original kitchen.. were the cupboards were hanging off was a disaster!

In my head I could justify buying a new kitchen because I hadn’t wasted any money doing an upgrade.

kitchen in renovated house

For ideas I was using Pinterest, Houzz  and went to a couple of kitchen places.

One of my work colleagues said to come and see her new kitchen.

Her experience with the kitchen design people was really positive. The guy who designed it gave me some really good ideas. Once they do the design you start to see how everything else will fit.

kitchen cupboards in renovated house

I knew I wanted clean lines, no grooves in my cupboards… and something that would bounce the light, either a cream or a porcelain. This is ‘porcelain’. And not too difficult to keep clean –  just wipe down.

The island? It’s actually grey but it looks more like a mushroom colour.

It wasn’t that difficult…. I think if you are given too much choice it’s harder.

You take advice from the people in the kitchen shop. For me, probably the hardest part was agreeing my counter top. I had seen other people’s… and my parents had granite – which had seams – and I wanted one that didn’t have any seams.

reflections on kitchen tiles in house

The first day, when the work began, the builder said: ‘there’s an awful lot of digging out here’. So they had to get a digger.

I had to organise 20 ton skips –  I actually needed three of those in one day.

I thought: “Oh My God!” Where is all this money going… if it keeps going like this  on Day One. That was a bit stressful.

But it all calmed down after that.

I was on site every day. I could call up after work and was very involved with project management.

The build was a new focus for me after the cancer. I had a builder, then an electrician, and then a plumber. They all came at slightly different times.

The builder kept me right.

wooden floor view to garden

At the point when they knocked down the wall of the bedroom and built out… I could see the size and I thought: this is going to be really good.

And when they built up the wall for the utility room.

I got excited at different times. When they put the kitchen in it was great… and the floor tiles after that.

bedroom reflected in slide robes

Before this I didn’t have any storage.

To make a wardrobe in the main bedroom I decided to move the wall and make the spare bedroom smaller.  It’s a long wardrobe with built-in storage at the side with shelving. It means you can just put everything away and there’s storage at the top.

Now, I am a bit more conscious of trying to keep the place tidy. It makes you want to keep things minimal and not have a lot of clutter.

Tv and new white shelving in renovated house

I was fixated with Pinterest and Houzz- continually  looking up storage and cabinets for places where your TV could go.

There are two alcoves in my living room. I thought I would convert one with a set of shelves and cupboards.

It just makes it cleaner looking. 

sitting room with stove in renovated house

Now, that room is bright and  light and I’m happy to go in there.

The only thing is the sofa is a wee bit old, but I’ll get to that eventually.

peaches on counter with reflections

I can still remember how I felt during my illness. But sometimes it seems far in the past.

When you haven’t done the changes and renovations quickly you appreciate it all the more. It was definitely what kept me going.

The one thing you do learn is that you don’t have an endless pot of  money. But I was determined: if I can get through this ….I can do this.

Sometimes you are better to live in it and get a feel for it  and plan ahead what you want to do.

When I first got the house I felt really good. I’ve got my own house. I felt grown up.

Then there was the period when I really didn’t enjoy being in the house. Then, when I was ill, I liked the safety of the house and  I was reconnecting with it again – although it was a really bad shape, very old fashioned and had not much done to it.

Now that I’ve done it up to the way that I like, I really enjoy coming home to it. I don’t dread coming in.

renovated house with doors to garden

If I’m in the house I spend most of my time here, because it’s bright… maybe reading or doing something on the internet. When family are around we would all come in here to cook and eat and talk.

When mum and dad are here, mum likes to sit in the front room – now that I’ve done it up. Where she is there is not a lot going on in the road so she loves sitting on the chair and looking out the window.

There’s quite a lot going on here at the front, it takes the boredom out of it for her. At Christmas and get-togethers everybody’s here and they just chill out.

new sofas in renovated  house

Coming home makes me feel happy. When I walk in the front door and walk through here it’s lovely, really bright and airy.

The space is amazing and the light. Even in the middle of the night sometimes… it’s lovely; really, really peaceful.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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