garden viewed through open doors

I was looking for quite a while and wanted something in the same locality near my work. I viewed about 5 -10 houses and this is the only one I put an offer on.

An elderly couple lived here with their son. It 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.

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

The kitchen footprint was very small and there was a breakfast bar in it – the 3 of them would have eaten their main meals in the front living room, on a dropleaf table.

kitchen with money plant

This was 20 years ago. There were no expectations then that you had to have all new furniture and everything at once. it was just about ‘having’ a house – not necessarily having it perfect.

The first few nights you are lying in bed thinking….  It was exciting, in your new house, but it wasn’t the way you want it. I was worried about mortgage payments. It was on my mind… can I afford to pay for all this? But you get by.

There was a sense:  this is mine. And you have plans in your head, what you are going to do. But sometimes life takes over and 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

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

So, 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 through window

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

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 …it was near the second last chemo treatment, an accumulation of the cycles.  I felt really, really awful. I just felt my body was that of an old person. I was in so much pain and aching and feeling rotten. I was angry at the same time. And I started to feel a bit sorry for myself.

I remember looking up at the mould and the awful bathroom –  that I hadn’t done anything to –  and had a wee cry. 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.

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.

It was still ‘my house’, but for some reason, I became more security conscious.  I just wanted to make sure the door was locked and I was inside and secure. It was my space. My house. I started to reclaim it after having shared it.

kitchen countertop and door frame

I had been saving up and  once all the legal issues were resolved I knew I had the go-ahead to refurbish it. I did a lot of research myself from the internet, looking at magazines for ideas.

It’s a single storey bungalow but there’s more land around the house than the actual footprint of the house. There was 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 wanted a better kitchen. I enjoy cooking and having people round and I wanted an en-suite. I registered online to get quotes from a couple of architects. They gave me ideas and I used a combination of their ideas and 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.. the cupboards were hanging off. It was a disaster! I could justify in my head buying a new kitchen because I hadn’t wasted any money doing an upgrade.

new kitchen cupboards and oven

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

Some from work 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.

I knew I wanted clean lines, no grooves in my cupboards… something that would bounce the light, either a cream or a porcelain. These are ‘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. Probably the hardest part was agreeing my counter top. I had seen other people’s. My parents had granite. It had seams and I wanted one that didn’t have any seams.

reflections on kitchen tiles

The first day I remember, 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. I was very involved with project management. The build was a new focus to help me get through 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 and 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….

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

I didn’t have any storage before. To make a wardrobe for 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 and I got sliderobes built. It means you can just put everything away. And there’s storage at the top.

I would be a bit more conscious of trying to keep it tidy. It makes you want to keep things minimal and not have a lot of clutter.

Tv and new white shelving

I was fixated with Pinterest and Houzz,  looking up storage and cabinets where your TV could go. I had two alcoves in my living room. I thought I would use one of them and maybe convert it with a set of shelves and cupboards. It just makes it cleaner looking. 

It’s bright and  light and I’m happy to go in there now. 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 so far in the past. I think you appreciate it more when you haven’t done the changes and renovations quickly. It was definitely that what kept me going. I was determined: if I can get through this ….I can do this…

The one thing you do learn is that you don’t have an endless pot of  money. 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 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, she 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.

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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