Learning on the Job
Henry Hudson and Holly Johnson’s newly renovated Victorian house is a prime example of what can be achieved on a DIY basis and on a tight budget
ON THE COVER A newly renovated Victorian house is a prime example of what can be achieved on a DIY basis — and on a tight budget
Even as first-time buyers, Henry Hudson and Holly Johnson could see past the neglected state of the Victorian house that they have transformed into a fresh, bright home that embraces the property’s original features.
“I basically got dragged here against my will,” laughs Holly when asked how they first came across the Victorian house she and partner Henry now call home. “We were living in rented accommodation and at first we almost totally dismissed it due to the amount of work it needed — but once we properly looked around it I liked it straight away.”
“I just saw all the technical challenges and how much there was to do,” says Henry of the house, in Melbourne, Derbyshire. “Holly saw the value in all the original features.”
The property was just about habitable when they moved in. That said, for the first month, Henry and Holly were able to remain living in their rented home while a new central heating system was installed. They then set out on their renovation project on an almost completely DIY basis.
“When we first moved in, the house was just a building site,” says Holly. “There was not even a sink downstairs and instead of a bathroom upstairs there was just a weird little space with a basin, toilet and bidet!”
A DIY Renovation
Henry and Holly knew from the outset that they would carry out all the work on the house that they could themselves, only hiring in tradespeople where completely necessary. “We used just four trades,” says Henry. “A plumber, one builder to remove structural walls, an electrician and a plasterer — the rest we did ourselves. We did also ask a local joiner to create replicas of some of the original skirting boards that couldn’t be saved.”
Originally a four bedroom house, Henry and Holly made the decision to sacrifice the fourth bedroom in order to create an upstairs bathroom. “We stole some space from the adjoining bedroom by moving the wall between the rooms slightly,” says Henry. “Although we only gained around 750mm in the new bathroom, it has made it more of a useable space.”
The couple also decided to undertake the rather sizeable task of removing the entire chimney stack that ran up from the living and dining rooms through the bedroom and into the loft — all in the name of creating additional space in the now-smaller third bedroom.
With little in the way of a modern kitchen, Holly and Henry became used to preparing microwave meals in the bedrooms while they removed the wall that separated the kitchen and dining room and went about creating the fresh, classic kitchen diner that has replaced what was there.
“We had to dig out around 12 tonnes of soil from the kitchen by hand,” says Henry. “There had been black and red original quarry tiles laid directly on earth so we needed to add insulation and also a DPC [damp-proof course].”
In place of the old quarry tiled floor – which was saved and painstakingly relaid in the new downstairs WC by Henry – a timber floor has been laid.
“The kitchen is a bit of a hybrid,” continues Henry. “We have combined freestanding painted units from a kitchen company with an island and larder unit which were made by a local joiner.”
“It did feel stressful just before we finished work on the kitchen,” admits Holly. “We’d been living off microwave meals for such a long time, it was hard to have visitors and it did become a little bit depressing — we’d forgotten what a ‘normal’ life was!”
Sticking to a Tight Budget
With a limited budget of just £45,000, Henry and Holly were very methodical about the build, carefully sticking to a detailed budget. “The only thing we hadn’t budgeted for was the new DPC, so we did end up going over by £1,500,” admits Henry.
“It is so nice to find that you can do things you didn’t know or think you could”
Along with saving on labour costs by doing what they could themselves, the couple also decided to keep the original windows. “They had been installed in the early 1990s and although we might have liked to replace them, they were double glazed and keeping them meant we could stick to our budget.”
The couple also saved on plastering costs by only having skimming work carried out where absolutely necessary. “Most of the walls were lathe and plaster and some were badly damaged. We filled areas where we could and only got the plasterer in to skim the parts that were really bad — we were trying to be as frugal as possible but also wanted to keep some of the original character of the walls,” says Henry.
Despite living among the chaos that comes with a renovation, Henry and Holly have only positive things to say about their experience. “It is so nice to find you can do things you didn’t know or think you could,” says Henry. “We’ve learnt so many skills we can take with us — in fact we are already thinking about our next project. Maybe a self-build next!”
Moving the Bathroom A small fourth bedroom on the first floor has been replaced with a modern bathroom, tiled by Holly. To make the room a little larger, the wall separating it from bedroom two was moved. The chimney breast in this bedroom was then taken out in order to regain the lost space.