Friday, 29 March 2013

White space

So, last week I waxed lyrical about what a difference taking down part of the partition wall had made to the space in our kitchen/living room at the front of the flat. When I popped in to see what progress had been made in the next 24 hours, I was pretty blown away.

Not only is the entire bathroom now virtually tiled (I won't bother you with more photos of a tiled wall until it's all done, I promise) but the kitchen/living room has come along in leaps and bounds.

Cleared of much of the random crap that cluttered it up and with the first layer of white paint going up, it looks so different. Like a proper room. I know that people often say what a difference a lick of paint will make and my most recent visit has definitely reinforced this ideal. When we bought the flat, everywhere was painted in what I can only describe as watery custard - definitely closer to yellow dessert goo than the off-white creams and magnolias that are a renter's staple. In the photo below, you can see the contrast between the original colour and the fresh paint:

Wall colours were one of the first heated discussions that Mr Flatzilla and I had many months ago. Mr F was all about an off-white whereas I wanted a pure, brilliant white. It was a never ending to and fro between us, coupled with the constant flooring discussions that ran alongside the debate. Mr F's key argument was that pure white would show up any scuffs (it didn't take long to point out that off-white would also show up scuffs) and that he didn't want to live in a white box - admittedly, I was still set on white washed floors at this point but I had to concede my flooring desires as I didn't want to spend all of my free time sweeping and mopping.

One of the great things about our flat is the huge sash windows that allow the light to flood in. Now that the partition wall is gone, the flat feels light and airy even on the darkest and gloomiest of days -  even when the walls were a mix of bare plaster and custard (above, left on a typical dull grey London day).

Unfortunately by the time I visited last night, it was already dark so I didn't get the full effect but the feeling of space in what was once a pokey flat is unbelievable and I walked around switching our new lights on and off with glee like a mad woman.

The neighbours opposite have no doubt gone from thinking I am a torch-wielding burglar to a lunatic with a love of light switches.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

24 hours later

Last night entailed yet another epic struggle around IKEA to buy counter tops, plinths and cabinet handles - this time minus Holly the sausage, who decided to vent her fury at us by pooing all over the doormat for our return. Thanks Holly.

However, my mood was decidedly buoyed by the fact that when I popped round to the flat last night, I was greeted by this lovely sight.

Okay, maybe not so lovely yet but its definite progress. My builders are like lightning. Then this morning I get a call from the head builder asking precisely which shade of grout I would like. Considering I hadn't even decided what pants I would be wearing yet it was a bit of a panic stations moment for everyone involved but hopefully we've made the right decision.

Next challenge is a mirror and lighting. And door handles. I never knew so many options existed. I've narrowed it down to five variations of the same style. Mr Flatzilla may kill me.

Oh what a fun weekend we have planned.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

28 days later

So, it's been exactly four weeks since our builders started work and slowly but surely, it's all coming together. The kitchen (well, most of it) is being delivered today although we have another trip to the blue and yellow behemoth planned for this evening - minus the sausage this time - to pick up the last few panels and hopefully a kitchen counter. God knows how we'll get it home but where there's a will, there's a way. I figure if I can get a double bed home in my Beetle, there must be a way to slide a counter in. Admittedly, I will probably be hanging out of the boot clinging on for dear life all the way back from Wembley but certain sacrifices (such as health and safety) must be made when occasion requires it.

Anyway, exciting things are afoot in our bathroom. Our tiles arrived at lunchtime today and the builders set straight to work - by the time I popped in after work, the first rows had gone up in the shower. Look!

Big fat yeay, right there. I never thought tiles would excite me so much but they really do. They excited me even more when I managed to get them for considerably less than I'd estimated. We'd originally planned to put our Tesco clubcard points towards vouchers for Topps Tiles (£1 of Tesco points equals £3 at TT, true fact) but being the slackers that we are, we missed their exchange programme. We couldn't exactly wait until the next one sometime in the summer so I hopped on google to search out other options and came across I actually ended up finding a nicer shade of grey for our kitchen splash back than those stocked by Topps Tiles and the real kicker was that they were also considerably cheaper. While TT charges £22.50 per square metre for white Metro bevelled tiles (20cm x 10cm) , the same tiles were only £15.50 per square metre at TPT and when you're ordering 9 metres, you get a considerable saving - ours was over £60.

For the kitchen, Topps didn't actually do a grey shade as such, more a smoky blue which we weren't really going for but TPT do a lovely soft grey, just what I was looking for and for almost half of the price at £18 per square metre, compared with Topps at £34.50. Again, big savings when you're on a budget.

Basically, I can't recommend TradePriceTiles enough. Their standard delivery took only 2 days to reach us and we could deduct the cost of the sample tiles that we'd previously bought from our order. Two bevelled thumbs up!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Small spaces, part two

So, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, our flat is quite small. With 48m² for the two of us, plus Holly the sausage (she’s okay, she’s only 9 inches tall), we have to make the space work hard to our advantage.

Certain space saving devices such as pocket doors and built-in storage are a must if we’re to have any chance of not tripping over/killing each other but some furniture you just can’t build in or compromise on such as sofas, tables and chairs.

We’ve been very lucky on the furniture front so far – my mother has donated the very comfortable sofa bed for our living room and Nick, a photographer who I work with regularly has very kindly given us an Ikea PS unit I’d pinned onto the flatzilla board when he had one going spare so we will actually have some freestanding bits and pieces.

However, one piece that troubled us was a dining table. We have very little space to put one in (it will sit between the windows in the front room) so we needed a solution that was adaptable. Scouring the internet high and low for bargains, I finally came across the Fenton table at Debenhams.

Normally, it is 75cm x 80cm but the top folds out to become double the size, going from a two/four person to space for up to six in the blink of an eye and the swing of a hinge.

And the best bit? It’s currently in the sale, down from £400 to £160 for the two toned version that we bought. I plan to paint the oak part a light grey to match the rest of our colour scheme. It’s also available in oak veneer.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Bathing beauties

One of the greatest challenges that Mr Flatzilla and I came up against in our flat was the bathroom. Long and narrow, verging on corridor proportions and with a rotting window at the end, it didn't meet our criteria (proper shower, separate loo) in any way, shape or form. In fact, I don't think it would've met anyone's criteria, unless they loved 1970s red and cream floral tiles and a loo with a barcode still stuck to it. Classy.

However, I was so in love with what is now our flat that I spent days staring at the plans, determined not to be outdone by a gross bathroom before a Eureka moment struck. Of course, you're probably wondering why we wouldn't just put a shower in the bath and leave the layout more or less as is. My problem lies in a dodgy knee and a tendency to fall over, so a shower in the bathroom would've certainly ended in a trip to A&E or at least an ambulance within the first six months. Plus, neither myself nor Mr F are that into baths and we really, really wanted a separate loo for practical reasons.

Anyway, back to the Eureka moment. The simple solution was to split the bathroom off into two separate rooms - a WC from the hallway and then a shower and basin en-suite. Seeing as its just us two and a sausage dog in a one bedroom flat, we're not expecting a lot of guests in need of a shower so this seems like the best solution and use of space.

Of course, it was never as simple as just putting in a partition wall. In moving the loo, we had to lower the waste pipe exit so that it would drain properly but one of the biggest challenges was the number of doors. Our bedroom is a decent size but by converting our bathroom into an en suite, we needed to add an extra door and risked losing space to the area needed for a door to open and close properly. We'd already decided to convert the door to our bedroom into a pocket door (or sliding door to you and me) to allow enough space for our bed where we wanted it, so it seemed to be the natural solution to put in a pocket door for the bathroom.

Thankfully, the partition wall between the bedroom and the bathroom had actually been modernised sometime in the last 50 years (unlike everything else in the flat), so the process wasn't too time consuming. The builders stripped off the outer plasterboard and rejigged the innards to create 'pockets' for the doors to slide into.

So, below you'll be able to see the changes we've made to the layout. On the left is the original corridor-like set up and on the right, the new version. We've put a large shower in that runs the width of the bathroom (a grand total of 120cm, I told you it was corridor-like!), plus a large sink, new window and a heated towel rail underneath.

I say we've put in but in reality, its all being plumbed in this week so hopefully by Easter we will have a fully functional bathroom and loo. Very exciting. In the meantime, here's a little peek at the bathroom pocket door - I took this photo a few days ago and the walls have been plastered since but you know, I don't want to give everything away yet.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Breaking down the walls

So, I thought I would share a little sneaky progress report with you all. Despite the hiccup the other day, the builders are saints in dusty clothing and have been working at breakneck speed (or so it seems) and in the space of three weeks have done the following:

- Rewired the entire flat, including moving and installing a new fuse box.

- Replaced all of the radiators and dodgy verging-on-the-condemned boiler.

- Taken down, re-boarded and plastered the kitchen/living room wall.

- Ripped out the bathroom, put in a new partition wall between what will now be a separate en suite and loo off the hallway.

- Replastered virtually everything.

- Repaired the floorboards, laid acoustic boards to block out enough noise to allow us to have laminate flooring.

- Repaired three original sash windows and the sills underneath them plus replaced two rotten windows.

Admittedly, the entire place still looks like a building site but it's all slowly starting to come together which is very, very exciting.

The thing that I am perhaps most excited about is the wall, or lack thereof. When we first went to see the flat many, many months ago there was a lot of debate about whether or not we could remove the wall between what was currently being used as a second bedroom (but had been the kitchen) and the living room (where the kitchen had been moved to). The estate agent reassured us time and again that it was just a partition wall, as did our builder when we went to investigate further. However, our freeholder was concerned that it wasn't and might be load bearing. Cue finding a structural engineer who could come out and tell us yay or nay. Thank god for the lovely Alan, who came out on the same day that I called him in a blind panic and the next day, we had a letter stating that it was fine to rip it out.

So rip it out we did.

L to R: Day 1: wall in tact, Day 5: taking down the plasterboard to reveal the 120 year old partition, Day 12: removed and replastered

Unfortunately, we couldn't take out the wall right up the ceiling as they're uneven - it would've involved ripping out and replacing the entire ceiling plus I think a bit of wonkiness adds to the charm - three years of living in Brighton gave me a taste for crooked walls, floors and ceilings.

Now, you're probably still looking at the photos of the kitchen and wondering what the hell we've actually done - you can really see the difference when you see it from the living room:

Top: the cramped kitchen/living room before works started. Bottom L to R: Minus a kitchen, then minus a wall.
I am still amazed at how removing 150cm of wall has changed the dynamic and the light in this room. We'll be moving the kitchen back to its original place (where the big grey board is currently resting) so that we can reclaim the living room for a sole purpose.

Not laughing like drains

It had to happen. Things had been going too smoothly for my liking. I was waiting for the moment something would go tits up with baited breath.

Disaster struck on Sunday at 7pm as I lay, hungover, on the sofa contemplating what to have for dinner and watching Man Vs Food.

Up until that time, I had rather enjoyed an enforced no-flat-talk weekend as I'd been at a friend's hen in deepest Gloucestershire, tucked away from phone signal and the outside world. I think that Mr Flatzilla was equally delighted as for once we weren't spending all of our free time discussing the floor and what taps to buy for the bathroom.

Anyway, on with the story. If our builders had really thought things through, they probably wouldn't have removed the down pipe that drains our roof terrace before a weekend of torrential rain. But of course, being builders, they did.

Cue a not-too-pleased call from our freeholder informing us that water is gushing down the outer wall of our building then telling us that the pipe leading down from our lower terrace was blocked, leading to more water flying everywhere and that we were very possibly about to flood his basement flat via the lower drains. Good times.

Of course, appetites went flying out the window and colour drained from our faces at the prospect of damp, damaged walls and all manner of costs involved in repairs  plus angry people.

We arrived on Monday morning to find a soaked external wall, a blocked drain and a blocked pipe leading from our lower terrace. The builders flew into action, hopping garden walls to get to the basement flat's drains (thank god no one called the police) and armed with 20 metres of rods, managed to get everything pushed through. After a bit of a bollocking from both myself and Mr F, the down pipe was replaced, although in the end it turned out to be a saving grace that it wasn't plumbed in as the cascading water would've apparently been 10 times worse had the water from the roof terrace been attempting to drain down too.

The knackered guttering where pigeons enjoy pooing has for now been shored up and should hopefully withstand the rest of the freakishly wet weather for a while until the freeholders replace everything in the summer. Considering the guttering has been held together with bulldog clips for some time (I shit you not, dear reader), this cannot come a moment too soon.

We also discovered in this horrible, horrible process that we have a pigeon hotel located under the lower terrace. We had wondered for some time quite why pigeons were so enamored with our lower terrace and now we know why - they have built a roost underneath the flooring and it appears to be busier than the Heathrow Marriott. Not looking forward to a visit from pest control.

God, I miss blogging about shoes sometimes.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Off-Topic: DOG IN A BAG

This is Holly the sausage. You might've noticed her little face in a previous post. Mr Flatzilla and I are waaaay off having kids so Holly the sausage is our furry substitute. Generally, we take her everywhere with us as she is very old and since losing her lifelong sausage companion three years ago, she has become increasingly distressed whenever we leave her alone, so we try to do so only when absolutely necessary.

As you can see, Holly likes riding around in the trolleys of various DIY Meccas. In the last two weeks, we've taken her to B&Q three times, Homebase, Wickes and Screw Fix. At none of the above have we had any issues, seeing as Holly stays in her snuggly carrier bag, doesn't bark, wee or poo (sometimes she lets off the odd fart but still, she's 14!) and generally the staff are most welcoming to her little ginger face.

Anyway, up until this point we had an unbroken record in welcomeness until we visited the blue and yellow behemoth that is IKEA the other night on a mission to sort out our new kitchen. Now, I checked the website, I checked the door. Nowhere on either of these is there a 'no dogs' sticker. Of course, you're probably not meant to take dogs to places like IKEA but seeing as small children are allowed to run willy nilly through the aisles and smash up displays, we figured a small dog in a bag probably wouldn't raise any more eyebrows than usual.

And in fact, she didn't. We made it all the way round the entire store, making notes, testing extractor fans and comparing work surfaces without so much as a moment's notice paid to the ginge. Until we got through the barriers and I went off to buy some herring and a bottle of water from the food shop while Mr Flatzilla waited 10 feet from the exit.

It was of course at this point that a jobsworth IKEA employee, no doubt counting the minutes until they could clock off, spotted her as Mr Flatzilla chatted to another customer who was enquiring about her rather swish Harris Tweed carrier bag (it's from for those who are interested). Now, there is a certain irony in the fact that Mr F was standing no more than 10 feet away from the exit at this point. Mr F pointed out that we were leaving as soon as I'd got my Swedish biscuit fix and asked if the dog had bothered any customers. No, came the answer. Okay then. BUT SHE MIGHT. Right.

At this point Mr F flippantly enquired if he could make a complaint about the angry Haribo-filled five year old who had repeatedly charged through the kitchen section, ramming into anything they could (including me) with a trolley. Apparently not, this behaviour is totally acceptable.

So, small destructive child? Good. Small sausage dog in a bag? BAD. GET OUT.

Needless to say, I will be buying our kitchen online instead.

For those curious about our kitchen, below is a little moodboard to whet your appetites. Click to expand.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Week one - gutted

It has only been one week since our builders moved in but it seems that things are moving along at quite the pace. So far, the builders have gutted the entire flat, re-wired everything (including the fuse box of doom) and taken down a significant chunk of the interior wall.

What was formerly our lower terrace has become a temporary dumping ground for everything that was once inside the flat, including the bath which is currently balanced fairly precariously on a pile of other rubbish. Apologies to the former resident pigeons.

The last week has also seen a rapid change to my sleeping habits and my relationship with Mr Flatzilla. Whereas once I slept until 8am, I am now forcing myself out of bed an hour earlier virtually every day to trek round to the flat and discuss all of the ridiculous things that one doesn't really think of when it comes to buying a flat. For example, where you would like all of your plug points.Who knew you could argue so much about just how many plug points you want in the living room?

Luckily for both of us, Mr Flatzilla and I had plenty of time before we completed for endless discussions about most of the big things (wall colours, kitchen type, floors etc) but I'm not sure we were fully prepared for the details that need discussion. A lot of discussion. We spent an hour one night last week trekking around in B&Q's bathroom department trying to pick a toilet. Much to Mr Flatzilla's consternation, I insisted on sitting on virtually each one to establish which ones were higher. Noone wants their knees round their ears while they're having a wee, do they?

Mr Flatzilla didn't want a square loo whereas I'd been somewhat swayed from my online trawls. Also, I did not know that it is virtually impossible to buy a loo with a handle flush these days unless you're going for a Victoriana vibe in your bathroom which we are most definitely not so we are now the proud-ish owners of a button flush loo in a compromised style somewhere between normal and square.

Having also purchased the rest of our bathroom from B&Q, we came home and I pulled up Victoria Plum for a quick surf, only to promptly buy another entire bathroom (minus the loo) online an hour later in their really rather good sale. You may think me mad (noone needs four sinks) but the problem with B&Q was that as lovely as the pieces we'd ordered were, they were all special order with the average delivery time of 10 days and our builders have itchy fingers whereas Victoria Plumb delivered on two working days later.

So, itchy fingers crossed, our bathroom may actually start being plumbed in very, very soon. One room, sorted. Except for taps, a towel rail and other fittings. Still, it's progress.

Next up, it's time for some Ikea kitchen fun. If anyone out there would like to give me a lesson in how to use their rage-inducing online kitchen planner without punching my laptop, I would be most grateful.