As I sit here in our (almost) completed open-plan kitchen diner, it feels unreal that this is really ours.
Because we spent nearly 20 years shoehorning ourselves into properties that were, really, too small for us. We started with a series of bijou London flats until eventually, we found ourselves squeezing four people into a two-bedroom, second-floor flat without a lift. Enough was enough.
So we packed up and moved further out to a slightly more family-friendly house, but – with a newborn and a toddler – money and energy levels were diverted as we tried to get through those hectic early years with our sanity (debatably) intact.
Finally, after seven years of ignoring the cramped surroundings and wobbly stair rail and the lack of storage and a front door that went out of fashion some time back in the 1990s, it was finally time to get the new home and open plan living we’d worked so hard, and sacrificed so much, for.
Building work started a few weeks into the new year, and – I’ll be honest – there were a couple of hairy weeks, like when our entire back wall was replaced with a few sheets of chipboard… and then the winter storms hit, and our street was dumped with over a foot of snow and ice.
The upstairs was simultaneously being ripped out so we all crammed in the front room wrapped in sleeping bags with gloves and hats on, while Mum worriedly texted from New Zealand to make sure we weren’t suffering from hypothermia.
For the next few months we squeezed into that one room as work carried on outside.
So this is what we started with – a tiled space that opened out on to our back garden and was usually crammed full of the girls’ toys. While we needed that area for all their stuff (as they were sharing a small room upstairs) it wasn’t making the most of the space, and it always felt cramped and cluttered.
The first stage of our extensive kitchen diner renovations was to open up that space. We took down the dividing half wall, tore down our old brick garage and extended out over the lower layer of the decking.
It was noisy and cramped and oh my God the dust!
I’d heard horror stories about the amount created during building work, but it’s hard to truly understand the extent until you live through it. It covered your skin and coats your clothing, and you never quite felt clean because of the constant layer of grit. Every time you picked something up a cloud of dust would billow upwards, and I don’t think I stopped sneezing for five months.
But, in a strange way, it kind of added to the adventure. Every time I tripped over a box, or microwaved our evening meals on the lounge floor, or vacuumed the floors AGAIN, I just kept thinking of the end result and how it would all be worth it.
Because it’s shaped like a 3D pyramid rather than the traditional rectangle, it really opened up the ceiling and gave the feeling of more space, and the natural light that poured in was just gorgeous (I could already imagine the flatlay photo shoots I could do out there!). In time, our dining table will sit right underneath it and we’ll literally be able to dine under the stars.
Then, we had the entire back wall fitted with low-profile sliding doors from OH’s company 1st Folding Sliding Doors – specialists in sliding doors, bi-folding doors, glass roof structures and frameless glass balustrades.
We had bi-fold doors previously, and while we loved being able to entirely open up the back during summer, this time we decided to switch it up and go for the thinner frames of sliding doors, which allowed almost unobstructed views out over the back garden (which is currently being fixed up – look out for the renovation post on that!).
Now let me point out these are nothing like the old-fashioned glass sliders you might remember – the clunky, thick doors of the eighties are long gone, these are smooth and stylish and contemporary.
The three-track system allows us to either open one or both sides of the glass leaving a 1.5-metre aperture either side of the central pane, or push two adjacent panes either to the far left or right, opening it up to three metres wide.
Once the decking is finished, we’ll be able to step right out on to our outdoor dining area, and down to a sunken seated area (which I’m thinking would be perfect for a fire pit).
The kitchen was the biggest and most challenging part of our renovation, but the hard-working Ady Projects building team was so fantastic – every member was so courteous and considerate and went out of their way to make sure we were disrupted as little as possible. For the first couple of months, we made do with a kitchen that had been bisected right down the middle, with the window bricked up, our washing machine and dryer shoved in at one end and the microwave reassigned to the lounge room floor.
But then it all got ripped out, and we were reduced to washing our dishes in the bathtub and heating our food in a microwave on the lounge room floor. I’ll be honest – we had a lot of takeaways at that point.
I think we coped with the upheaval remarkably well, but I must admit there was a point about six weeks before the end when the mess and the dust and the noise hit an apex and the novelty had well and truly worn off. We’d been reduced to the lounge and two bedrooms, and a half torn-down bathroom. I could no longer find anything in the towering piles of clutter, we couldn’t go outside and the girls were getting bored and restless.
At the very final stage of the rip out, the water was turned off – meaning no shower, bath or toilet.
I’d had just about enough.
But then, just as I was getting utterly fed up, it all started coming together: Lil Sis’s room was finished and the carpet was laid down and we had one more useable room to live in. It felt almost palatial!
Next, the chipboard dividing wall came down and the Farrow & Ball Cornforth White and Green Smoke paints we’d chosen began to go up. Our cupboards and breakfast bar began to be fitted, and the kitchen slowly started to take shape. We’d chosen our cupboards from NJC Kitchens in Marylebone, an upmarket London-based company that specialised in contemporary German kitchens.
We made a conscious decision to devote a huge chunk of our budget to the kitchen, as we knew this area would be where the entire family hung out the most. But, of course, there are companies out there to tailor to all budgets, such as Kitchen Warehouse, which has a contemporary ‘Supermatt’ range that looks really similar to our units, at a more pocket friendly price.
If you want to save even more money, keep your existing cabinet carcasses and simply replace the kitchen doors.
We could finally see the kitchen diner space we’d created, and visualise how it was all going to look. It looked HUGE compared to the cramped kitchen we’d been used to, and the excitement of seeing all that extra space really gave us a boost and the patience to get through the final stage of renovation.
Coincidentally, I’d been contacted by the team at Iconic Lights to see if I wanted to try something from their range of stylish, affordable lighting. Knowing we were nearing the design end of the work, I gratefully accepted and selected the Sheridan Steampunk glass pendant lights.
We knew we wanted hanging pendant lights to hang over the breakfast bar, and these fitted in perfectly with the open-plan living and the contemporary style of our design. You’re never quite sure if an imagined look will look right in real life, so there’s a fair bit of holding your breath while everything is put into place…
…. but I was absolutely thrilled with how they looked. Not only did they create a stylish boundary line between the kitchen and the dining area, they were exactly how I visualised them in my head. Plus, they looked MUCH more expensive than the £25 per pendant that they sell for on the Iconic Lights website. Don’t you agree?
Then, one day, after nearly six months of building work, six days a week, I came home to an empty, quiet house. The work was (essentially) finished and my home was mine again!
After hot-desking around all our local cafés for so long, it was heaven to be able to pour a cup of coffee and work from our new breakfast bar. In time, I’ll have sorted out my new office (at the moment it’s still filled floor-to-ceiling with boxes) and will have a dedicated workspace – the first since I sacrificed my old office for Big Sis’s nursery 10 years ago.
There’s still a mile-long snag list to sort out, but we’ve reached the end of the tunnel of our before and after kitchen renovation, and I can’t wait to show you more over the upcoming months.
• have you seen my Amara home-styling tips?
Our Iconic Lights pendants were provided for the purpose of review.