A Utility With a Difference – The AFTER!

This weekend we have been away in our (very brown) caravan, enjoying some much needed downtime (I won’t say rest because, let’s face it, I have 2 kids so I’m more tired than I was when I left) in North Wales.

The last time we were away in our caravan, our builders were sending us slightly terrifying photos of walls that were being knocked down to create our new utility room.  There were definitely some benefits to the work starting while we were away (they were very tidy and had cleaned up the first layer of dust when we got back) but it was a bit nerve wracking lying awake wondering if they had knocked down the right walls (spoiler alert, they did).

We were promised that most of it would be complete by the time we got back and it was lovely to come back to the wall units in the kitchen removed and the wall plastered but in reality the whole job took around 2 weeks all told so we were living for quite a while with the usual joys of a renovation project – builders turning up first thing in the morning, everything covered in dust and no shower to get ourselves clean.

Just to recap, the work that we were doing was relatively minor this time around.  The previous owners of our house had dealt with an unneeded sixth bedroom by turning it into another bathroom.  This would have theoretically been great but they put it right next to the existing family bathroom which was already a decent size.  We always knew it was a bit of a strange set up but couldn’t be bothered to change it or, for a while, think of anything we wanted to do with it.

Fast forward a few years and I became fixated on the idea of having a utility room upstairs – it must have been the 6 years of lugging laundry up and down the stairs that did it.  So last summer we decided we would turn the second bathroom and a cupboard that sat next to it into a utility, keeping the existing walk in shower in the second bathroom and making it part of the family bathroom.  Keeping up?

This all also had a knock-on effect in the kitchen, allowing us to move the washer and dryer out of there (Kirstie Allsopp would be so pleased) to make a breakfast bar.  While we were doing this I persuaded the husband that this would be a good time to make the changes I’d been cooking up for years for the kitchen – removing the wall cupboards, replacing the tiling and blocking up one window to make space for a new bespoke larder cupboard.  Maybe not so minor after all!

As with all projects like this we’re still not quite finished but we are around 95% complete now with a working utility, bathroom and breakfast bar.  The main parts that are outstanding are that our landing carpet didn’t fit back where it had been as doorways had moved so we are having a new piece fitted on Wednesday and we are still waiting for our new kitchen cupboards, also due this week, which couldn’t be made until we had the new space plastered and ready for measuring.

So what did we learn from the renovation that might be useful if you’re considering something similar?  I’ve summarised the five biggest points that did/were close to causing rows below…

Brassware

This is something that I’ve covered before in a post on bathrooms as it comes up time and again on client projects but getting all of your brassware to match can be a really costly and frustrating process if you aren’t going with the fairly ubiquitous chrome.

We put nickel taps into the family bathroom when we refreshed that last year and so I wanted the shower to have the same finishes but this was easier said than done.  First of all finding the right finish in the right style meant we had to spend more than we wanted and secondly the shower arm that existed for the shower head we wanted was annoyingly nowhere near long enough.  I agonised (which is sort of hilarious) over settling for a stainless steel ceiling arm and now I realise I can’t even really see it.  I suppose the moral of the story is to plan this out meticulously in advance – including measuring the head and the arm and the distance it will take you from the wall – but also recognise areas where you can compromise without losing your mind (and all of your money).

Think Laterally

One of the things that I really wanted for the utility room was a reasonable amount of storage.  In the first instance I defaulted to the idea of Ikea kitchen units, considering some fancy doors from the likes of Superfront or Custom Fronts.  We were, however, on a tight budget and so I came round to the idea of finding a cheap sideboard unit that we could add a worktop to and customise to make it cooler a la @elizabethdotdesign (although a much shoddier version) – cue much scrolling of eBay for several weeks.  In the end we found the perfect sized unit in the sale at Dunelm and added a worktop from Worktop Express and I’m so pleased with how it looks that I haven’t even thought about the customisation as yet.  We also ended up using a bathroom sink instead of a kitchen sink in there as the kitchen ones were all too deep to sit on a worktop and again, I love it.

Choose What you Love (To An Extent)

Whilst it always felt sensible to go for tiles and fittings that we loved in the new shower area it somehow felt more difficult to justify in the utility which is, after all, a utility space (duh).  With that in mind I wanted whatever we did to be cost efficient (see above) but I didn’t want that to mean I ended up with a room I didn’t particularly like, after all it’s in the middle of our first floor not stuck off the side of the house and also, I spend a lot of time in there!  For that reason I did choose some bits that I loved without going too mad including absolutely beautiful cork flooring from The Colour Flooring Company which, incidentally was very simple to install (my husband did it), a pretty tiled splashback from Topps Tiles and a wire storage unit from Tikamoon.  I have been told off for adding too many plants and pictures but really, what did he expect?

Think on Your Feet

Something that anyone has been through a renovation project will know is that things turn up that you didn’t expect and that can potentially impact the design you’ve been working on for months.  And yes, this did happen to us, including discovering that the chimney protruded far further than we expected meaning we had to change the room layout and ditch a radiator and the issue with the shower arm mentioned above.  There is no magic solution here as each problem will be completely specific to the build but be prepared to discover that these things happen, to spend time that you had thought you would be working fixing them, and that ultimately you will find a workaround that will likely mean you forget the whole thing happened in 6 months’ time.

The Finer Details

Another thing true of all renovation projects is that just when you think you’re almost done you’ll spend weeks on the little finishing touches that make the project just right because if you don’t, you’ll always have a niggling irritation that something is not quite right.  When all of the tiling was complete in the shower room my husband added black sealant to match the black grout while I was out.  The whole job took about 3 hours and I knew when I got home that I couldn’t live with it.  I literally lay awake at night worrying about telling him when he’d worked so hard on it but in the morning I just came out with it and told him I’d take responsibility for removing it.  It took another 3 hours to get it off but it has made me love it all the more for knowing we (eventually) got it just right.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for the new kitchen cupboards to arrive later this week at which point I’ll be able to do a proper reveal of the kitchen – one that doesn’t involved hiding the fact that all of our food is currently sitting precariously on a couple of shelves… Stay tuned!