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Full renovation on a Victorian House – would you?

(30 Posts)
taardnottired Sun 03-Jan-16 09:04:55

Happy New Year to you all.

First time post although I have been an avid reader for many years. I have read a few similar posts but didn’t cover our situation exactly - We have seen a house on the market and are seriously considering putting in an offer. Whilst I have started my research, some in-depth and other areas more superficial and will be getting professional architects and structural engineers to oversee the planned project, I find the experience, knowledge, bluntness, sarcasm and wit refreshing on this forum and will no doubt gain some valuable input along with a face punch to bring me back to reality. My partner thinks it is too big a project, yet we both want our dream home. I am not put off by the scale of the build itself for a few reasons and I think this will be a missed opportunity if we let it go. We did let a similar but already renovated house slip away a few years ago and have regretted it a lot.

The house is a large Victorian property (4000 sqft)and whilst structurally sound with ok maintenance, the floor plan is pokey with lots of little corridors and small rooms both downstairs and upstairs. The plot itself is the huge attraction, the house takes up around 40% of the plot only, with mature gardens and stone wall boundaries. It is very private yet centrally located.

The house is not listed or in a conservation zone. As the house needs re-wiring, re-plumbing, central heating, windows, new bathrooms, kitchen, pretty much everything and given the unknown surprises that come up with refurbishments, I think the best option would be to start from scratch – keep the outer shell and completely redesign the interior as we want it. We have a few must-haves on our list and some wants, and in our search over the years, we know we would never be able to tick them all off on one property and you have to compromise, but this way we get exactly what we want.

Our plan would be to have a large square hallway with a feature staircase, even if many consider this dead space. I would sacrifice living room space for a decent hallway but in this case we have plenty of space to play with anyway. Would also have 2/3 large reception rooms downstairs, formal dining, ensuite bedroom, and then a kitchen/ diner/ family room running the length of the back of the property, with bifold doors opening up to a patio with partial outside kitchen, brick oven overlooking the gardens.

Upstairs, master bedroom taking up half of the upstairs, with master ensuite (large wetroom, double vanity) and walk in dresser. Rest of the 3 rooms standard with the second floor open plan games room / bedroom 6.

To finish off, landscaped gardens, repositioning of the gravel driveway to get an approach that faces the front of the house directly, with a detached double garage and apartment above (timber build)

Ok so yes it sounds like a fantasy and I must be living in la-la land but I have circumstances that play in my favor for now. My brother is a structural engineer, a cousin is an architect, my siblings fil owns a seriously professional construction firm and a bil is a builder. All will be offering advice and drawings for free/ food except the sfil –he is retiring and I know he would love to be involved in this as hobby almost so may help in supervising builders / pottering about / recommending tradesmen but I would still be footing the bill. We currently live in a new build and have become very familiar with builders and the structure of our house given the snagging list and I honestly can’t see how replicating a similar internal build would cause major issues.

We would not be staying at the property until it is in move in condition as we have a home already, which would be sold or rented out after. I’m not concerned about the decoration as such, as we can keep this to a minimum and buy things at discount and hunt for bargains – we can source stuff pretty cheaply when we need to, for example when we were quoted 15k for our kitchen and declined, but managed to create an almost identical look with similar if not better appliances for less than 4k. We are not snobby, we are fine with Ikea / second hand furniture mixed in with some nicer pieces or know how to make cheaper items look expensive. Happy with fairly standard interiors with some personal touches, e.g an ikea kitchen with a slab of wood over it to make it look different. A door is a door to me, so happy with 20 B&Q doors if they are the cheapest, with maybe one feature door for the lounge. I don’t care for lime render, bespoke Victorian material or keeping expensive features, I prefer modern straight lines with no frilly bits. The only rooms where I would prob go for higher end furnishings would be the kitchen and master/main bathroom. Given the size, we will always have bargaining power in quantity alone. Some might say it’s a shame to do this in a Victorian house, I don’t as this home would otherwise be demolished anyway and turned into flats.

So to put in perspective, here are some numbers. I figure the property could be bought for 250k after hard negotiating (we are north) and my budget excluding soft furnishing would be around 150k. we are also not in a hurry to complete, so each stage will be taken slowly and I plan on doing as much basic work as possible with friends e,g gutting the property internally room by room before the professionals move in and cleaning up between phases.

Would appreciate your thoughts on all of the above – am I mad, stupid or does this make sense? We would make our offer subject to planning permission.

JT05 Sun 03-Jan-16 10:09:09

All sounds perfectly do able and you certainly have the right attitude!

We did this to two properties in the late 70s and mid 80s. The first a small 1860s semi and then to a larger 1897 terrace. ( both in London, we should have kept them!!)

We also had professionals in family, to call on. It helps as the fees can add a lot. It takes more time to go down a semi DIY route, but to me is more satisfying, as you put more of yourself in the house.

Some of the work will have to be done in one hit, such as retiring and re plumbing, so doing each room at a time might not be so easy. We went for gutting and doing all the basics and re plastering in one hit. Mind you we did have rampant dry rot and woodworm!

There will be days when the dust and disarray get you down, but then end product is worth it. Good luck.

SmellTheGlove Sun 03-Jan-16 10:12:34

Do it. It sounds amazing. We have just finished renovating a much smaller size (850sq ft) Victorian house in London and it's been quite stressful as we had to live in it and also do a lot of the work ourselves. But you don't have to do that and you have loads of professional input so there's nothing to stop you! The physical grind is pretty tough of gutting it, I was exhausted by the constant stripping of wallpaper, chipping off old tiles etc but I did most of it myself while DH at work/DS at school (I only work part time). The worst aspect was definitely living in it, in fact I ended up with dust induced asthma (ok now thankfully). But you don't have to do that! It's immensely satisfying, I enjoyed the organising and searching for deals etc. And my house is lovely now!

PurpleWithRed Sun 03-Jan-16 10:25:11

Sounds like a dream - I'd do it in a heartbeat if I had such a useful family. Only comment is that I feel very uncomfortable with houses where the master suite takes up half upstairs and the kids bedrooms are relatively ungenerous in terms of size and bathrooms. A house that size will generally be a family home and for a family with teenagers you need generous bedrooms and plenty of showers.

The one thing I wished I'd done in my last house was a laundry chute from upstairs into the utility room.

wickedwaterwitch Sun 03-Jan-16 10:38:21

Why ever wouldn't you do it?

You've got the money, experience , contacts, go for it!

LBOCS2 Sun 03-Jan-16 10:44:46

My parents did; they bought a Victorian semi which needed everything doing to it (wiring, heating, fixing damp, creating internal bathrooms & kitchen, the lot) on a slightly smaller scale - 2,900sq ft. And they didn't have the connections you have (and we lived there while the work was going on!).

I'd definitely go for it.

wonkylegs Sun 03-Jan-16 10:55:27

Sounds like you've got a good selection of professional help set up and a good attitude however I would suggest you look at your figures in a bit more detail. We've renovated a very large victorian house in the past 2 yrs in the north and ours sounds like it was in a better state to start with, and we've spent just over £100k.
We only knocked down 1 wall (extended bathroom) as we have a good layout but have insulated, new heating, new electrics, new water main, new windows & doors, new kitchen, 3 new bathrooms includin new soil stacks, roof & chimney repairs (didn't need full replacement), new guttering, interior repairs & redecoration etc
Although you can go for cheaper stuff you must remember that the scale of the house means that sometimes you need larger kit than in a modern house (e.g boiler, rads, HW cylinder etc) which can cost a lot more even with cheap labour. Our windows for example cost £30k mainly because they are bloody huge and there are loads of them (they are also beautiful and should last another 100yrs though)
Cheap doors sound find but actually you may find they aren't big enough and look out of scale with the house. Most of the walls in our house are structural and centre round chimneys so it would be expensive to knock them around (Victorians liked to build like this so its common) so check how easy your plans will actually be.
Your modern clean lines may also be thwarted by the wonkiness of the existing structure which may not be as obvious until you start doing work, our Silestone worktop was a job to cut and fit thanks to the lack of a single straight wall in the kitchen even after a complete replaster (main walls of house aren't straight)
I'm an architect so like you managed to cut down on some costs through good connections and planning but some are unavoidable. It was worth it but don't underestimate how hard it will be.
I love ours now and we've started on the grounds which are also expensive as we have 1.5acres which have been neglected like the house so have required tree surgeons, new outbuildings etc as well as lots of hard graft.

didireallysaythat Sun 03-Jan-16 12:21:51

If you've got friendly experts on hand, why not !? My only concern would be not falling out with family when things don't pan out exactly as you want them to, but if you can spend the time eg understanding why this wall can't be taken down and why you need a big bit of steel here and there I think it would be great. Good luck !

NattyGolfJerkin Sun 03-Jan-16 13:06:45

I know you aren't bothered about removing period features but a lot of buyers are and will expect to find Victorian features in a house of that period. Consider any loss of value you might cause by removing original features and replacing with DIY shop alternatives.

taardnottired Sun 03-Jan-16 13:18:30

Thank you to all of you for taking the time out to reply, your comments and support are very much appreciated and have given my rationality and confidence a (further) boost.

JT05 - thanks for wishing me luck. We actually have a timeline for various reasons due to both work and cost of a minimum 5 years to get it all done. agree we wouldn't do it room by room but more phase by phase, e.g long period of planning and researching, internal demolition, first fit, second fit, then room by room decorating and finally moving to gardens with periods of non activity, be it due to weather or vacations.

PurpleWithRed - ha, yes I am being a bit selfish with size of the master bedroom, I have often analyzed why I have a need for s p a c e, and I guess it boils down to growing up in a very crowded home and not being able to comprehend how other kids had their own bedroom! In all fairness, the other 3 bedrooms, possibly 4 would be at least doubles with built in wardrobes, one with ensuite and others with jack-n-jills. Plus with an already existing 2nd level of which might be the only joists we don't have to touch, would give plenty of teenage room. Failing that, they can piss off go for a walk outside in the massive garden.

I think a laundry chute is a great idea and this is the whole point of us starting from scratch - we would spend months taking into account all ideas and everything we have seen in houses we like on rightmove to develop a floor plan that would be just perfect for us. I'll add a laundry chute to the list with a utility room hose and drainage.

wonkylegs - I agree costs need to be looked at in more detail, I may have been a bit harsh on the property as it has been maintained well enough with recent work done on roof, guttering, chimneys, and redecoration - sounds similar to yours. 100k on a full refurb without major structural changes does seem like the higher end of a typical budget but yes agree that items like the windows and heating could spiral. we would minimize this as we are keeping a lot of the existing double glazed windows as the plan is that the exterior of the house (other than rear) shouldn't look any different to as it is now. I have wondered if removing internal walls and floors/ ceilings will be more difficult in a Victorian property and this will need to be looked at in more detail. I am not against keeping some walls as long as they work with the floor plan, I figured it would be easier to do a clean sweep and rebuild.

I disagree standard doors would look out of place as the new plan should proportionate everything out better than the current layout does with standard doors. In our current house, the builders have cleverly added glass panels to either side of the doors creating a lovely wide open feel, but the doors themselves are still standard size.

Good point made about working with family members and I do take that on which is why architectures and engineers will still be employed, but at a much lower cost as they will be mostly dealing with plans that have already been thought through and are at final stages - and it would be good to have them independently agree that the plans work.

thanks all again.

taardnottired Sun 03-Jan-16 13:27:22

Hi NattyGolfJerkin

Understood, however if this all goes through and according to plan, this would be our forever home with no intention of selling on.

Even so, I have had a look around the property twice and although most definitely an early Victorian house, it doesn't have many features left from that era. The house was used as council offices at one point and I think that put an end to any Victorian charm the property had. There are many other properties that retain and should continue to retain that period proudly, unfortunately this house isn't one of them.

JT05 Sun 03-Jan-16 13:43:44

I'd also look into having an integrated vacuum system! Definitely a must on any house with more than two floors!

emwithme Sun 03-Jan-16 13:58:01

Never Again!

We are 8 months into a six month project ,with hopefully six weeks to go. Budget has gone from c £150k to c £190k why did I think it could be done for £60k, my children are going to be pointed towards trade rather than professions and I am now unable to watch either The Money Pit or Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House without murderous thoughts towards builders.

The house is c 1300 sq ft, excluding the cellar, and we've taken it back to the stone, built a kitchen extension (which involved taking the existing kitchen down because it had no foundations at all), treated wet rot, dry rot, woodworm, dried it out, tanked the cellar, replaced all the (previously single glazed) windows and doors with double glazing/uPVC/composite, rewired, re-heated, made downstairs loo into a shower room. We are at the point where we are now wind and water tight, the only room left to skim is the kitchen (and then the kitchen which has been sitting in the living rooms since the beginning of November can be fitted).

We are only the second family ever to own the house since it was built in the 1880s, it was previously transferred in 1950 to the original owners' grandson, and then in 1970 to his niece. It was empty from 2012, when the lady died. Maybe because of this, we found bodge after bodge after bodge. There were rooms knocked through (and sliding doors put in place) that didn't have any extra support I have no clue how the upstairs stayed up in places There were doors put in in strange places (and original holes plasterboarded over). We found a fucking window at one point! (It had been covered with a bit of fence panel on the inside and then plastered over).

However, I can now look at it and see how the finished thing is going to look. The upstairs is pretty much finished, the bedrooms are painted, carpeted and closed off. The bathroom upstairs is done and fitted. The living rooms just need painting, as does the hall/stairs, and then the flooring can go down.

If I had my time again, no I wouldn't buy this house yes, I so would, it's my forever house and even when it was the most 70s house ever, it made my heart sing . We viewed another house about ten houses down the road that had already been done and it is bloody gorgeous, but it has got to "SSTC" three times in the last year, so I'm wondering whether they only did a "surface" restoration and didn't solve any of the underlying problems like we have been doing.

wonkylegs Sun 03-Jan-16 16:34:56

If it was previously used as council offices expect some interesting bodge work and also expect asbestos somewhere in there. Every council/NHS/institutional refurb I've done has had asbestos in it.

OliviaBenson Sun 03-Jan-16 18:14:29

Please don't buy a Victorian house and muller it further.

Things like lime plaster are used for a reason- it's not just for the fun of being a conservation professional that they recommend it, it's actually important for the fabric of the building.m

Cheap b&q doors are cheap b&q doors and I think would always look out of place and odd in a Victorian house with high ceilings.

If you like clean lines and modern then that's great, we're all different after all. I just don't see why our heritage should be sacrificed for that. Could you do a self build? It sounds as though you have the expertise for it and you could have exactly what you want that way.

Retrofitting is very costly and stressful. I say don't do it.

RaphaellaTheSpanishWaterDog Mon 04-Jan-16 05:41:22

Sorry OP, but I'm with Olivia on this one - if you want modern why take the guts out of a period building? I can never understand people saying they want a period house yet inside it resembles a newbuild......why, just why would anyone do this? I'm all for mixing old with new, but B&Q doors in a character property? <Shudder>

We've restored - not renovated, which imho implies awful things like white plastic windows and cheap laminate flooring - five period houses (on our sixth) and it's because we love old houses, not because it's a cheap(er) way to achieve the space we want. These have included Tudor, Georgian and Victorian, the largest of which was 3500 sq ft which we lived in while DIYing much of the work. We worked with the house, not against it to get our dream home which happened to be a wonderful character house that had previously been butchered into four flats respecting what original features (lime plaster, original doors, built in dresser) were left unscathed and putting back some (fireplaces mainly) that had been torn out in the 1960s. When finished we had a six bedroom house with huge eat in kitchen, three reception spaces and original hallway with sweeping staircase.

In your position I think I'd be looking for a plot of land and designing my own self build dream home that can be everything you want it to be.

Sorry, rant over.......

taardnottired Mon 04-Jan-16 07:02:41

Olivia & Raphaella, thanks for your input and I do agree with some of your comments. The previous property we missed out on was a restored Edwardian double fronted home with a grand staircase made by a local timber merchant around 1905 and that took our breath away. We often consider dropping the new owner a note with an offer they may be tempted with but may just wait it out and see if it comes on the market again.

You both are correct, it is actually more a self build I am after, it just happens that this property has one of the largest plots centrally located that I have ever came across and that is also a big factor. I think it is great that 6 (six??) old houses have been restored but I have to be honest, for me, I have no interest in carrying out a restoration and whilst I appreciate and would happily buy a restored home, that kind of project is not for me.

Saying that, I do think keeping the shell is a must as I personally prefer the look of Victorian houses and this one has lovely blonde sandstone with entrance pillars - and then the charm stops there. This house will most likely stay on the market and fall to ruin and after inevitable vandalism and arson, will be demolished. I have seen the same treatment to many spectacular buildings including cathedrals and churches, renovated most often by keeping the façade and shelter a new build inside.

and to the shudder comment about B&Q doors - funny, but I would like to know what you define as character? surely it cannot simply be the age of a building? a period building to me is a building with period features - once they are gone the buildings is just a pile of bricks - which I plan on making into a better pile of bricks.

you may not want to read the next part . . .smile

wonkylegs / emwithme - botchy jobs / asbestos / hidden windows / rot / damp - I hope for the best but expect the worst but my thinking is that surely the best way to overcome all of these would be to actually go back to brick? It may cost more initially but think it would be more cost effective over the life of the build - there wouldn't be any botch jobs to uncover and nasty surprises?

wonkylegs, please do let me know what your plan for the garden is - the garden here is 1.58 hectares and has a lot of mature trees which look dead so a tree surgeon would have to be brought in too.

wonkylegs Mon 04-Jan-16 10:17:21

If you've got mature trees first check they haven't been TPO'd and then get a good arborcultralist (one that's got some qualifications rather than will just chop things down) to cone and have a look.
We've had a lot pruned and maintained after a prolonged period of neglect and one or two removed (dead, dying and one oversized too close to the house). We've planted a few replacements in appropriate positions.
We've split the garden into areas with the largest area laid to lawn (currently has goals and is acting like a football pitch) but we also have an enclosed (with hedges) climbing frame area, a kitchen garden, an orchard, a seating area with firepit, and a hidden area for lots of compost, logs etc storage. We spent the first year working out what was in the garden, some nice plants that we've kept, some horrible ones we haven't and some nice ones that needed some serious pruning. It's important to keep as much as you can as new planting on this scale can add up very quickly. We've had to replace some hedges that were diseased or just in a poor state and fix some fences. We also had quite a bit of storm damage to the trees which has had to be addressed.
We've created a few new beds to break up or edge the space and raised beds in the kitchen garden to make it easier to garden.
We had to buy quite a bit of kit just to keep it manageable to maintain and plant due to the scale - so now have a ride on mower & trailer, battery operated hedge trimmers & Strimmer, rotavator, axe, lots of saws, spades etc and hired a mini digger for a weekend or two to enable us to do some of the landscaping.
We've had to shore up and make safe some of the outbuildings which looked ok when we moved in but with more detailed inspection we're in such great nick. We are about to get a new greenhouse and move its position as the last one was falling down and in shade.
We have further plans for the next couple of years (& when we have some spare cash)

emwithme Mon 04-Jan-16 12:25:04

Oh I agree with the going back to brick. It's the only way we've found some of the things we've found.

We've also got B&Q type doors. But they are traditional style 6 panel doors, rather than the 70s monstrosities that were there before. I'd love to be able to afford custom-built or reclaimed period doors but we can't (not if we want to eat as well, and I'm quite attached to food at regular intervals)

RaphaellaTheSpanishWaterDog Mon 04-Jan-16 19:06:48

I quite understand the attraction of the large, imposing period building and accompanying plot, but for me personally it would be sacrilege to gut the interior of such a building although I totally appreciate that in the OP's case the internal features might sadly be long gone and make it resemble a new build.

I still fail to see why one would go back to brick or stone though - and I assume if you intend to do this you will be adding insulation as building regs will treat it as a new build? The previous owner of our last house (non-listed, thatched, ashlar stone, Georgian) removed much of the original lime plaster and repointed internally in lime. We hated the exposed stone, cottage-y look he was misguidedly trying to achieve inside, but before replastering (in lime so the house could breathe!) we were forced to add (breathable) insulation.

The original plaster he had failed to remove before he fell seriously ill and had to give up the project, was in extremely good condition and required little work before painting/papering.

Walls were plastered in lime for a reason, although it's an expensive job these days - we had a quote for 40k+, but luckily DH is fairly handy and eventually did the job himself.

We had to replace all the ground floor doors as the originals had been removed. Our local salvage yard in Dorset had plenty for £30-50 in 2013, although we did splurge on one with stained glass that set us back £150 on eBay. B&Q's 6 panel doors appear to be £21 (or two for £34) - £100 each, depending on material.

Definitely are with wonkylegs about the garden. This is the third garden we've had to do major work to. The first was small (65' x 35') but had shoulder height brambles throughout - couldn't get into it on viewing day! Very little was salvageable there - and the PO had obviously ignored the fact it was in a Conservation Area and required notifying the council before touching the trees as we found several huge stumps. We had to start from scratch and took advantage of plant sales whenever they occurred! The last garden was one third of an acre in an ANOB and luckily it was just the vast terrace that required sorting - it was covered in Tarmac and used to park 10+ cars - but even this cost a small fortune to put right, what with hard landscaping, veg beds etc.

This house is again in a conservation area - but we have no plans to remove any of the specimen trees - and fortunately it has good bones, despite which in our first year here we've already spent about £5k on plants etc. My advice would be to not leave the outside space till last otherwise you'll end up with a finished house when you're just starting on the gardens, which if tackled early on will already be maturing nicely grin

RaphaellaTheSpanishWaterDog Mon 04-Jan-16 19:08:30

agree not are grin

OliviaBenson Mon 04-Jan-16 20:26:20

"This house will most likely stay on the market and fall to ruin and after inevitable vandalism and arson, will be demolished. I have seen the same treatment to many spectacular buildings including cathedrals and churches, renovated most often by keeping the façade and shelter a new build inside."

But you can't possibly know that. You may get someone like myself or raphaella who will restore it. I've seen many many more buildings restored than demolished, I think this is you just trying to justify it to yourself. Why can you not work with it and do a restoration job? If you fell in love with a period property before, you clearly like them, so why not breathe life back into the building by restoring it? Is it that you don't have the confidence to restore?

"and to the shudder comment about B&Q doors - funny, but I would like to know what you define as character? surely it cannot simply be the age of a building? a period building to me is a building with period features - once they are gone the buildings is just a pile of bricks - which I plan on making into a better pile of bricks. "

There is nothing more jarring than seeing a beautiful period property and then walking inside to find that it's completely modern. It feels wrong. Character is in part it's age and architecture - the expectation of what that is is ingrained. B&q doors will always look out of place, just as you have noticed that some of the features have previously been ripped out. It might look ok for a couple of years but eventually it will look like a poor refurb job- IMO they never age well.

There is a huge trade in architectural reclaim and there is a reason for that.

taardnottired Tue 05-Jan-16 11:27:33

Hi Olivia, definitely do not have the confidence to do a full restoration, but more importantly, I have zero interest in doing a restoration. Its just not my thing and if it isn't a labour of love, then there is no motivation to do so.

I actually think the combination of an imposing period building and large gardens with an immaculate new build inside is very much appealing and doesn't seem wrong on any level to me.

I am very methodical in my approach hence going back to brick both for new build regs and for peace of mind sits well with me. The aging well comment is very valid and all aspects of the build would be well thought out.

TheLesserSpottedBee Tue 05-Jan-16 11:52:04

I think you have thought long and hard about this and you should crunch some numbers and go for it.

I am sitting in my modern 1999 forever house which has 6 panel "Georgian" doors. I didn't choose those. Why on earth would a designer choose either a 4 panel Victorian or 6 panel Georgian door for a modern house?

Surely if someone were to keep a house truly Georgian then there would be no electricity and you would cook on a wood burning range? Also you would piss in a chamber pot. Seems to me people have been modernising houses for a while grin

Booboostwo Tue 05-Jan-16 12:52:53

Speak with your structural engineer about your back to bricks idea as it may be very costly to remove retaining walls and chimneys. It may be financially more viable to get your architect to work with what there is. Some walls will come down easily and then you can spend the money where you really need to to make layout changes.

I also think you need to rethink the proportion of your budget that goes towards finishing touches. I love modern houses and it is possible to combine old and new but modern costs a lot of money. Replacing and replicating Victorian features is the obvious solution. Using cheap doors, kitchen, etc is not the best option. We are on our fourth renovation. We always restore and replace original features that form part of the house e.g. architraves, skirtings, cornices, windows, doors, fireplaces, heritage paint schemes, etc as well as a good quality kitchen and original bathroom fittings, and then add more contemporary style furniture as this can be changed to taste.

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