Cancer, generally, has been a horrific experience, but one thing it has given a bit of breathing space for is largely completing my house makeover. I moved in Easter 2016 (and almost immediately bought the freehold!), and had just completed my own bedroom 2 weeks before my cancer diagnosis – and everything else has been done between and alongside treatments:
The house has some decent curb appeal, although built in the 1970s, it has a bit of a Regency look to it … and – for me – gets a lot of light (mostly in the back in the morning, and the front for the afternoon). We have weird, slightly offset paths, so my garden is not the one with the wishing well in it… Roof has odd flat bit at the front – so got that checked/fixed when I first moved in ..
The garden (s) are the least worked part of the house, my neighbour took down the two large trees either side of the garden as they were blocking most of the evening light; I’ve planted some smaller/cheaper plants in the beds, and gradually added more and more compost, plus the lawn has been kept neat. I tried to keep hanging baskets alive, but tucked away from the weather… I have since gone for Ikea plastic plants!
I enjoyed the look of the lounge because it’s very light – with windows from both ends, but on moving in was quite depressed at how scrubby and dirty everything looked, and that imposing fireplace (though there were questions as to whether that was coming back into fashion) – and very dated heating (but that had to wait til whole house had new heaters in 2019):
I liked the colours in the curtains, etc. though the chandelier wasn’t to my taste – but also I knew that most of my stuff was designed for ‘red’, so the previous owners took all that with them.
I made use of the bookcase bit for a while, then gave that away on Facebook Marketplace. On having a gas check done, the gas fireplace was condemned – not my taste, and not even functional.. but I knew sorting that out was going to take a while. Fortunately I grew up in a cold farmhouse so used to layering up/blankets!
I like to keep my space warm, personalised – but not TOO cluttered. The carpet for this only went down Jan/Feb 2020 – thankful I got that done then! My very ancient TV (thank goodness for Firesticks) is surrounded by furniture that comes from end-of-line sales (including a sofa bed that no one has yet slept on!), and I LOVE my wood-burning stove – that was worth the effort of getting it installed, and the plasterboard which surrounded the 1970s brick craziness!
Very thankful for the patience of my electrician in lining things up (he’s brought the whole house up to legal requirements, and added many more plug sockets!), plumber for installing sweet looking radiators, and my cousin for sorting most of the pictures. I never thought I’d spend so much time in this space, so thankful that it’s so nice! This was a space it seemed worth getting someone else in to strip back the layers of paper on wall and ceiling, and then just paint in a clean WHITE, with the same red that I’d used as a feature wall in my Durham house.
This was always the bit that I planned to do the most work to, and was very thankful that as I was undergoing my first set of chemotherapy (when I still thought that I’d have a normal lifespan), some money was left by my great-aunt, which basically enabled all these changes downstairs (including blocking up the door into the kitchen (repurposed as garage door), and installing patio doors).
So, what do we see here – a very small and cramped kitchen, with very little working space, a door taking up one wall, and a wall between that and the dining area…
So yes, here, with lovely Habitat light, and another sale find for the dining area, you’ll get a peak that the wall has gone … although may not notice that the kitchen wall has also gone back about 3/4 of a metre – not very far but makes SUCH a difference to how light and spacious it feels!
Two years after this kitchen was done, still finding it looking quite like a showroom kitchen (maybe a bit more cluttered), and highly functional… my cousin has been cooking in it for 3 weeks and says all it’s missing is a solid fish slice… otherwise have pretty much anything that’s needed in the small space (and a bit of stuff in the garage)…
And there’s all the beautiful Ikea pots – which magically fit (we didn’t pre-measure – it was just the space that was there) … I quite like having the ‘pop’ of colour on there, and a chalkboard to roughly plan what I might eat, and the spice rack for £10 from ebay which is super useful!
The Back Garden/Garage
Always useful having a garage, but it had been stuffed with ‘stuff’, so had lots of bent shelves to take out, and also had to replace the roof which was badly damaged (and the door that kept getting stuck). I still have some of the pots and the table/chairs have been repurposed as garden stands.. have now updated the back fence/gate, and added extra to the tops of these fences – with a bit of repainting – looks good as new…
The most recent addition to the house, in the hope that people can come and sit in a COVID-Risk-Managed way in the back garden (then of course the tier instructions changed) under an awning (maybe round the firepit!). Adding an alarm to the house was also one of the early jobs that I did..
The hallway was fine, if a little bland for my tastes (family pics had been taken down for estate agents!) … also there was no ladder into the attic, so that was one of the first things I changed (along with boarding half the attic, so that a new boiler could be installed)… when we got round to the hall I had a few friends round peeling off the bobbled wallpaper – with ladders borrowed from neighbours!
The lighting was badly placed, so got that moved – at one point had a beautiful collection of baubles, but 3 of them smashed and I couldn’t get replacements, so gone back to a simple light frame… and many pictures! And after debating a custom-built bookcase, I found a cheaper option with these small Argos cases – and painted the backs white for the benefit of the stairs..
The Master Bedroom
The previous owners did say that this was the room that they’d never really got to.. I’m not sure who needs that many wardrobes but .. it took around a year to get round to this room:
After my cousin and I smashed the wardrobes out, I stripped what seems like about 6 layers of wallpaper off, and some very plasticy paper from the ceiling (where I can still see wardrobe lines, but anyway), then at least 3 layers of paint, my old spare room curtains – room feels loads bigger, very functional – and again, furniture largely from end of line places and Ikea!
Oh yes,that stonking great big adjustable bed .. from Recliner Factory (currently awaiting fixing). Very thankful that this room, including TV at end of bed, was completed a couple of weeks before my cancer diagnosis (also added built in bookshelves/shoe cupboard).
The Spare Bedroom
I slept in this room pretty much as is for the first year, whilst sorting out the master bedroom. Inbuilt wardrobe very useful – nice spare room – but sun comes up this side, so am happier on the other side of the building!
… although are competing somewhat with some bits of storage, photographs, and ironing board/washing stands etc are all used in here when no-one else is in! Dries well with that sun streaming in in the morning 🙂
This was part of the appeal of this house … my last house was 2 rooms, and as I work from home quite a bit (isn’t everyone these days), love having a space I can shut the door on at the end of the day…
And there it is, very neatly set up – and every academic’s dream – whiteboard and built in bookshelves … don’t know if whoever comes after will want them but… and yes, that’s my bookcovers nicely framed!
The bathroom was fine, although nothing was exactly my taste, but it was pretty functional. I’d done the bathroom at my previous house, so still had some ideas from there that I was happy with…
I really like the half-tile, half-paint look, and the white means can play with accessory colours. What with all the cancer meds, it’s maybe a little more cluttered than I’d like, but it’s a good space.. and my toilet is twinned of course!
And this shower is awesome (makes a difference every day) … and managed to turn an empty old airing cupboard into a set of shelves which removed wheeled trollies full of stuff (I mean, I still overflow into the spare room, but it’s a good use of space)
Still to do:
So EVERYTHING has been freshly painted, boiler/heating updated, electricity made safe/updated… amazing what you can do on a tight budget! There’s always a few small bits and bobs to keep on top of, as well as general maintenance (especially of the lawn/garden, and paint touch-ups). I abandoned the idea of applying for Garden Rescue or one of those kind of programmes, as need to put money forward for these. However very small list still to do:
- Remove brass ‘door furniture’ and replace with Chrome
- Strip back outside pillar to base layer, and repaint white (I’ve already repainted the walls and pillar once, but guess it may be a recurring job)
- Drill water hose brackets to wall (back garden)
- Drill planters, clock, temp bracket, etc up in back garden.
- Lounge – curtain hook – swap middle hook for right shape
- Lounge – skirting boards left exposed old paint
- Kitchen – get filler to stay on kitchen surface
- Consider new blinds (current ones quite grubby)
- Bathroom – fix slidey toilet seat
- Master bedroom – remove gloss paint spot from curtains (or replace curtains?)
- Doors – some need a bit shaving off as carpets catch on them
- Boiler – have lost access to my gas fitter, and overdue it’s annual service
Everything else is about decluttering, tidying, keeping eye on the guttering, roof, and front could be repointed but that’s a cosmetic thing.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014; second edition in process) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.