Thanks for visting Simply The Nest. I'm an English girl married to an Portuguese boy, and when I'm not working or taking care of our two adorable daughters, I blog about our house renovation, DIY projects, delicious recipes, inspirational interiors, and family life in a Victorian Manchester nest.

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Now You Know What We Did This Summer

Whoops, I forgot to blog! Well at least that's one of the good things about not blogging for money - if you take an extended summer holiday it doesn't make any difference. A couple of nice readers contacted me asking if we've moved house (ye gods, the thought - we are never moving again) or if I'd stopped blogging altogether (well not on purpose, I'm just absent-minded) and this reminded me that an update is long overdue.

Here's what we've been doing since April this year.

I took on possibly the biggest project of my life when I joined the Love Withington Baths team with the goal of saving a much-loved 100-year old local swimming pool from closure. I'm delighted to say that after a massive amount of hard work, an immensely steep learning curve and a whole load of fun, myself and a number of other equally bonkers locals are now the exceptionally proud volunteer directors of a group that manages a heritage swimming pool and leisure centre - run by the community, for the community.

The gorgeous entrance hall - the original tiles had been hidden under a horrible 60s-style carpet!

After handling the sweat-inducing white-knuckle-inciting midnight-oil-burning transition from Manchester City Council to our community group in June this year we've gone from strength to strength. We were closed for only one week while the council moved out and we moved in with our brand new top-of-the-range gym equipment and IT systems (during which we also scrubbed, cleaned and painted along with a team of fabulous local volunteers) before we became operational and started taking on new members - who have now signed up in the hundreds. We have a full team of fantastic staff who run the Baths on a day to day basis - Facilities Manager, Duty Managers, Lifeguards, Swimming Instructors, Gym Instructors - but we retain overall strategic direction of the facility on behalf of the community.

I don't think I've ever done anything that I'm more proud of than this project. Eva recently celebrated her fifth birthday with a swimming pool party at the Baths for all her friends, and I spent the entire time wandering around beaming at people - both as a proud parent and a proud community campaigner.

What else have we been doing? Finishing the wardrobe, of course. In my last update we'd just started painting the interior white. We finished this off and hung the wallpaper at the back.

We installed the lights (which switch on automatically when we open the doors):

And the shelves and drawers:

And all the other fittings:

Finally we hung the doors.

This makes it all sound easy - it sodding well wasn't; it was an absolute nightmare of measuring and cutting and swearing and re-measuring and improvising and running back to Ikea and fitting and measuring again.

But it looks ace so it was all worth it.

Temporary door removal for re-hanging purposes

Ahhhh, my shoes, my shoes.

Now we need to decrease the width of the middle doors - which involves cutting through the fretwork, of joy - and then fit and paint the face frame.

After all that we needed a rest, so we went on holiday to Tuscany for two weeks, and stayed on a beautiful tranquil agriturismo in between Siena and San Gimignano. Bliss.

The Siena campo by night.

We have also started preparing the land outside for the builders, who were *supposed* to arrive earlier this month and are now coming in November to begin what will most likely be a four-month external build of our side and rear ground-floor extension with internal re-modelling, followed by probably around twenty years of hard labour on our part to DIY the plastering, woodwork, painting, floors, tiling and kitchen installation.

We had to dig out a monolithic tree stump that was right in the way at the side of the house. Originally this had been a huge dead tree taller than the house, which we had cut down in spectacular fashion a couple of years ago. Unwilling to hand over the best part of £1000 to a contractor to remove the remaining trunk and roots, we set upon the world's most recalcitrant tree stump with a chainsaw, reciprocating saw, axe and spade. Don't be fooled by the scale of these photos - it was a good metre across, and the slices that we cut from it during the process weighed an absolute tonne.

The Stump mocked us mercilessly for several weeks, scorning our attempts to carefully excavate around its roots, but eventually gave in after the relentless pressure of The Man Who Would Not Be Beaten By A Piece Of Wood (Andre) and his power tools.

I'm pleased to say that it has now disappeared without a trace and the soil has been raked back over it as if it had never been there...

Clinging on bitterly...

We also removed the shanty-town style pergola outside the back door, along with the shrubbery and ancient collapsing trellis. Yes, yes, why didn't we do this earlier...

From this:

To this:

And now this:

We also made sure the kids had a lovely summer, kicking things off with a party bus for Natalia's third birthday which was enjoyed by children and parents alike, with trips to the zoo and various small animal farms, plus expeditions to the countryside to paddle in streams, and to the beach to eat fish and chips and ice cream and giant Lytham St Anne's eclairs.

Now we're busy tidying, sorting, recycling and/or disposing of the entire contents of the ground floor in preparation for safely packing what remains into the cellar so it doesn't get damaged by the building works. Bring it on!

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Master Bedroom Fitted Wardrobe Progress

"Mummy, it's a tower!". So said nearly-three year old Natalia after first clapping eye on the new addition to our master bedroom, before attempting to play hide and seek in it. 

We've been working on this project on and off for a couple of months, and it's finally starting to look like an actual wardrobe. It's taken a long time because designing and installing a completely custom fitted wardrobe with two kids and two dogs and two full-time jobs isn't exactly the most simple task we could have taken on, especially when it's enormous (2.7m x 3m), constructed to our own precise specification from a pile of timber and an assortment of random fittings from various suppliers, and we've had to work out how to build it as we've gone along.

First of all we built the frame from planed timber 2x2" wood. We installed the base first and levelled it, and then built the verticals on top. We initially tried to install the verticals in situ and screw them in against the wall, but the wall was so wonky that to get everything level we were having to chop into the wood to accommodate the curve of the wall, which was a huge pain. So we gave up and went with Plan B, which was to pull the whole thing away from the wall, build it, and let the vertical levelling take care of itself (which it did). An additional challenge was making sure it was square - no good having a compartment that's exactly the width and depth of your drawer if it's slightly parallelogram-shaped as the drawer won't fit in. 

Keeping the girls entertained with their own tools while we cracked on with our tools.

We then hammered a few sheets of 3.6mm plywood onto the back with panel pins, and installed it in place against the wall. We accommodated the huge skirting board by stopping the plywood just above it. We screwed into the wall for added security using pilot holes we drilled through the wood before we pulled it away from the wall to add the backing board. 

Here's where things started to get tricky. We have multiple combinations of drawers and shelves to install in each section of the wardrobe, and obviously these need to be screwed into something. So I had to do approximately one million measurements to figure out where to install the horizontal bars so that when we screwed the drawer into place, it would hit solid wood.

For example: "if the drawer is 16cm high visually but 17.8cm high including the rails and the screw is 14cm from the top of the drawer and we need a 1cm gap from the bottom of the wardrobe plus the 3.6mm for the ply and then we have two more drawers to install before the shelf which is 18mm and then above this we need minimum 160cm of hanging space with 3.6mm ply at the top, then how much space can we have between the three drawers so they're evenly spaced and where therefore will the three sets of screws go?". And breathe....

We did think part way through that installing a few verticals inside each compartment might have been easier, but given each compartment has various combinations of rails, shelves and drawers, all of which need to be screwed in at different places along the depth of the compartment, I'm not sure if it would have been any easier.

Next up, we hammered in the remaining plywood to frame out the compartments. It was at this stage that I wished we had invested in a nail gun.  

We also installed lights that switch on when you open the door - fancy. Andre and Andre's friend Ian (who was present during our heated debate over adding yet more expense to the project by including lighting) insisted that it would make all the difference and they were right, it looks fantastic. Well, the photo below doesn't look fantastic, but the actual lights do :-)

Testing that the drawers fit - they do! To the millimetre! Hallelujah :-)

Finally, priming with oil-based primer - and Andre is lathering on the first coat of fresh white wood paint even as I type. 

The most useful tip I can pass on to someone taking on a project like this is to invest in a laser measure - we have a Makita one and it's incredible, accurate to the millimetre. I can't even imagine taking on something like this involving SO MUCH MEASURING with a manual tape measure. It wasn't cheap, but it was worth every penny. 

Next steps:

  • Finish painting it white.
  • Wallpaper the back of each compartment.
  • Fit all the drawers, baskets, shelves, rails and pullouts.
  • Figure out how to turn our specially imported carved Indian screens into doors.
  • Install the doors with our specially selected hinges (who knew there were so many different varieties of hinge in existence?!)
  • Fit handles.
  • Lovingly hang clothes, place sweaters in drawers and shoes on shelves, and exult in the fact that we won't need to build another wardrobe for about twenty years.

Easy as pie...!


Before and After

Here's the before...

...and here's the after:

Fellow dog owners may understand the link between the two - take one poorly dog with an upset tummy (he'd been eating Eva's modelling clay, the fool) who felt it was necessary to defile our delightful dining room and hall carpet, couple it with a spell of very warm weather, and the result was Andre calling me at work to announce that he felt he had no choice but to remove the offending carpet and did I mind? Bearing in mind that the last time Andre removed a carpet on a whim we ended up spending 300 hours patiently scraping lead paint off the stairs in the height of summer, I wasn't overly keen, but the alternative was clearly worse so I gave executive approval and the carpets were duly spirited off the premises forthwith.

Note for the benefit of anyone wondering why we didn't rip the hideous 25 year old carpets up as soon as we moved in - we decided to keep all the carpets on the ground floor in place in order to reduce draughts from the freezing cold cellars below that we can't insulate because the builders will need access to the cellar ceilings to install the new gas, water and electrics for the extension. However, we're hopefully a hop, skip (more likely several hundred skips - muwahaha) and a jump away from starting the building work (yay!), plus it's nearly summer, so we'll just have to cope with the occasional blast of cold air. 

Andre thinks it looks like a French house now and I can kind of see the logic - there's probably people who pay a lot of money for this kind of distressed chic :-)

Next up - wardrobe update!