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Thanks for visting Simply The Nest. I'm an English girl married to an Portuguese boy, and when I'm not 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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Sunday
Apr132014

Turquoise and Yellow Living Room Moodboard

This post has been written in partnership with Marks and Spencer Home

About ten years ago, Andre and I moved in together to a little attic flat on the top floor of a Victorian house in West Didsbury. With blonde laminate floors, leather sofas and a builder basic B&Q bathroom it was the height of luxury to our early-twenty-something eyes, having accustomed ourselves over the years to the horrors of rented student accommodation (a personal highlight for me being the shower that had one temperature only - inferno hot - meaning I had to psyche myself up to dash in and out of it once a day). 

Here's the house itself - our living room was the little arched window on the top floor on the right. In winter we shivered under blankets, and in summer it was so hot we stuck to the (faux) leather sofa. But we loved our little flat because in our eyes, it was for just the two of us and so it was perfect.

All my books - arranged not alphabetically, or even by genre, but by the mood evoked in the reader. Fancy or what?

And the infamous sofa. 

I don't do a lot of sponsored-type posts, but I liked the sound of this particular challenge set by Marks and Spencer Home, namely to spruce up an old living space with nice shiny new M&S kit. I decided to think not what would I buy now, but what would we have bought at the time had unlimited funds been available. Andre has more contemporary tastes than I do, and ten years ago I had no clue how to incorporate my personal taste for more eclectic items of furniture into the mix (and didn't have the space, knowledge or tools to do the whole eBay upcycling thing I love so much now) so all our stuff - most of which was from student-tastic Argos or Ikea - was your basic streamlined modern-ish laminate.

Here's what I'd do to create a lovely new contemporary living space for us:

We've always loved bright colours (do you see the modern abstract art behind the sofa in the photo above, painted by my artist Grandpa?) so I'd pick a turquoise Conran sofa and contrasting yellow and white kilim rug. The bookcase is a much nicer wooden version of the Argos-special that currently resides in our cellar, and I absolutely love the hanging cluster lights. It was a small room so rather than adding another sofa, I've chosen a knitted pouffe for extra seating. Obviously we need a new media cabinet (the old one - yikes!) and I've replaced the glass coffee table with a curvier version. I've also added a crazy Rococo-style photo frame to show my own more fanciful style starting to creep in.

The sunburst mirror would reflect the morning light that crept in through the Velux windows, and I added the side table just because I really love it. The turquoise and white of the zigzag photo frames remind me of the Greek islands where we often go on holiday, and the standard lamp would provide useful task lighting when curled up on the now non-sticky fabric sofa with a book. The yellow cushion picks up the colour of the rug, I chose the 'A' cushion for our initials, and the bunny cushion as it adds a quirky touch. 

Ta da! My favourite piece is definitely the hanging cluster lights, which is naturally the most expensive :-) Meanwhile, work continues on our master bedroom - Andre has been busy plastering away while I've been typing this post. I've never been so happy to see brown walls before. 

I was gifted one of the items in this post (no, not the cluster lights!) but all words, thoughts and layouts are my own.  

Sunday
Mar162014

Finally, We Have Planning Permission!

Around this time last year, I was asked by Dan Gibson, a very talented local RIBA architect, what we wanted to achieve as a result of building our house extension. "This!", I said, showing him the photo below. "I want to be saved from this!".

Those of you with nervous dispositions may wish to avert your gaze at this stage as you are about to witness the complete and total carnage created by two toddlers and two babies making gingerbread biscuits in a house where the kitchen is located in a bay window and the working triangle literally involves leaving the room.

Not shown - the eggs cracked onto the floor, the bag of flour emptied into the box of Lego, and the four children under four stuck to each other with golden syrup.

Many of us dream of an open-plan family living space with room to cook, eat, relax and watch the kids sharing their toys nicely. We wanted all these things, but also wanted to retain the quirky original features of the house (the ground floor is split-level, and one of the rooms on the right-hand side of the house has five walls, while the other has six), and we wanted it to be as affordable as possible, and therefore needed to minimise significant structural steel work.

It's taken a year to get there, largely because I spent most of my time during those twelve months wiping golden syrup off the walls instead of concentrating on architecture, but here's my artist's impression of Dan's design, which has just been approved for planning permission. The blue shaded area shows the footprint of the extension.

Somehow, Dan has managed to squeeze in everything we wanted. A side-extension housing a U-shaped kitchen with a large peninsula for family baking sessions and enough space for our long-coveted two dishwashers. A secondary utility area (the main utility room is in the cellar) for recycling and storage. A downstairs WC. A dining table for twelve people. An office/family sofa area. A playroom. A room off the hall for storing buggies, scooters and coats. Storage for giant hideously coloured plastic toys. Lots of windows (but not too many - the garden is south-facing). A view straight through to the garden from the front door. Folding/sliding glass doors leading onto a raised deck area.

This is an older photo of the current playroom - this room will become the dining room, and bay window and wall up to the fireplace will be knocked through to the height of the picture rail to the new kitchen extension beyond. The kitchen peninsula will be sited where the floor lamp currently lives.

My favourite part of the design is the glass corner around the staircase. In order to meet UK building regulations, all staircases have to be enclosed by walls and doors - you can't have a staircase opening onto a large family area or kitchen the way you can in the US. So Dan came up with the ingenious idea of building a glass corner (to the right of the dining table in the drawing) around part of the staircase, and putting a glass door into the playroom (all with fire-safety glass) to give a view all the way across the ground floor from the kitchen peninsula to the playroom, while still retaining the separate rooms we'll need when the kids are older and want their own living space.

From the outside, the extension will be modern, built from white render. But it will be sited on a plinth of reclaimed bricks to link it back to the original house.

The bay window on the right will be replaced by the white rendered single-storey rear and side extension, which will join up with the existing tower bay window on the left.

And what's really clever about the design is that in terms of structural work, *all* we're doing is removing a bay window and part of a wall, which should keep the cost down significantly. I'd originally planned on knocking down all the walls around the office and playroom area (you can see my original drawing here), but apart from the fact that we can't do that as it would leave the staircase unprotected, it would probably more than double the cost.

So the next stage is to get the structural drawings done that builders can quote from. It's all extremely exciting. In the meantime, we're busy working away on the master bedroom, which has now reached the slightly terrifying back-to-brick stage where you find yourself wishing that you'd just left the wallpaper as it was.

Monday
Feb102014

The Joys Of Removing 130 Years Of Wallpaper

And we're away! The wallpaper is being ripped from our master bedroom walls and hurled to the floor with glee even as I type, following which it will be scrunched up, stuffed into bin bags, smuggled outside and wedged into our overflowing recycling bin (we've never hired a skip). 

First of all though, let's take a look at the before pictures. Less a master bedroom, really, and more a generously-sized second-hand furniture store. At one stage we had two king size beds, three wardrobes, a giant desk, two Ikea Expedit units, a cabinet and a sofa in here and barely even noticed the difference - it's a pretty massive room, and seeing our daughters joyfully chasing each other round and round the rug every night before bedtime went a long way towards reconciling us to living with the room's horrific aesthetics while we worked on the other bedrooms.

I'd squint at this one if I were you:

Moving anti-clockwise round the room - we have a bay window and a separate arched window on the same wall, both north-facing. You can really see the height of the ceilings in this photo:

What, doesn't everyone wake up in the morning to the sight of two imposing wardrobes and matching cabinet? I'm actually not sure that this isn't the worst before photo in the history of the internet. 

The ironic thing is, we've actually got some pretty nice furniture in there - our reclaimed wooden bed and wardrobe, a custom-made wooden desk, the swivel office chair, the Ikea units, the mirrored chest of drawers, the Hannah Nunn fairy lights (I can't wait to give them the peaceful sanctuary they deserve after months of dangling between a hideous red ceiling and an even more hideous red carpet), and the abstract paintings - it's just when you put it all together that it all goes horribly wrong. 

Let's look at a couple of details - loving the poorly installed corner sink. Why, yes, that's an electric cable underneath the bowl, and a double socket casually placed within splashing distance. 

Here's one of the window corners - mustard paintwork, thermal film that we haven't got round to installing properly (it works amazingly well, but doesn't look pretty yet), and ancient curtains. To be fair to the previous owners, someone went to a lot of trouble to co-ordinate the paint and soft-furnishings - and although the colour scheme isn't to my taste, it was probably madly on-trend back in the eighties. 

So, how does the room look now? Ta da!

And again, ta da!

Removing wallpaper from Victorian walls is no joke. You can forget using a kettle, or peeling it off with your fingernails - you need a proper wallpaper steamer, a sharp scraper, and lots of patience. You'll find wallpaper on top of wallpaper, wallpaper on top of new plaster, wallpaper on top of plaster on top of wallpaper (oh yes), wallpaper on top of lime plaster, wallpaper on top of cement - it's a right old palimpsest. Some pieces peel away reasonably easily, others cling tightly to the wall like recalcitrant barnacles and then come away in a shower of ancient plaster, taking half the wall with them. We've got A LOT of work to do. Plasterboarding and skimming is an option, as is replastering straight onto the walls. Really, we should be using lime plaster so the bricks can breathe - ehh, we don't have a damp problem in this room and it's survived decades of dodgy modern plaster work, so I think we might just go down the gypsum route... unless a reader can persuade me otherwise...?