In the late 80s and early 90s I worked as an estate agent. Starting as a sales negotiator, it took just an hour into day one to realise that I was going to LOVE this job, and in no time I was asking to accompany the viewings assistant and valuers so that I could learn more. We live in a town where there aren’t an abundance of really unusual or period houses and once I’d got to know market, it wasn’t rocket science to know what a house could realistically sell for. By the end of the first year I was out there listing houses for sale though my photographs rarely made the grade and this task was taken over by the viewings assistant who had a far better eye than I did. However, my favourite job remained the negotiation and tying up a sale. My love affair with houses has never waned, but for me it’s the everyday dwellings which I enjoy far more than large, fancy ones. I like to see what ordinary people can do. I enjoy TV programmes to do with buying houses. My favourite is Location, Location, Location and I especially like it when they are looking at what Kirstie Allsop calls a ‘doer-upper’. Most will recognise the term as meaning ‘in need of improvement’. I also enjoy Love it or list it which is another Kirstie & Phil Spencer collaboration.
Back in 1983, with two young sons (Daughter joined them later) I moved into such a property – a large Victorian semi. It was, to say the least, in need of improvement. My mother’s verdict at the time was that we were quite mad, and over the next two years I did sometimes wonder myself as we regularly burnt out hot-air stripping guns. Every door, picture rail and skirting board was hand stripped back to the wood and polished with wax and lots of elbow grease. The ornate plaster ceiling roses had been boxed in, picture and dado rails removed, and some of the deep skirting boards removed. The house needed repairs to the floors and repairs to the ceilings, and the original panelled doors had been covered over with hardboard to ‘modernise’ them.
When the glued down vinyl tiles in the hall were removed, the original tiled floor was revealed.
We reinstated wherever we could in terms of period decor, and installed a new kitchen and bathroom.
The old gas fire was fixed to a plasterboard wall. The original tiled fireplace had been covered over in its entirety and this explained my puzzlement at how deep the recesses were on each side. What a find – black marble and hand painted tiles! It was huge! The gas-fire remover offered us £1,000 for it there and then, but no way was I letting it go. I don’t have a photo of the whole fireplace but managed to crop this from one. The open fire was loved by all (except those who had to lay it and clean it out).
Fortunately the small cast iron fireplaces in the bedrooms were left intact, though we never used them for their intended purpose.
I spent hours poring over the Laura Ashley catalogue, less enamoured of the spriggy country prints, but loving the bolder, reproduced Victorian ‘Egg and Dart’ and thistle designs. An internet search threw up a picture of the ‘Albert’ fabric (shown below) from which I made cushions to complement the co-ordinating wallpaper. Although painted plaster walls have been favoured in recent years, I read that wallpaper is once again growing in popularity. I’ve always preferred it, though don’t tend to go for patterns nowadays. Oh that I had kept my numerous copies of the catalogues – I note that the £1.25 1983 version recently sold for £69!
In 1997 I moved into my current house. Completely different, it was another doer-upper. This time many original features remained but given that it was built in 1965 they weren’t ones I had any desire to retain! The kitchen (left) consisted on a sink unit, a base unit and an unmatching wall cupboard. Now, I know that co-ordinating rather than matching units are fashionable today (and how lovely they look) but believe me, this was no fashion statement! We replaced the kitchen and we still have the same one, though we’ve since added more units, replaced the sink and worktops and have back-boards instead of tiles.
The awful bathroom (below left) underwent its first transformation the following year. It’s since been refitted again
The sitting room fireplace was removed and replaced with a white one. More recently that’s been changed for an oak one. We retained the marble insert and hearth.
My doer-upper days are over but younger son and daughter-in-law are about to move into one which would have been built at the same time as the Victorian one we lived in (1899) as it’s just three doors away! I went to take a look earlier this week. It needs so much work. And now I’m going to sound just like my mother all those years ago……they must be mad!