In Need of Improvement

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.

B. Road 1

We reinstated wherever we could in terms of period decor, and installed a new kitchen and bathroom.

Fireplace 4The 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 from the one that we bought all those years ago.  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 back then……they must be mad!


  1. I think I would have enjoyed being an estate agent or even a property developer! Our current house was built towards the end of the 60s and when we bought it, the original owners were still living there. By now, they were in their 80s. We had a lot of work to do, to bring the house into the 21st century. We bought the ‘worst’ house, in one of the most sought after roads, in the village. Now we are rattling around in a home that’s really too big for us but, with the current situation, I think we’ll stay put for the time being.


    • Absolutely the right thing to buy the worst house in a good area. I’ve seen some beautifully renovated houses in rough areas and the money spent is never recouped. Our house is fine for us in size but the garden (which is not enormous – just too big for us) will be what forces an eventual move

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      • Our garden is a difficult shape – I think! It’s wide but short. The photos of your garden looked lovely. Am I right in thinking it has different levels? My sister lives in Arundel and has the most beautiful walled garden. My dream garden would be walled!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes the garden is on 3 main levels, with a further small rise at the end. The plot is on the side of the hill so both house and garden are split level. Oh yes, a walled garden would be my dream too. I’d like it full of roses and old fashioned cottage garden plants.

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  2. I love seeing your pics. We love the house shows you mention. In 2004 I took a year out of teaching and did up a house which we still rent out. It took me 3 months to do it up. It was really hard work. I returned to teaching but my health was declining fast. That house has really helped us financially over the years. I can not believe how hard I worked then!


    • How lovely to take a year out to work on a house. I’d love that. I took three years out and went to uni to do a degree… three years ever!


  3. PS Just looked on eBay and the Laura Ashley catalogue for 1983 is now £89. I also have her book A House in the Cotswolds and that is £28. So almost £120 for two thin little books from the early 1980s. Has the world gone mad?


    • I think so, Margaret. They are hardly antiques, but clearly collectable. Even if I still has those catalogues, I really don’t think I’d want to sell them. I do wish I had kept them but downsizing meant that a lot of possessions had to go.


      • The cheaper books, magazines and catalogues were things which would normally have been discarded, whereas the more expensive books were ‘kept’, thus there are fewer of the cheaper items and thus they have increased in value for those who really want them. I had Habitat catalogues in the 1960s – I wish I had them now! The same applies to pottery. The posh end of the market which produced what are called “cabinet” pieces is often flooded with pieces of Royal Worcester and Royal Crown Derby, “collector’s” pieces, but plain pottery which was often broken sometimes can be more valuable simply because fewer survived.
        Margaret P


      • Ohyes, Habitat catalogues. When I was setting up my first home in 1976 I dreamed of a particular Habitat sofa but it was too expensive for us. By the time I could have afforded it, I’d moved on to more classic pieces. Thinking back, it would have been horrendously uncomfortable as it had no arms. Nowadays I like arms on my seats! I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re absolutely right – what is used every day is less likely to survive.


  4. What wonderful transformations, Eloise, and what a wonderful time you had as an estate agent. I think that is a profession I would’ve also enjoyed.
    Speaking of the Laura Ashley catalogue, I’d no idea they fetched prices like that. I have the 1983 copy, plus a similarly sized booklet called A House in the Cotswolds, about Laura’s own property which she did up as a show home for her fabrics and wallpapers. Some of the rooms are now too matchy-matchy for today’s taste, with wallpaper, curtains, sofas, chairs and cushions in much the same pattern, but still infinitely nicer than the vogue for minimalism which followed in the early part of the 21st century.
    Margaret P


    • I am certain that you’d have loved estate agency, Margaret. I could see you working for one of the upmarket companies that sells the ‘million pound’ properties! I loved seeing what people had done to a small family semi, though we did sell some very exclusive homes too. Yes, Laura Ashley’s matching prints would seem a bit old hat now, but I did love it all back then. I even had Laura Ashley maternity dresses when I was expecting baby no.2 in 1980.!


  5. I’ve enjoyed seeing your transformations. I haven’t seen it in a long time but another favourite of mine is ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ It never ceases to amaze me just how some people can see potential in some properties. X

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that sometimes the ability to visualise can be a double-edged sword. It makes us take on projects that are very hard work!


  6. Big chuckles reading this. The enthusiasm of youth – I was that way once, too. I taught myself how to wallpaper in the early 1970s as my hushand made our life miserable when he did it. He skateboarded instead whilst I measured, pasted, and climbed up and down ladders. No, the marriage didn’t last…..I am impressed by all the work you’ve done over the years, very nice xx

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