Hammer time: the demolition stage of a reno

The Renovators | demolition

When the demolition begins, renovations get real. Suddenly, there are no walls/floors/ceilings. Just dust (lots of it). Nadine and Julius are a couple who can relate. After buying a ‘fixer-upper’ in South London at the start of lockdown, they found themselves embarking on a DIY mission, ‘gramming their journey on @rona_renovation. As part of our series The Renovators, exploring the main phases of a refurb, Nadine tells us what it’s like once the sledgehammer starts swinging.

Exterior of Nadine's home

Nads & Juls AKA @rona_renovation

“Renovating was always part of the plan, just not in the height of a global pandemic,” says PR Manager Nadine. She and her partner Julius completed on their Victorian terraced house in the same week that lockdown started. They’d taken on a ‘fixer-upper’ period property, since it was a more affordable option. With no contractors or handy friends around to get their reno underway, they decided to do the demolition themselves. “My stepdad gave us a bag of tools and we had to crack on. Julius instinctively figured it out.”

Wanting to fill her time while on furlough, Nadine set up the (aptly named) Rona Renovation Instagram account to share their reno journey. The most popular post to date? “Just a silly picture of Juls and I trying to be chipper, even though we have no toilet. Everyone loves a trooper!” So how has the renovation impacted their relationship? “It’s really nice working on a project together – we feel like a proper team,” says Nadine. “No big moves or purchases are made without consulting each other. Well, apart from the time Juls threw out all the old radiators, but let’s not dwell on the past…”

BEFORE: the master bedroom

The before

“Ripping out anything we didn’t like seemed a pretty good place to start! The first two weeks were total demolition mode and everything went - from taking out tiles to removing carpets. I had a personal vendetta against the laminate floors. The master bedroom was nondescript and unloved but not totally horrendous - just cream walls (circa 2003) and a strange layout. Our ideal vibe? Comfy bedding with zero clutter. Serene yet spartan.”

DURING: the master bedroom

The budget

“The small amount of money we had left over after buying the house was our ‘reno pot’. It dried up quickly and now we’re pay-as-you-go renovators. We wouldn’t recommend it, but that’s our reality! We had an idea of a budget, and truthfully, it’s doubled. There’s no real way of knowing what a renovation will cost you; it feels like every week we discover something new that needs sorting in the house.”

“The demolition stage isn't for the faint-hearted. But I can’t wait to stand at the bedroom window next year, curtain twitching with a cuppa and admiring the view.”

IN PROGRESS: the master bedroom

The time frame

“We began renovating in the height of the pandemic. It helped me think more rationally about the renovation and I've carried that mentality with me. It's a luxury to renovate. I feel lucky every single day to even be in this position. I think pouring energy, optimism and love into your living space is totally rational and worth it. The upstairs is the biggest priority for us so we can move in (we're currently staying at my mum's).”

That time when there was no floor

The lows

“Some of the demolition stage has just been so raw. I've held the dirt of this house in my bare hands! It would be absolutely insane if we were living here amongst the dust and rubbish. When we removed one of the ceilings, 100 year’s worth of soot fell down. We were covered in it but couldn’t get proper face masks anywhere because of COVID. There was also a cement and plaster shortage in the midst of lockdown. It was intense.”

AFTER: the master bedroom

AFTER: the master bedroom

The advice

Nadine on smashing it:

Handle with care

“Be thoughtful about the demolition. Everything you rip out has to be replaced, and that costs money. It’s worth investing in structural changes – you can’t go back and do them once you’ve decorated! Be unafraid to get stuck into the reno yourself (with the help of YouTube), as it’ll save you hundreds of pounds on labour costs.”

Embrace the dust

“I'm happy to get messy and dirty; I'm not a prim and proper girl. But even after popping into the house for half an hour, I can feel the dust on my face and skin. It's hardcore – everything you touch lifts dust. So don’t plan to wash your hair on demolition day, and don’t bother with manicures. You’ll be annoyed otherwise.”

Limit your options

“We're in an age of too much information. You might be drawn to one paint colour, but by virtue of there being a million of them, you're going to feel confused. My advice? The thing you’re drawn to first is probably the thing you really like. I always try to follow this rule.”

Pretty versus practical

“If I was making decisions based on aesthetics alone, the house would not be functional. I’ve recently let go of the fact that we're not going to get crackle glaze bathroom tiles. Julius had to step in and tell me they’re too high maintenance. We have similar taste but sometimes different ideas on how to execute things. We couldn’t agree on the bathroom towel rail for weeks, it was ridiculous.”

Believe in yourself

“This experience has taught me how capable I am. This isn’t my world at all – I’m a communications professional with an office-based job! But the reno has made me believe I can put my hands to things I thought were outside of my skill set. That’s massively validating and I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.”

Article written by: Natalie Wall | Imagery by: @rona_renovation

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