Under construction: life in the middle of a renovation

The Renovators | construction

While the demolition phase of a renovation is messy, the construction phase can be stressy. Suddenly, you become the site manager of your own home. So how to stay sane when the end's in sight, but still feels a long way off? As part of our series The Renovators, exploring the main stages of a refurb project, Olivia Likosso talks dust, DIY and swerving ‘renowhelm’.

Exterior of Olivia's ex-council flat

Olivia loving that DIY life

As if being a full-time midwife wasn’t enough for Olivia Likosso, she’s currently renovating a two-bedroom ex-council flat in North West London. She bought the property with her boyfriend Rob in April 2019. “After finishing uni we both moved back in with our parents and opened a joint account to save for our future home on a monthly basis,” explains Olivia. Despite this, the purchase was unplanned. “We saw the flat on the market and joked about buying it. Being in such poor condition, we got it for a very good price.”

After obtaining planning permission and carrying out asbestos tests, they began demolition works - themselves. “I’ll never forget how dusty it would get,” recalls Olivia. “It was a complete nightmare.” They’re now in the construction phase with walls that a) actually exist and b) are freshly plastered. “It’s been stressful,” she admits. “I remember thinking there was no way we were ever going to get to the stage we’re at now.” So how did Olivia navigate so-called ‘renowhelm’? “It does get very overwhelming, especially when things aren’t in your control,” she says. “It’s so important you make light of the lows and embrace the journey.”

Fireplace before Vs after

The before

“It was a mess! That’s the easiest way to put it. A very botched-up ex-council flat, which hadn’t been touched in years. Horrible carpets and old wallpaper. The cables and plumbing work were all surface mounted - everything was unsafe. It needed so much love. But Rob saw the potential in the size of the property, the garden and the ideal location.”

That time when there was no ceiling

The budget

“My tips for saving up to buy a property? Set yourself a goal and a monthly budget. Avoid unnecessary spending - that means no date nights for a while, and strictly no Uber Eats or Deliveroo. We’ve avoided getting extra loans and credit cards for the renovation - but I know everyone does it differently. We’re taking it one month at a time.”

“I’ve never done anything like this in my life. I’d repainted my room a few times at my mum’s house, but nothing as intense as this. When it got too much for me, I’d take a break from it all for a couple weeks.”

Living room before works commenced

The time frame

“I didn’t think we’d ever get to this point of our renovation - I find myself staring at before and after pictures for ages! There’s still a lot to do, including getting the kitchen and bathroom installed, and doing flooring, plumbing and electrics, but it’s nice to at least have one room ‘semi’ complete. Everything should be finished by the end of the year, if all goes well.”

Olivia measuring up

The lows

“Renovating a house from scratch takes a lot of patience and perseverance. There were plenty of times I felt like giving up, especially at the demolition phase – the dust just gets too much. That’s one of the main reasons I chose to stay at my mum’s, because I genuinely don’t think I could handle living in a half-renovated flat while working shifts.”

Testing out wall colours

The living room taking shape

The advice

Olivia on nailing construction:

Set the mood

“I’ve had an inspiration moodboard for at least ten years. Because who doesn’t create one for their first home, before they’ve even bought it? It’s just like planning your wedding from the age of five - yes, I am that girl!”

Get (really) organised

“A lot of organising goes into renovating; you’re literally the project manager of your own home (more on that here). Creating Excel spreadsheets, speaking to family and friends and setting a budget for the month helped me. It’s a good idea to have a planner where you can write out a timeline and contact numbers.”

Give it a go

“We saved a lot of money by doing the demolition, tiling and painting ourselves. Google became my best friend! We also hired ‘wait and load’ skips - the container remains outside for an hour while you bring all the rubbish down, instead of hiring a skip to stay for a few days.”

Talk to your tradespeople

“Don’t be afraid to interview potential tradespeople. Before getting the whole flat replastered, we saw about ten different people, got quotes from each of them, and went for the person we got good vibes from. We’re also fortunate that the electrician, plumber and carpenter are close friends of ours.”

Document the journey

“Having before and after pictures of the transition will always be something I cherish; they’re a nice reminder of how far we’ve come. It’s been such a life-changing experience and I’ve learnt so much along the way. It’s addictive - we’ll definitely renovate our future home!”

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

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