Behind the doors of Emma Samms’ home makeover: Part two
PUBLISHED: 15:35 04 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:43 04 September 2017
Emma Samms is midway through a full-scale renovation of her 300-year-old Cotswold home. Luckily, the biggest problem so far is sleeping too close to the fridge!
I’ve got the builders in. This is not a euphemism but it’s been my excuse for being overly emotional and totally pre-occupied for the last six months. After twenty years of living in my beautiful but decrepit 300 year old house I’ve bitten the bullet and embarked on a total renovation. Plumbing, wiring, carpets, decorating – the works.
Three months in and we had finally reached the stage where small parts were looking better than they were before we started. I say small parts and I mean it. The grotty tiles behind my Aga had been replaced with gorgeous, clean tiles that, to me, look like large pieces of white chocolate.
The ceilings in my guest rooms were whiter than they’d ever been, but that was about it with the improvements. The rest of the house was a dust-covered building site. Huge lorries have chewed up my driveway and a portable loo and a skip became eye-catching features of my front garden but I constantly reminded myself that this needed to be done and it will be SO much better when it’s done.
The wiring in my house was at least fifty years old and the plumbing a comedic combination of sturdy Victorian and botched circa 1970’s, so updating them both was more of a necessity than a luxury. I suppose I had realised that if something needs to be replaced then the original will have to be removed first but somehow I hadn’t worked out that an eight bedroom, four reception room house has a lot of plumbing and a lot of wiring and I certainly hadn’t anticipated that a considerable amount of destruction was in order. Perhaps I had thought that old wires and old pipes could be pulled out of the wall or the floor with new versions popped back in through the same holes. Ridiculous. I know. As it turns out, virtually every floor on the first and second floor has been pulled up and there are large holes in my walls.
Adding to the mess was my decision to finally get rid of the woodchip wallpaper that has graced more than half of the walls in my house since I moved in twenty years ago. Whilst I found it’s bitty, uneven surface mightily offensive at first, I discovered that woodchip wallpaper puts up a very good fight if you attempt any sort of amateur DIY removal. After going a couple of rounds with it in the first two years, I admitted defeat and learned to live with it. In truth, I always had a sneaky suspicion that it was the woodchip wallpaper alone that was holding the house up.
The renovation started in the attic. I was still able to sleep in my bedroom a floor below and the only real trauma was having to wake up at 7am every morning to let the builders in an hour later. Within a month, as the building work spread out around the house, I was sleeping downstairs in the living room and then sleeping (and living) in the kitchen. This had its advantages: the warmth of the Aga, the proximity to the fridge but it also has it’s disadvantages: the lack of space and the proximity to the fridge. Snacking is FAR too easy when you’re sleeping in the kitchen.
The biggest issue for me has been sharing my house with so many people. I live on my own most of the time and I haven’t had this much company since I was at boarding school. I’m certainly not used to having up to seven blokes wandering in and out of my space for eight hours a day. The saving grace has been how nice they are: respectful, well mannered and grateful for any cups of tea or coffee that I’ve made them. I’ve tried to make a hot drink for each of them at least once a day and I’ve tried to remember who likes tea or coffee and how they like it. This seems the least I can do as I witness how hard they work doing some tricky and very messy jobs.
The house invasion has been quite stressful for my two dogs, Willis and Chester, who like me are not used to this much company.
They dutifully alert me to each and every arrival, delivery and new knocking and banging noise despite all my efforts to explain to them that their protective services need to be temporarily suspended. If one of the builders has to walk through the kitchen, where the dogs and I are usually hiding out, then the barking escalates to a frantic pitch. Despite the fact that the builders have all been very good at taking time to greet the dogs and convince them that there’s no need for concern, both my dogs have revealed that they have the attention span of a goldfish and minutes later, as the very same builder crosses back through the kitchen, the dogs’ ballistic defence starts anew.
Adding to the ambience of living in a building site has been the duelling radios of the builders.
Noel, the foreman, likes rock verging on heavy metal. Paul the electrician likes a more middle-of-the-road musical selection. Being that they’re usually working in different parts of the house, they can listen to whatever they want to on separate radios but if I’m somewhere between the two locations, then both radios can be heard. Along with the banging and hammering of construction and the dogs barking, the result is a headache-inducing cacophony. Saying that, I’ve learned that if Noel is singing along (albeit consistently ahead of the melody by a beat or two) it means that all is well and the build is progressing to plan, so I’m always quite pleased to hear his cheery voice.
Noel has been a delight. He’s on time, reliable and enthusiastic.
He’s the last to leave each day and he mops the floor behind him as he goes. Sometimes the mess and dust is so extreme that this feels akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic but the gesture is appreciated.
On a few occasions my very old house has revealed a few surprises. A hole under a flagstone by the back door turned out to be a deep well which we wouldn’t have known about if Noel hadn’t been willing and able to climb down there.
‘Noel the Mole’ as he’s now called, has since investigated the crawl space in the attic and we’re hoping to persuade him to investigate the space under one corner of the house that I’m convinced hides the entrance to a hidden cellar filled with bags of treasure.
Glimpses into the house’s history have also been afforded by the removal of the woodchip wallpaper. A Mr CH Aldridge, who was apparently responsible for applying the cursed wall covering, slightly redeemed himself by inscribing the wall with the date before he did his dastardly deed.
One thing that I hadn’t considered before the work began was just how many decisions were going to be required of me throughout the process. Paul the electrician (lovely man, never says “no” to another cup of coffee) is constantly checking with me about the placement of electrical sockets and light switches.
There’s no going back once the holes in the walls have been made, get it wrong and you’ll be cursing yourself for years to come. Paint colours, carpet colours and tiles for four bathrooms need to be chosen. I’ve tried to time the big purchases to when there’s a sale on and I’ve also been scouring EBay and Gumtree for bargains whenever possible. My biggest success was finding 65 Italian marble tiles for £250 on EBay. Collecting them required 2 journeys in order to preserve the suspension on my devoted Ford Mondeo. I’m not sure that my back held up quite so well after hauling the weighty tiles in and out, but the bathroom is going to look fabulous.
It’s hard to explain the extent of the dust thrown up by basic building work so I leave you with this photograph:
This poor, innocent handbag somehow missed out on the packing-up process. I need say no more.
My next article about this renovation will be my last on the subject. It will feature many glossy ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos to illustrate the smashing success the project has been. Let’s just say that I haven’t started writing that one yet...