Snapshots From A Reno Part II

I promised you Wednesday house updates and while I have some, I’m not sure, as I type that I will have many pictures to show you but let’s see where we get to. I have some rough and ready shots that I took before the light went – you’ll get the idea. Firstly, some of you, depending on where you live, may have noticed that after an unseasonably warm few weeks the temperatures have plummeted.

sisal bubble weave in desert from alternative flooring
sisal bubble weave in desert from alternative flooring

This appears to be down to the fact that after we replaced all our upstairs windows during the almost unprecedented London snow and temperatures of -6C before Christmas, the fitters are back to replace the sitting room windows front and back. This, of course means it’s very cold. We are working in our coats and the other builders are wearing jumpers and requesting lots of tea.

sisal bubble weave in desert from alternative flooring
sisal bubble weave in desert from alternative flooring

Yes, the other builders. You may have seen talk of Blue Monday earlier this week, today is Builder Tuesday. The bathroom has been ripped out and the new pipes are being laid. This is because we are moving it around.

As you can see from the floor plan it’s an odd shape. We have decided to do away with the bath – no-one in this house ever has one and if it’s a problem when we sell then the new owners can put it back – to try and create more space and a walk-in shower. With that in mind everything is taking one step to the right as it were. The loo will move along to where the head of the bath was. The shower will sit at the foot of the bath and the basin will take the place of the current loo.

There will also be a pocket/sliding door fitted as with the current arrangement opening the bathroom door blocks access to the back bedroom so a sliding door makes more sense.

According to my very lovely (and fast builder) this will be done in two weeks.

walls in middle buff by little greene, woodwork in masquerade mid, zebo rug and sisal bubble weave desert from alternative flooring

Meanwhile, the sisal flooring is being fitted in the middle bedroom (office and guest) and our bedroom at the front. Now I know lots of you have raised the issue of practicality with sisal. The one I have used (desert bubble) is a large weave so not recommended for stairs. In terms of staining it can stain, like all carpet, so maybe avoid high traffic areas or places where small children might be eating/throwing drinks about.

As with any spills the recommendation is that you must dab not rub. And having watched a very dear friend of mine trip with his cup of espresso and throw it all over my newly upholstered pale pink chaise longue, I can vouch for the dabbing. There were no marks left once I had finished dabbing. But, again, be careful not to drench potential stains with too much water as you can replace the original spill with a water stain.

sisal bubble weave in desert from alternative flooring
sisal bubble weave in desert from alternative flooring

In short, I’m very happy putting it in bedrooms where we don’t eat or drink and tend to walk barefoot or in slippers. It’s also soft enough for us although tastes differ. One reader said it would be like walking on gravel and having lived in a flat with a coconut or coir matting floor I can say that you need to test first. The coir was very rough, sisal is softer.

To recap, we have windows being fitted downstairs, flooring and a bathroom upstairs. It’s somewhat chaotic. But, in big news, the joinery in the sitting room has been finished and we have bookshelves. Clearly not all the books will fit but it’s a start.

bookcases with partition doors

I have only these pictures I took at the weekend to show you so it’s not finished and pretty but you get the idea. They are now covered in plastic sheeting while the windows go in.

At the end of the shelves, we fitted two large doors. This is partly to store all my work equipment  and keep it out of sight. Secondly, there has been a long debate about how, if and why we should divide these two rooms. In the old house there was more of an opening and the library was down a set of steps which created a natural divide. Here, the opening goes all the way across but there is only one door in (and that’s on an angle).

bookcases with partition doors

I instinctively felt that I wanted some kind of division between the two spaces as it’s not possible to use and decorate it as one big space. We looked at adding reclaimed doors but after six weeks of looking I couldn’t find any that could be made to fit the space. I looked into having some made but the cost was prohibitive. This seems to work really well. When the doors are open they reduce the opening between the two ends of the room and, with the sofa across, will give us a degree of separation. They can be open at night when we are in the sitting room and we can’t see in the cupboards and they can be open during the day when I am working at the back and need access to the contents.

The joiner has also suggested that if we want he can add another panel that folds flat so we can reduce the space still further – this would act like a sort of folding screen. The Mad Husband is yet to be convinced. I haven’t decided either way yet. We want to finish the room and see how we feel.

So there we have it; your weekly update from the renovating front line. Next week there might even be some pretty pictures to share.

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Fascinated to see if you go for the folding doors to divide the space. We have inherited an open plan area and the kids drive us nuts in the TV room whilst we want to sit quietly in the adjoining room. Bifold type doors are an option but I haven’t found any really good examples on Pinterest etc

  2. Hi Kate
    My fiddle leave tree is in a very similar state to yours…loss of leaves and brown tips (which I belatedly found out is from watering too generously). I was tempted to chuck it but I see you’ve moved it from one house to another so I’m hoping you have a magic cure to restore it to its original healthy state. Please share if so 😀
    Also – as your bedroom layout is exactly the same as your last house do you not walk into the wall where you had a bathroom door for many years?! I know I would ! Loving watching the reno x

    1. Ha- we thought we might walk into the wall but actually we had lived here for a couple of months before it was done so we haven’t. We have tried to walk into the cupboard under the stairs to find the loo a couple of times though as that’s where it was in the last house. It’s a question of making new muscle memories I guess. Re the fiddle leaf fig – it’s on probation.

  3. For the opening between the rooms: one idea is to put a frame with dappled glass panes to the sides (and over the top) and then have a pair of sliding doors. Open, it will be similar to what is now, and closed it will create two spaces with light (and any phone calls I guess) coming through

    1. I didn’t want dappled glass but we did look at lots of ideas involving sliding and folding doors. Ultimately there wasn’t enough room for sliding doors and folding doors proved very expensive – that was the initial dream. I wanted reclaimed doors but the measurements proved tricky and custom-made wasn’t in the budget. So we’ve done it this way. For now!

  4. Absolutely loving watching this process. It really helps seeing the non fancy photos too. Such an inspired idea to use the open cupboards doors as a partition and the colours you have chosen for your bedroom are dreamy. Good luck with the rest of the work, looking forward to seeing it unfold ☺️ x

  5. So enjoying witnessing the gorgeous transformations! I watched a home tour of Irenie Cossey’s home and she put up a “double sided acoustic curtain”, and it looks wonderfully heavy and dramatic in her space, though yours of course has differing dimensions and needs. Here’s the video link:

  6. As a possessor of many, many books, and indeed a library, I wondered why you had decided not to continue the bookcases all along the window wall and around the windows? Or are they coming after the new windows? I think I’d go with another leaf on the dividing doors so that you can achieve total separation and peace and quiet when you want it!

  7. Hello and Congrats on your design. May I ask what brand is your radio and where did you get it.
    It’s a great choice too.


  8. Me again! I have just looked at your bathroom plan. In our Italian house each bedroom had an ensuite with shower. There were tiled walls no glass but depending upon where you placed the shower head, no curtain was ever needed. The bath mat was placed where you went in and out to catch the small amount of water spillage. I can supply photos Kate.

  9. This series of posts are fascinating and so encouraging for readers in the same situation.
    Only thing is, I would want a pull down blind to hide the shoes, in the same fabric as the wall paper.

  10. Absolutely gorgeous and so brilliant to read your thought process. The cupboard doors are an inspired solution. I think I’ll pinch that one when we move to our G2 listed property (hopefully next month!) to divide up a space where we wouldn’t be permitted to put a permanent divider in.

  11. Love these “real” shots of your renovation. I don’t envy you all of the mess and upheaval and especially window replacements in these freezing temperatures, but a great transformation is in progress. We ripped out our baths, too, as we only ever shower. It gives you so much more room! Looking forward to seeing future progress. I hope Enid isn’t too put out by all the upheaval.

  12. Great progress! But I don’t envy the open windows….

    Just joining the sisal carpet debate……doesn’t the cat regard it as a giant horizontal feline activity centre and claw up all the lovely loops??

  13. Looking good! One thought you may already have considered: stationing upright-tending plants, either expensive and tall or less so, atop garden stools, reclaimed columns or even books, to either side of the pass-through between the library and lounge can add a sense of separation, also color and some texture. Thanks for documenting the real trials and tribulations of settling in, very helpful!

  14. Such a pleasure to read your posts Kate.
    It’s like listening to a good friend giving us a warts and all account of their renovation dilemmas. Thanks for keeping it real! It’s looking great – full admiration for nailing such a unique colour palette; from a girl who’s firmly in the earthy green and blue camp!

  15. I love everything about this. You look like (bar the cold) you are in your element with the design!

  16. Really appreciate seeing the ‘real’ pictures – very relatable with the actual experience of renovating, so thanks for sharing. It all looks lovely and I can’t wait to see the new bathroom. I’m also interested in Carolyn’s question about the wallpaper peeling off!

  17. Hi Kate,
    I really like the fabric at the bedroom window. Could you tell me what it is.
    Many thanks.

  18. I had seagrass throughout my house, except kitchen and bathrooms, and found it very practical. Yes it was initially quite uncomfortable to walk on barefoot but we got used to it and it gave the soles of our feet a good massage. We didn’t have any problems with staining, the occasional cat sick was quite challenging to remove but we, or rather I, managed to remove it without staining. We had just one case of slippage on the stairs when one of a group of teenagers slipped and caused a bit of a pile up. This could have happened just as easily on carpet.
    Re walk in showers – please take into account the huge expanse of glass to be cleaned.

    1. A barefoot test walk on the sisal yesterday felt lovely and actually a bit of a massage on the feet! We had a walk-in shower in the last house so I hear you re glass. This is going to have a solid wall on one side and a curtain – for space reasons on the other so actually no glass at all. And the shower curtain will be covered with fabric on the outside so it should all look lovely and we can replace the inner curtain as and when.

    2. It’s already looking good and I admire your choice of sisal flooring.
      What are you going to do with all the books that won’t fit in the bookcases? I have the same problem

  19. Love it! Thanks so much for sharing – really interesting and fun seeing your progress while not living in the chaos and cold while it happens. The best of armchair renovation being done by a total pro and putting into practice all your sage advice in your books.

  20. Could you recommend a good source of pocket doors please ? Some I have seen are so flimsy.

    1. I bought them from House of Brass – you can choose your length. I just got them 1m long and we have cut to fit as every window is a different size but I think you can pay more and have them cut for you.

  21. I’m intrigued by your bedroom storage. It seems you possess only shoes and the Mad Husband two dozen of the same thing. Where are your clothes? I like the arrangement but I’d have to have a serious wardrobe cull.

    1. The wall behind our bed is a wardrobe – there are two rails full of clothes with a set of shelves at the sides for all the stuff that doesn’t hang. I’ll do a full post on it soon. It’s the same as we had in the last house only with more storage. Was the most efficient way of maximising the storage. The wall is slightly wider than the bed and the sides are 60cm – hanger width.

  22. Love Paint & Paper Library’s Scarlet ‘n’ Rust (seriously thinking of repainting my kitchen units in it) and it looks great here on your bookshelves.

  23. Also very much think of getting rid of the bath for a walk in shower – won’t be moving for ages and new people could easily add one if very much needed.

  24. I would love wallpaper in my bathroom too, but keep being told it will peel off due to the stream. Are you going to seal yours with something?

    1. We put decorator’s varnish on our wallpaper in one of our bathrooms. You can get a matt finish and the wallpaper has been up for three years now and still looks great. Shower gets used every day and there’s only a velux window in the ceiling so we’re dependent on the extractor fan.

  25. Hi ! I love it all ! Oh those colors… Those bookshelves ! I need to construct some in my own office.
    … regarding the sitting room / library situation : would’nt beautiful drapes add some closure and nice texture while at it ?
    It would almost give a theatrical feel to both rooms and would be Oh so cozy… But I’m sure you thought about it.

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