It’s been a long time since I shared the first photos of our new house in south London. It hasn’t been the smoothest of renovations (nightmare builders, endless delays) so I’ve been reluctant to share much of the progress, because for a while there wasn’t any! But, just before Christmas the builders were finally out of our hair and we could get on with the decorating and making it home.
I’m so excited then to reveal the first of the spaces to be finished – the living room. After the builders had painted the ceilings and whitewashed the walls, it didn’t take long to put the final coat of paint on and see a real difference. I spent the days in-between Christmas and New Year painting the original floorboards white and after leaving it to dry and cure for a few days, with a new month and new year, we were ready to move our furniture back in and put all the finishing touches in. There’s still a few bits be done, and it’s still a work in progress, but it’s a huge transformation to what it was.
Do you remember what it looked like before? The living room and kitchen were two separate rooms – the living room was the first door on the right as you entered through the hallway, with the kitchen behind it looking onto the garden. The living room before felt small and cramped, a bit bland and unloved, while the kitchen was north-facing and dark, with bright, yellow walls, wooden kitchen units and overpowering, black tiles. They didn’t work as two separate rooms, you spent all your time going from one to another, and if one person was cooking and the other relaxing on the sofa you couldn’t connect with each other and chat.
We decided almost instantly that the wall had to come down. We would close the door off to the living room so you enter from the kitchen into this huge, big, open space. It would also mean the sofa could go directly opposite the fireplace, without the door behind being in the way. The old shelving had to go and the Seventies fireplace, which curiously hid the boiler behind it, too.
I wanted to strip back all the ugly additions various owners had made over the years to bring the room back to it’s former glory. Unfortunately there aren’t many period details left, so I wanted to celebrate, and pay respect to, what was there, such as the coving around the ceiling, the lovely bay window and original floorboards hidden beneath the laminate.
So it went from that to this…
Very much inspired by the light Scandi homes I like to feature here on the blog, I wanted a bright, airy space with neutral colours, monochrome accents and a mix of old and new furniture.
I’ve wanted white painted floorboards for so long, I’ll blame hours of scrolling through Pinterest for that, so that was a no brainer for me. I didn’t want the room to feel too stark and clinical, so chose to paint the walls in Farrow & Ball’s Blackened, a lovely, soft, light grey.
Furniture wise, I already had my IKEA sofa and favourite vintage armchair from my previous flat, so all that was needed was a few accessories to update the look. I wanted to keep the space simple and relaxed – a nod to minimalism but also an expression of my own tastes, with all the things I’ve picked up from various travels and antique markets, and love to have around me. I couldn’t wait to unpack all my books, pin up my postcards and buy some plants! Of course stripes had to feature somewhere… Here’s what I had in mind:
Before the pretty stuff came the destruction… The shelving was ripped out along with the old fire. The ancient boiler was moved into the kitchen, leaving a nice clean hole for a wood burning stove to come. The wall came down in the first few days of work and suddenly we could see through the hole to what our new living space would look like. Already light flooded into the kitchen behind and the two rooms felt bigger.
A lot seemed to happen before the space finally got plastered (we removed a chimney breast in the kitchen which I will get onto when I share the kitchen makeover, and new sash windows were installed to replace the drafty PVC ones). I think plastering was the real breakthrough moment – when we saw the destruction subside, the rubble swept away and the living room really begin to take shape as a habitable space. Suddenly you could really see and appreciate the cornicing details and the shape of the chimney breast.
It was such a good feeling when I could crack open the paint pots. I hadn’t used Farrow & Ball paint before but was really impressed by the coverage, only needing two coats.
The big job was the floors – they were a real labour of love. It would have been far easier, and probably not much more expensive, to get laminate floors or such like, but I was determined to have those white boards I’d long been lusting after!
I had to source a couple of boards to fill holes from a reclamation yard but the builders did the bulk of the sanding, leaving me to spend a few days finishing them off and painting.
Now you don’t need to do this, but due to some, shall we say unwanted guests that can get through the tiniest holes, and also because drafts, I decided to fill all the gaps in between the floorboards. There’s various ways you can do this, little wooden strips for bigger holes, mixing the dust from the sander or sawdust with resin or paint, or using strips of DraughtEx. I spent hours filling the gaps with Ronseal’s high performance wood filler, which worked really well and dried really hard. I could then use a smaller hand sander to go over and smooth the filler.
It’s also important to dot knot solution on any knots to prevent them showing through the paint. After sweeping and hoovering thoroughly and giving the floors a wipe with a damp cloth, I then used one coat of white wood primer and three coats of Farrow & Ball’s All White floor paint. I went over the first coat using a brush to get in all the little dents and cracks, then used a roller for the top coats. It’s recommended to leave the last coat for a few days without furniture, it may feel dry to touch and you can walk on it, but the time allows the paint to really dry and prevent scratches from furniture legs and things.
Farrow & Ball’s floor paint has a semi-gloss finish that gives a clean, smooth surface. It’s washable and wipeable, perfect for hardwearing areas such as around the sofa and in the kitchen. The paint dried really quickly and as it’s water-based with minimal VOC content, wasn’t smelly at all. I also did the skirting boards in the same paint.
The only problem I’m finding is that the white shows up every bit of dust and dirt so I’m having to be a bit more fastidious with cleaning!
And here’s the final result! I’m so pleased with the look and feel of the space now. The room feels much bigger and the ceilings seem even taller somehow, with light flooding in from the bay window. It’s almost like it’s a completely different space, looking back at the before images I can hardly believe the change and that it’s finally got to this stage. I was getting so fed up with the renovations and living with all our worldly possessions in the bedroom above while the builders were in. It feels so good to finally unpack our boxes after six months living here and really use and enjoy the space everyday.
There’s still a few things to do to complete the space, but I don’t think you can immediately create a finished space – a room evolves with you and your home, things get added and taken away, and time spent in a place helps you learn what you need or don’t need. I’d like to put some art on the walls, but I don’t quite know what yet. That’s why I quite like using neutral colours on the walls, they’re a little easier to adapt and change with accessories and furnishings.
So top of the list is getting some shutters installed in the window so we don’t feel like we’re on show to the street. Then there’s the fireplace and the hearth stone which needs filling or covering, and the wood burning stove to install. I’d like to put some fitted cupboards and maybe shelves in the alcoves, something minimal but that will provide much-needed storage. But, for the moment, I’m just happy we have a welcoming space to come home to at the end of day, somewhere to relax and unwind, entertain and enjoy.
I’ll share more images as the room progresses and we make a few additions to the blank walls. I’ve listed some sources below but let me know if there’s anything you’re curious about. The next room to be revealed will be the kitchen, which I’m really excited about, so keep an eye out in February!
All images: Cate St Hill
Source list (*indicates where I have received a discount or the item has been gifted):
Wall colour: Farrow & Ball Blackened*
Floor colour: Farrow & Ball All White*
Sofa: IKEA (discontinued)
Wood burning stove: Morso*
Coffee table: Habitat
Small round side table: Calligaris*
Trolley: Habitat (discontinued)
Ceiling light: IKEA
Striped cushion: Happy + Co*
Grey linen cushions: H&M Home
Mountain print: Coco Lapine
Chair: vintage, eBay