3 years of home ownership

Grimbil as a new home owner, 3 years ago

January marks our 3-year anniversary of owning Old Glory. We’ve come a long way. We’ve knocked down every wall except the external walls, and even some of those went under the hammer. So let’s look at our original plan when we bought the house versus what we’ve actually done:

  • Extension out the back (off the living room)  Done!
  • Knock down all the internal walls on the ground floor to make an open plan kitchen / dining room/ living room Done!
  • New kitchen Done!
  • New bathroom, including knocking down the wall between the water closet and the bath Done!
  • Knock down the wall between the two tiny bedrooms to make one nice bedroom Done!
  • Facelift for the closets Done!
  • Makeover the foyer, getting rid of the ugly glass between it and the living room, and converting the outside storage area to a closet for the foyer.  Done!
  • Move all the meters outside — we were able to move the gas meter outside but not the electric
  • Move the boiler to the kitchen — it’s in the foyer, but it works well there
  • New floors (with underfloor heating!) Done!
  • New paint in all the rooms, maybe exposed brick on the wall with the stairs.  — no exposed brick, but the new paint is Done!
  • Facelift for the incredibly cheap looking staircase Done!
  • Facelift for the facade — we got rid of the plastic below the kitchen windows, but we still want to render and paint the brick
  • New fences in the back garden (both for cosmetic and dog-proofing reasons) Done!
  • Replacing the crazy paving in the back garden with grass Done!
  • Landscape the front garden — that’s  the last big project for 2013
  • Move the loft/attic access to somewhere safer than the top of the stairs (wtf were they thinking?) — We didn’t move it far but do have a much safer hatch and ladder that are easy to access
  • Rewire the electrics Done!
  • Cat5 cable everywhere! And a networking closet somewhere Done! And with even better Cat 6 cable
  • Do something about the water quality in the bathroom (green stains in the sink? ew) — Not neccessary
  • Additional insulation in the loft and the walls — we still plan to add insulation in the loft, but not in the walls
  • Solar power — maybe after the insulation
  • Convert the loft to either a master suite or a man-cave (this one isn’t a definite yet) — this one is definitely not happening. We need the loft for storage more than we need more bedrooms.

Not bad!


After: The Stairs

From this…

to this:


In order to maximize our space upstairs, we changed the staircase to wind at the top. This also gave us a great excuse to completely re-do the stairs.


It’s amazing what a difference a nice staircase can make! And Otto has his own little Harry Potter-esque cupboard under the stairs. We can’t claim credit for the design, since we basically copied a picture from Houzz.com but we love the profile of the wood against the white.


Before: the upstairs

If you troll through our archives there are pictures of bedrooms 1, 2 and 3,  and the bathroom and water closet,  but it’s hard to get a sense of how small and poorly planned out they are. So after a long day of packing up and moving all the furniture out of the upstairs, Grimbil kindly shot a video of what it looked like before the renovations. It was shot on an iPhone, so please forgive the low quality. And for our non-Anglicized readers, “manky” = gross.

The plan for the stairs

Changing the layout for our stairs is a key component to our renovations. By having the stairs wind at the top we’ll be able to convert about 6 sq meters / 66 sq feet of what used to be hallway into part of the bathroom. That sounds like a lot!

And since we have to change the layout of the stairs, we get to redo the stairs entirely.  Say goodbye to this:


And hello to something like this:

Palo Alto Residence contemporary hall

We met with a stair designer and he can definitely do a wooden bannister with metal spindles like in the picture above.  The idea is to have the bannister and steps in a wood that goes well with our iroko countertops (although actual iroko stairs are a bit out of our price range). I’m on the hunt for a runner that works nicely with the warm wood of the steps and the gray concrete of our floors; the nice simple gray runner above looks pretty good.

The only bit we aren’t sure of is whether we can have the edges of the steps visible (open string), or if we have to still have a stair string like that big white 2 x 4 that runs along the side of our current stairs. We’re hoping we can get an open string; I like the nice clean profile of the wood against the white.

All in all, we’re sticking pretty closely to our original plan for the stairs from two years ago!



Phase 2: the upstairs

As I mentioned earlier, we are getting ready to embark on the next major phase of renovations: the upstairs. Here is the current layout:

Yep, that’s three bedrooms and a bathroom in about 400 square feet of space. There are garages in Texas that are bigger than our upstairs.  For those that are confused by why our upstairs is labelled “First Floor” on the map, it’s a European thing. The downstairs is considered the ground floor.

Here is our future layout:

Basically we want to knock down all the interior walls and start from scratch to create two bedrooms that are actually a liveable size (and with a niiice big closet in one), and combine the toilet and bathrooms into one room that you can actually turn around in. The other big change is the staircase. By having the top three stairs wind, we get more space for the bathroom. So far the only deviation from the plan is that we want to switch the toilet and the sink.

We’re still finalizing the budget with our builder, but hopefully the build will be finished by my birthday. So now our free time is spent looking at tiles and toilets. The curtains are on hold til after the build; the last thing we want is to hang the curtains and then have to pack them up again.



Halloween is one of our favorite holidays, and by “our” I mean the humans in this household. Otto wasn’t too pleased with the noise (perhaps the cackling witch doorbell wasn’t a good idea), the number of people at our party, or his costume:

Otto the bomb...

...to go with Grimbil's SWAT team costume.

He spent the first hour of the party hiding. Once we took his costume off, he became a little more social. Or maybe he was just trying out a new costume : “pity me and give me lots of cuddles.” Either way, he slowly made his way back down into the living room and spent the rest of the night camped out near the coffee table. He did however like his pumpkin (thanks Vil!)

Otto's first pumpkin (in ACDC font)

Halloween is not celebrated as much in London as it is back in the US, but it’s slowly gaining ground. The good thing about this is (so far) we haven’t had a competing Halloween party to contend with. The bad thing is that there is simply not the variety of decorations available here as there are in NY.  We ended up making a lot of our decorations:

I made 40 rats. Next year I'm going for 60

homemade chandeliers (yes, they're umbrellas)

We turned our front yard into a graveyard (thanks ebay!)

egg sacs made by yours truly

I get my love of Halloween from my dad. He is well known in his neighborhood for his Halloween decorations and for his penchant for scaring trick or treaters. When he heard that the decoration selection over here isn’t good, he lept into action and sent us an amazing care package full of Halloween fun. Unfortunately Her Majesty’s Customs wasn’t in the holiday spirit and held up the package, so we got it the Friday after Halloween, but still, we are so set for 2011. London, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet….

Loosening the reins

As Otto gets older and continues to be well behaved, we feel more comfortable giving him increased freedom. Also, he now walks down the stairs even without us encouraging him! Some recent changes:

  • We don’t always put him in his pen when we’re not able to supervise him. For example, we’ve worked on the attic the last two Saturdays and Otto was left unattended downstairs. I’d check on him periodically, each time finding him napping in a different spot, not destroying anything. What a good boy! Of course, we’re very careful about the toys that are available to him when he isn’t supervised.
  • We’re also experimenting with keeping the door to his pen open at night. Hopefully that  decrease his nighttime barking.
  • Now that we don’t have to worry about Otto getting stuck upstairs, we have removed the baby gate at the bottom of the stairs so he can come and go as he pleases.
  • We allow him on the couch. He’s usually trying to get up there in order to get to his toys which we used to keep behind the couch. Now that we have moved the toys, we’ll find out if he wants to be on the couch to hang out with us.
Excuse me, could you please pass me that lobster squeaky toy?
No? Fine, I'll get it myself!

A downhill battle

Every breed of dog is prone to certain health issues, and for dachshunds it’s back problems. In order to protect Otto’s back we’ve kept him from going up or down the stairs and on or off furniture under his own steam. Now that he is over 8 months old (and over 20 pounds heavy), experts agree that it’s ok for him to start using the stairs.

We have a baby gate at the bottom of our stairs, and before the stair moratorium was lifted we had to be extra diligent about making sure the gate was completely shut or else we’d hear the jingle of Otto’s tags and find him sloooowly creeping up the stairs. So it was easy to teach him how to go up the stairs by himself. Now every morning when I open the baby gate and tell Otto to go get Grimbil, Otto goes dashing up the stairs and runs to our bed.

However, going down the stairs is a whole other story.

Trying to psyche himself up

We tried luring him down with treats….

…but to no avail. So for now, Otto still gets the “doggy elevator” on his way down.

"Please don't make me!"

Before: The Stairs

These stairs make the whole living/dining area look significantly cheaper. Before buying this place, I never noticed stairs, but wow, what an effect they can have on a room!

The plan:

Replace the carpeting with something (anything!), depending on what we choose for flooring on the ground floor. Replace the bannister. Maybe add winders at the top  in order to have less hallway and more bathroom.

Inspiration: Stairs

It’s weird the things you start to obsess about when you’re renovating your house. At some point I would like to update or replace our stairs, so I’ve been searching for The Stairs. For the record, I’m completely over the panel-of-glass-as-balustrade look.

But I do like the skinny steel rods in this picture and this link. They also pass the puppy test: the dog won’t be able to squirm between them.

Millennium Tower Loft- Stair case modern staircase
I’m torn about the idea of  wires/cables/ whatever those are as a balustrade. Sometimes it looks cool and sometimes it looks Ikea.

living space eclectic home office

This one isn’t so much about the stairs as it is the use of the space below them. And the tasty colors.

Completely impractical for our house or lifestyle, but they do look good. Grimbil is a fan of the cantilevered stairs.