When the lovely Liz from Saxon Shore asked me to write a blog about living in Faversham and buying and renovating Cray Villa I was obviously hugely flattered, but didn’t really know what I would have to say… but then I thought it might be useful for other people with young families who are wondering whether it’s a good idea to take on a massive renovation project when you have young children and busy lives – so here you go…
I am originally from this area, but moved to London for work – so it was only when we thought about having children that we decided to leave London and move back down to Kent. Mr Cray Villa is a Cumbrian who moved to London for work. Does this make us DFL’s? I don’t know. Does it matter? Not really! We have lots of friends who have lived in Faversham all their lives, and plenty who have moved here from elsewhere too.
We love Faversham – it’s such a brilliant town – surrounded by gorgeous countryside, so close to the seaside, and with the best markets and local shops. At first we lived in a beautiful Grade II listed cottage on Abbey Street, moving in at the end of 2011 with plenty of room for us, and then our first son.
When we found out I was pregnant with baby number 2 we had finally got planning permission to extend that house with a new timber and glass kitchen diner into the long, thin garden – but for one reason or another, it was going to be very expensive to add just one room to that house, so we thought we had better have a look around and see what was out there to buy on the property market, just in case there was a better option for us.
“Take us to see houses with minimal upkeep” we said to the estate agent.
“We are thinking about downsizing so I can work part-time” we also said to the estate agent.
But we ended up being the first people to view Cray Villa – a dilapidated three bedroom detached Victorian villa which had been owned by the same family for 40 years. They had clearly loved the house but there was a huge amount of maintenance which hadn’t been done over the years. There was red carpet everywhere. The kitchen consisted of a stand-alone oven, a top-loading washing machine, a sink and a huge dresser. Everything was either wallpapered in various shades of green or painted peach. There was secondary glazing on almost every window. But there were also high ceilings and amazing period features everywhere including three original marble fireplaces.
I peeled back the corner of the carpet with the toe of my trainer next to the fireplace in the lounge when the estate agent was looking the other way, and saw the original fireplace tiles were in perfect condition and had just been carpeted over. I think I squeaked with joy and pretended it was our baby making the noise in his baby carrier instead.
Our then 4 year old ran out into the garden and through an arch in the hedge. “It’s a secret garden” he shouted as he ran around the huge walled garden happily exploring. We were sold. It had to be ours.
We got together every penny we could manage and finally completed in January 2017, and it was then the scale of the work hit us. My mum who lives in Canterbury had kindly said we could live with her while the work was being completed. We thought it would take three months. It took nearly five – and that was actually pretty good going.
Because our house is in the conservation area we had to apply for planning permission for some of the things we wanted to do, like converting the loft to give us a fourth bedroom – but luckily we could do a kitchen extension under permitted development – which meant we could get on with it straight away and have a liveable house as soon as possible. Unfortunately we had to go with builders who were able to start straight away – never a good sign we would learn – instead of waiting for our preferred builder to be available.
So then began a daily routine of dropping the oldest at school, heading straight round to our house for a builder update / troubleshooting session with baby in sling, then sourcing and ordering the various essentials for the build at the best price – bathrooms, radiators, tiles, door handles. You name it, I needed to be clear about what we wanted, find it at a good price and then make sure we could get it on time.
I learned some lessons during this time – never wear black jeans to a building site – you will look like you’ve been kneeling in flour in seconds.
Don’t get everything delivered at the start of a project or you will just have to move it around your house continuously in boxes for months on end.
Don’t try to paint a dresser in charcoal chalk paint in sub-zero temperatures in artificial light. You will end up doing around 20 coats to get a decent finish and the paint won’t dry properly at those temperatures anyway.
Children find it very difficult to not want to explore a big empty house with missing floorboards.
Taking your mum away to see your brother who lives the other side of the world for a few weeks’ mid-renovation means nothing will be done by your builder until you return to the UK and start your daily site visits again.
Our poor darling gorgeous baby was fed in the most inhospitable places – Homebase car park, Screwfix car park, Topps Tiles car park (sensing a theme here?).
But putting that all aside, after nearly 5 months we had a house which – after parting ways with our main builder and working with some fab local tradespeople – we had managed to get:
Fully rewired including installation of smoke alarms ready for future loft conversion
Installed all new central heating system and radiators
Treated for damp and replaced damaged floorboards and joists
Put in new downstairs loo
New 4m kitchen / dining extension also creating a utility room
Extended upstairs bathroom to allow room for separate shower and installed whole new bathroom suite.
New flooring, or sanding and treating original boards throughout.
Skimmed or replastered all walls (apart from those with the original William Morris Wallpaper in the lounge)
Redecorated every room.
We still had the loft conversion to do, but we thought we would give ourselves a break, enjoy the summer in our new home and most importantly wait for our favourite builder to do it.
So was it worth it?
We had our house valued recently, and now we have done the loft conversion, we couldn’t have bought this house in the state it is now, without doing it up ourselves.
We were lucky, in that this was our third full house renovation, so we had an idea of what was needed to be done, what we wanted the house to look like at the end of it, and what a reasonable price for various bits of building work would be.
To give you an idea of how much things vary when it comes to price – when we got quotes for our loft conversion prices differed by a huge £17,000.
For me personally it was definitely worth it. It’s resulted in a new creative outlet for me – with the house featuring in House Beautiful magazine twice, and being a finalist in the UK Interior Awards last year for the renovation. Our house now has a big blue bath, a huge amount of gorgeous patterned wallpaper, and even an en-suite behind a secret door hidden in some shelves. If you want to see what we ended up doing to the house in more detail then feel free to check out @crayvilla on Instagram for some pictures.
If you are thinking of doing the same thing, and buying a wreck and turning it into your dream home, then I’d say go for it as long as you are willing to:
– Wait for the best tradespeople. Ask for references and see their previous work. Personal recommendations from people you trust and who care about the same stuff you do for me trump everything else. So – for example – if you care about using sustainable materials, or creating an eco-house, find architects, builders and people who have prioritised that in their build.
– Be clear in what work you want doing and get plenty of quotes based on the same description of work.
– Be available for your builder, be professional and polite and remember it’s a partnership. Paying promptly goes a long way.
– Make sure you have a decent contingency fund. There will always be an expensive surprise – and by that I don’t mean a diamond ring at the end of it!
– Be prepared to bore everyone senseless about your renovations as it will take over your life until it’s done.
And if you feel like you’ve fallen in love with a house but you need a helping hand with seeing its potential, getting some specific building work done, or sourcing the best tradespeople or furniture for the space then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see what I can do.