Two months ago, my boyfriend and I moved into a flat you could generously call "characterful", "a fixer-upper" and more accurately, "the only thing we could afford".
"So nice to put your own stamp on a place!" friends have said, because that's pretty much all they can say when I show them 'the murder staircase', or the way none of the doors actually fit into their frames. "So quirky and original!" is all you can really offer when I point out that the garden has (surprise!) our neighbours' bedroom window in it.
And they’re right, it IS nice to put your own stamp on a place. It’s an almighty privilege to have a place to stamp on at all, especially when you’ve spent most of a decade wincing at estate agents' windows and believing you never, ever would. But with great privilege comes great pressure, and doing the actual stamping can be equal parts exciting, frustrating and confusing.
When people talk about how much they’d love to renovate a fixer-upper, what they tend to mean is somewhere romantically dilapidated, with charming rickety bannisters and original hearth tiles and distressed walls, like a bistro in a railway arch. Something like the house Ally McBeal bought to lovingly transform with Jon Bon Jovi. People imagine a scenario where they’d have a bottomless budget and also a convenient sabbatical from work, and spend their days wearing a paint-splattered shirt and presiding over a pack of subservient builders, eating a sausage bap while sat on an upturned bucket and posting their tile deliberations on Instagram Stories.
What they don’t mean is subsidence, or Japanese knotweed, or a bedroom with indelible green smears on the ceiling. They don’t romanticise the day you burst into tears because you bought the wrong kind of shower curtain, or the day you pull a string of melted cheese from your dinner and realise it is actually molten gaffer tape. And by 'they', I mean 'I'. I didn’t.
But now, a whole two months into the renovation of one small flat, I am an expert! Naturally. Please allow me to share what I’ve learned.