Getting a kitchen and study renovation done during lockdown

Me and Alex wearing masks while demolishing a false wall

We wore face masks before it was cool.

It’s been pretty quiet on this blog for the past couple of months. That’s because it’s been a pretty busy time in our lives.

When I published my post about our third month of lockdown projects in June, I noted that work had begun on our new kitchen.

When we moved into our flat (almost five years ago) it had been marketed as having four bedrooms. That was a little bit of a cheat, because the flat had been hacked about in order to squeeze in as many students as possible.

One of the “bedrooms” was in the location of the original kitchen, meaning that it had a boiler in it — not a great sleeping environment. It made do as our study for a few years. Meanwhile, the kitchen was squeezed into an internal room that had once been a box room.

Since moving in, we’d always planned to put the kitchen back in its right place. 2020 was the year we finally did it.

But 2020 being 2020, the project was not without its hitches. We’d wanted the work to start early in 2020, but we ended up getting it booked for April. Of course, by the time April came around, the country was in full lockdown mode, and it was no time to be having multiple tradespeople mixing in our flat. Not to mention the added worry of the noise that would be caused in our flat while we were trying to work from home.

Work had in fact begun in November last year, when we cleared the old study to make way for the new kitchen.

Time lapse of me and Alex demolishing the false wall

To whom it may concern: We discovered that someone had written “fuck you” on one of the wooden pieces. See if you can spot me pointing it out.

This included demolishing the false wall to discover exactly what lay behind it… The answer: some lurid green paint, mysterious pipes that no-one can tell us what they’re for, and a hacked-up hearth.

We also discovered that the extractor ducts were a complete scam. There were pipes above the boiler cupboard that made it look like the ducts were going outside. But upon demolishing the wall, two metre-long sections of pipe fell onto my head. They hadn’t been connected to anything, and were simply sitting on the frame of the false wall.

Me covered in dust looking unhappy

We’d always suspected we were undoing some bad cowboy work, but this really was a surprise. It must have taken almost as much effort to fake this as it would have done to do it properly.

Me steaming wallpaper from the ceiling

We stripped the wallpaper in the rest of the room, and removed the non-original cornice. By this stage, the room was uninhabitable.

So when lockdown began, and everyone started working from home, it was at precisely the time when we didn’t have a study, and were unable to rectify it. We were a room down.

Patchwork of old wallpaper on the wall

Alex has been working from a trestle table that was bought in an emergency from Ikea a few days before they shut for good during lockdown. Her desk sits in the corner of the living room.

Meanwhile, I worked from a desk that was set up in a spare room, surrounded by the piles of junk (mostly mine) from the old study. Cluttered piles of possessions that I couldn’t bear to get rid of were hastily hidden under a duvet cover to preserve the integrity of my Microsoft Teams meetings.

Work finally began as lockdown restrictions lifted over the summer.

In the end, we needn’t have worried too much about the disruption to our working from home. The noise wasn’t too bad. And because we were swapping the kitchen to a different room, we were only without a kitchen for about a day.

Meanwhile, the new normal provided the opportunity to slightly rethink the design of the new study, to ensure that it was a good working-from-home space rather than just a computer room-cum-man cave.

Floorboards raised, revealing the joists and deafening

One of the big changes required was to level the floor. From the kitchen door to the back of the room, the floor dropped an astonishing 140mm. It sounds like a lot, but in fairness that’s only one millimetre per year since this flat was built. Just one of those things that happens when you live in an old building.

The floorboards were removed. Some of them were taken away by our friends at Janer Designs to make our new kitchen table. The rest of the floorboards were donated to our neighbours and others for a variety of purposes.

New floor partially installed

Declivities were installed on the existing joists to make our new floor level.

The hearth was stabilised. Not the prettiest job, but it makes it safe and a false wall had to go back up anyway.

Wall with declivities attached

Being a 140-year-old tenement building, there’s not a straight line in the place. So similar fixes had to be made in order to have straight walls. We lost a bit of space, but gained a victory over entropy.

Wall with declivities attached

With the floor in and the walls straightened, it was time for the units to start going in.

Standing on a step stool to reach the top cupboard

We decided to make full use of the height to increase our storage capacity. This arrangement also helps me reach my daily steps climbed goal.

Kitchen units installed

Before long, the kitchen was coming into shape. Lurid green paint walls were covered with a similarly-coloured plasterboard, but it wouldn’t be long until the entire room was looking more tasteful.

Old kitchen being removed

But first, the old kitchen had to be decommissioned!

Old kitchen being removed

One good thing about this job was that, because we were swapping the kitchen to an adjacent room, we were only without kitchen facilities for about a day. We could keep on using the old kitchen up until the point the new one was almost fully functional, even if it wasn’t fully finished.

Our guest room became yet another dumping ground of junk. At this stage our appliances were also sitting in the living room. So the flat was a complete state. Everything was in the wrong place, and we had to step over cardboard boxes just to think.

Of course, dust was everywhere, and there was no point in cleaning it up.

The old kitchen had a false ceiling. I’m not going to lie — I was worried about what we’d discover. The surprise was: nothing.

Old extractor fan, going nowhere

Apart from the fact that the extractor fan didn’t go anywhere, but by this stage that was no surprise…

Once the kitchen was out, someone else came round to take the old tile adhesive off the floor with a noisy drill. He did this on a Sunday. We had fun trying to watch the grand prix over the sound of a drill that was louder than an actual F1 car, and surrounded by appliances that were larger than our TV. Not to mention all the dust that was floating through from underneath the door.

New kitchen floor partially installed

Next, the new floor started to be laid in the new kitchen.

Tape and fill on the wall

With the tiles also going on the walls, it was really starting to take shape.

New shelves being installed

Meanwhile, our joiner started building the shelves in the new study.

New CD shelves being installed

I’m getting fun made of me for having the world’s last ever CD shelves to be made. I have collected a lot of them over the years, so again we’ve designed it to make use of the full height of the room.

Our joiner did an amazing job of building these very sturdy shelves. Unfortunately, he built them in the kitchen, meaning we had to transport them to the study. They were exceptionally heavy, and because of the unit’s height it was awkward to manoeuvre.

Damage to the cornice in the hall

Some damage was done to the hall.

I feared for what might happen to me if we dropped the bookcase on top of me. Possibly death.

New paint work in the kitchen, mimicking a picture rail

Some crafty painting in the kitchen is designed to disguise the wonky ceiling, which slopes as much as the floor did.

Tiles and shelves installed in the kitchen

Janer Designs made these shelves out of scaffolding boards.

New study shelves

Meanwhile, in the study, the shelves were painted, and the desk was installed.

New CD shelves

The room comes with a pre-built gradient fade.

Lighting ducts on the study ceiling

Alex designed the study to include this cool industrial-looking lighting duct. Looks great!

New study desk

The room smells slightly like my hometown of Kirkcaldy. The desk is topped with furniture linoleum. And the notice board is also made by Forbo.

Our joiner attempted to glue the notice board to the wall, but unfortunately he didn’t have the right adhesive. So we had to order the right stuff ourselves, and attach the board ourselves.

This adhesive came in a gigantic container the size of a tub of B&Q basic magnolia paint. It’s a grey-green sludge that smells salty and toxic. The sort of stuff you see on construction sites, designed to stick industrial amounts of tiles to walls.

Applying gross adhesive to the study wall

We needed only a small amount of this tub, but we had to act quickly. We smeared it on the wall.

Running a comb through gross adhesive to the study wall

But we didn’t have the right sort of notched trowel to create grooves in the adhesive, so I destroyed one of Alex’s old combs to do it.

Notice board installed

But it was already drying. So we hurriedly got the notice board up. Remarkably, it stuck well, and we got it on pretty much exactly straight.

Completed kitchen - door view

And that was more or less it! We couldn’t be happier with the work. The contractor was DW Joinery. We can’t speak highly enough of Dean’s work. He is friendly, efficient and tidy.

Completed kitchen - window view

The work has changed the centre of gravity of our flat. By having the dining table in the kitchen, we now have a second social space. Now that the kitchen has a window, spending time in there is much more pleasant. And it gets the evening sun for dinner time.

That table made by Janer Designs is brilliant, and it means we’ve still got a bit of the original kitchen there.

By having the study constructed during lockdown, we had the opportunity to optimise it as a working-from-home environment rather than just a home office. The piles of shite that used to surround me in the spare room during work calls have now been rationalised, and put neatly into our new shelves. My CDs are records are now alphabetised again. Everything is in order.

With Alex and me expecting a baby, it did feel a little bit like we were in an episode of Grand Designs. We were nesting. It was now or never. Which meant now.

That spare room that was my ad-hoc study for a number of months had to be vacated. It will be our baby’s new room. Stay tuned for an update on that…

2 comments

  1. I didn’t know it was a cum-man cave! Gross.

    But amazing work guys, it all looks super and this was a fun read!

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