We're in! We're officially in. For all of the waiting, wondering and bickering with solicitors, we picked up the keys to our first owned home a week before Christmas and crossed the threshold with 5 days to spare. It makes sense that Christmas is positioned as this crucial hinge on which the success of buying a home depends - after all, it’s likely one of the only times we consistently spend time inside with little else to do than eat (although now I’m writing this, Christmas sounds a lot like lockdown), plus our mortgage offer was due to expire in January so it felt like we were up against it time-wise. But we made it, and just as everybody had advised me while I was sharing the ups and downs of the buying process, as soon as my key was in the front door, 99% of the stress and anxiety was forgotten. Would I choose to work with the same solicitors again? No, but I’m also no longer hexing them before I go to bed at night, so there’s some sort of balance.
I’ve had a few weeks now to settle into the fabric of the new place. It’s funny how much your body remembers of your home, how far muscle memory leads you when you’re on autopilot. I keep reaching for the cutlery drawer where there isn’t one, and pushing the bathroom door to open instead of turning the handle because that’s how it was in the old house. I expected to feel more upset about leaving the old home and more jubilant about having bought this, but it hasn’t been as big of a transition as I thought it would be. Typically I’ll milk any achievement for maximum celebration opportunities, but with this, it was a bit like, ‘okay, it’s done’. And just like that, we’d moved out and moved in and the only thing I was really bothered about was the new postcode being crapper than the old one. Perhaps because of the time of year, I was too busy to appreciate the magnitude of change, or perhaps such a big change in itself was quite frightening so I glossed over any difficulty to make it easier. I suspect the reality is that I just wanted to be over and done with everything so I could do nothing for a few days at Christmas (laziness is always at the heart of it), but no matter; we’re in now, and I’m excited to show you how it looks as is, before we start ‘putting our stamp on it’, as the real estate world would say.
- LAYOUT & ROOMS -
From one Victorian terrace to another! If you don’t want a new build in Ipswich, you’re hard-pressed to find something which isn’t a Victorian terrace. Which is great for me, because I love a Victorian terrace. Long, thin and awkwardly arranged for modern 20s living, the new place embodies every popular characteristic of houses built in this era, and then some. Originally erected in 1880, some of the rooms still feature sash windows (yes, it’s freezing) and the bathroom is not where you’d expect it to be. In fact, sitting atop a hill, the home is split across three floors: the ground floor you enter upon, with a hallway, long and narrow living room, strange square office space which also houses the stairs down to the lower floor, and right at the back, the bathroom. On the lower floor we have the kitchen, utility room and access to the back garden, and upstairs, three bedrooms (two of them quite diddy, probably not big enough for a double bed to fit comfortably). Upstairs there are beautiful big windows which I'm always drawn to, whereas downstairs there’s much more of a cosy cave feeling. The front of the house is south-west facing so we don’t enjoy tonnes of light, but it’s a quirky little place which held a lot of love. The owners before us were a family of four, and when we moved in, their height chart was still up in the kitchen showing the sons growing progressively taller. I like that. I think getting a good feeling has a lot to do with finding a home that’s right for you.
- TAKE A LOOK AROUND -
Bear in mind, you’re about to see the house as is. We’ve stripped some wallpaper and gussied up the utility space with a fresh lick of white paint, but other than that, you’re essentially taking a peep into somebody else’s home. The decor style reminds me very much of my parents’ era: warm wood, browns, greens, beige and terracotta. I think it looks like someone’s Mum’s house, the kind of home you’d pop into after school for some fish fingers and chips. Anyway, let me not conceptualise the past too much and lose myself on a tangent. Here it is.
- LOWER FLOOR -
Let’s start with my favourite part of the house: the kitchen. I had a few criteria I was pretty strict with while we were house-hunting and an open-plan kitchen-diner was high up on the list. I really enjoy cooking for people and generally just being in the kitchen environment, but in our old home, the kitchen was separated from all of the social areas, so guests would either have to mingle at the door (which I didn’t hate, and have many fond memories of my loved ones, clutching beers, cramped into and around the doorframe) or I’d miss half of the conversations. If we couldn’t find somewhere with kitchen/dining combined (and this was a real possibility in our budget, given that new builds were a no), then I at least wanted enough space for bistro seating so Keiran could keep me company.
I think that’s probably what sold this place to me, in the end: feeling as if there were a defined ‘hub’ in the home, an area that everyone gravitates towards for the simple pleasure of proximity. I’d also quit one of my jobs the day we viewed the place and I was feeling impulsive, but we’ll brush past that and agree that the kitchen was the selling point for me.
And a utility space! I know my interests are now firmly cemented in the adult realm because I’m delighted to not have the washing machine and dryer in the kitchen. Our old place came with the washing machine as part of the rental so it wasn’t in the best of conditions as you can imagine, and the only way you could access it was in a very cold cupboard room at the back of the kitchen. Reader, you couldn’t swing a cat in that room, and the wall would habitually crumble off owing to the damp seeping in from outside. Now - if I really really wanted to - I could swing a cat in each hand with room to spare. Not that I would, you know, but for the sake of explaining space, I could.
Planning-wise, since the ceilings are a little lower down here and there are exposed wood and brick features, we know we want to go with a mediterranean vibe. Think lime-washed walls and lots of natural textures like wood, stone and clay. For the utility, Keiran wants to go all white and so long as the boiler and machines are hidden behind cupboards, I don’t really mind, so we’ll keep it simple in there and make sure the two rooms flow together.
Up the stairs from the kitchen, you come into a landing space that the previous owners were using as a home office. At the moment it’s housing our shoe racks, coats, and moving boxes full of things we need but don’t have a home for yet, and until we’ve decided what we’re going to do with this space, it will probably stay the same. There’s not much to say about this room apart from the fact it looks onto the frosted glass of our neighbour’s home office, and there’s something quite comforting in seeing their silhouette at their desk each day.
To the rear of this space is the bathroom, a moderate-sized square which is currently swallowed by the behemoth home sauna decked out in the corner. This thing absolutely dominates the room, so much so that there isn’t a bath or enough space for standing storage. When I originally shared the sauna with everyone, the response was as bamboozled as my own: why would you ever install such a thing? But it turns out one of the previous owners was Finnish, and it’s not so bizarre to spend 15 minutes a day inside, steaming away your worries. She even left a couple of seating towels for us, which was quite sweet, and aptly timed for my complaint to Keiran that the whole thing would be full of someone else’s butt sweat.
You’ll not be surprised to hear that the sauna isn’t staying. I’ve come round to it being a quirky addition to the home but it’s just too big to be part of a bathroom that size. Plus, though we’re unsure of how much energy it guzzles down in the process of heating up, we know it’s probably a lot, and creating an energy efficient home is something important to us both. So, the sauna goes. But will the bathroom stay on the middle floor? That is the question. This is my dilemma: as a relatively small and short person, I have an exceptionally small and short bladder. In capacity, in patience - everything. I’ve been known to get up four times a night for a wee, even if I’ve made sure to do at least two last-one-before-bed wees ahead of time (fellow chronic pee-ers will know what I mean). It’s fair to say that for the many things I’ve been blessed with in life, an accommodating bladder isn’t one of them.
Now, going across the landing from bedroom to bathroom is one thing, but going up and down a flight of stairs? That’s proper waking up activity. You can’t do that with your eyes closed and the conviction to think about absolutely nothing so you can get back to sleep. As banal as it is, the dust of daily living - the very uninteresting parts of life that are there but are bottom of the barrel boring - are the driving force behind big remodeling decisions. And who said suburban life wasn’t thrilling!
Wherever we move it, decor-wise I’ve always loved black and white floor tiles in a bathroom and I appreciate an art-deco style here more than any other room. I want to keep the black metal mirror from our previous bathroom (which we can’t put up at the moment because the backsplash runs so high that I wouldn’t be able to see myself) and I like the idea of those circular lights that look like they come from the underground. We’ll see! It’s smaller than the last bathroom but having water pressure greater than a sneeze more than makes up for it.
Going back through the box room, you come into the long and narrow living space which is particularly characteristic of Victorian terraces such as this. Big windows at the front, two defunct fireplaces, and doors in places so awkward that finding the right sofa placement demands Picasso-level artistry.
We’re undecided what to do with the middle space. Much like the box room, it doesn’t really have a purpose beyond giving this seat somewhere to live. It’s a walkway to get through to the bathroom and lower floor so it’s tricky to know how to make it functional, beautiful, and tie into the rest of the living room. Any ideas welcome on that one!
The second half of the room looks out onto our little front garden, and this is where we have the sofas and TV and sit to eat on the rug when we’re binge-watching Come Dine With Me (okay, when I’m binge-watching Come Dine With Me). We’re looking to build in storage either side of the chimney breast and Keiran has agreed to put the TV on the wall which he’s always been vehemently opposed to - check out the subreddit r/TVTooHigh for more on why - but beyond that, we’ve not many ideas for this room yet. I’ve pinned a few soft blue modular sofas and an unobtainable Architectural Digest design with floor-to-ceiling arched bookcases, so again, we’ve got a pretty blank slate.
- UPPER FLOOR -
Up the stairs we go! Immediately at the top, you reach a little square room about the same size as the bathroom. At the moment it boasts a strip of NYC taxi themed wallpaper, an artistic flair completely wasted on its current purpose: housing things that need to - or will eventually need to - go in the loft. If we do end up moving the bathroom, this is where it’ll be, and if we don’t, I imagine it will become the room the room with the PCs and games consoles.
Back out onto the landing, there’s another bedroom to the right which is really quite blue. In the old place, we used the second bedroom as a sort-of wardrobe storage room, and I expect we’ll do much the same here. One thing I’ll do differently is to hide the clothes away behind cupboard doors. Exposed rails seem like a good idea until you realise keeping them organised with co-ordinating hangers is a bother you don’t need, and even when they are organised, they never look the way they do on Pinterest. Clutter-shielding doors are a must.
Then finally, we go through to the main bedroom. This is where I must share with you the previous owner’s love of chandeliers. They aren’t my cup of tea - in fact, this one I’ve grown to think of as an arch nemesis - but I respect anybody sprinkling a little je ne sais quois into their home. They loved a chandelier and they really went for it.
We’ve already stripped the room of wallpaper - an excavation of damask down to plain down to floral - and along with it went the mock fireplace. Heavy as hell and painted in a gloss black. I like a black accent as much as the next gal, but the combination of metal chandelier, metal bed, metal fireplace and oversized black mirror was giving goth-at-a-scrap-metal-plant vibes. The plan is to relocate the radiator and then replaster the walls, pull up the flooring and replace it with plush carpet. It’s just not right for toes to hit cold surfaces first thing in the morning and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.
Design-wise, I like the idea of layered neutrals with lots of texture, muted colours laced throughout to ward off any risk of the palette being boring. Going through the process of deciding how each room will look has definitely highlighted how slippery my personal style is (and I say ‘my’ because, for the most part, Keiran doesn’t care what any of it looks like); I want something mature and calm but not plain - not too much pampas grass or kooky beige vases in peculiar shapes; I want something with a little colour but in a way that the colour is unnoticeable - not pops of colour, no colour popping allowed; I want a style with longevity but I also don’t want to play it too safe - no copy and paste of the old bedroom.
All of the windows upstairs are single-glazing, so we need to find out whether we can upgrade these to double-glazing or whether we’ll need to replace the windows altogether. An expensive job, but one worth the warmth and to escape the condensation that gathers whenever the heating is on. If it's particularly cold outside and the heat is cranked up, some of the windows literally pool with moisture. It grosses me out. You can see a little bit of mould beneath the big windows in the main bedroom so this is definitely a priority.
- THAT'S IT! -
That’s her! Our own little slice of mid-terrace living, perched atop a hill with higgledy-piggledy levels. It’s quite different to the other properties we viewed - the one prior to this we’d fallen in love with was a ground floor garden flat, and the one before that on the same road as our last house - but I’m excited to see what we do with it. After five years of being limited in what we could do with decoration, it’s refreshing to have free rein and not have to ask someone’s permission, and although I adored being in the old house, it was definitely time for a move and a fresh start.
Here's to (hopefully) another five very happy years. Now, will you help me choose some paint swatches?