Throughout my working life I have faced many challenges but I have to say my latest has certainly been my biggest to date.
To say the Llantwit Major house we took on was a ‘fixer upper’ would have been an understatement – in fact my husband described it as a ‘crazy project that we shouldn’t touch with a barge pole’. But I never did listen to him, life would be too boring.
This video will give you an idea of the challenge I set myself
The plan was to take this uninspired three story terrace building and transform it into two executive apartments and a brand new design studio for Your Space Living. Some questioned why I would attempt to take on something so ambitious in Llantwit Major. I understand their concerns but Llantwit is a beautiful town with so much to offer. It’s my home and I wanted to put something back and restore a little bit of history.
Built in the1860s, the house had had several incarnations over the last 145 years, from a cafe, to a fruit and vegetable shop, to a family home. Judging by the state of the place when we came across it, the building hadn’t had a jot of maintenance work in all that time.
But behind all the rotting beams, flaking paint and wobbly walls, the mould and the muck, there was something very special. I remember standing in this forgotten building and being able to visualise its transformation into a stunning, contemporary home with a bit of a twist. All it needed was a little (OK, a lot) of work. Even with all its problems; I knew this was the one for me.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was probably completed faster than this ‘refurb'. I had a timescale I wanted to stick to but no one else seemed to be on the same page, including the house itself. We uncovered some horrors. Rotting windows, two sagging floors, a corroded RSJ. You name it, we found it. This house was every bit as rotten as my husband thought it was. To be totally honest, it was a miracle the house hadn’t collapsed years ago. This was frustrating because this house was supposed to be in the heart of Llantwit’s conservation area. It would appear that very little conserving had been done in recent years. We did question the council’s conservation officer about this but he just shrugged and blamed a lack of budget.
The building was on a busy street, in front of the local Barclays Bank. There was very little preventing it from crumbling into the street below, putting lives at risk. I knew it needed experts to help ensure it wouldn’t collapse now or in the future. I pulled in the experts but they wanted to take their own sweet time getting the work done. This was understandable, as a professional who’s seen this sort of thing before (admittedly from a safe distance), I knew the extent of the task that lay before us. I stayed calm and let the builders work at a pace that allowed for a thorough job rather than a rushed ‘patch up’. I held on tight to my cheque book but I knew the budget was going to need drastic adjustment. I can only imagine what someone who isn’t in the renovating industry would think (‘help’ maybe?).
It reminded me of a client from a couple of years ago who confessed she was ‘on the verge of a breakdown’. Her dreams of transforming a rambling cottage into a romantic retreat had shattered within the first week. She thought it would be fun – an adventure. What she ended up with was a money sucking machine that wasn’t just uninhabitable but dangerous too.
Old buildings often need to be stripped back to their very foundations, before painstakingly being put back together again. This takes time but above all, it takes expertise. Old electrics, unstable beams, ceilings that appear to have no support whatsoever… these are things that can cause problems and they are expensive problems to solve.
Projects like these suck money like an elephant drinking in a water hole. It feels like the more you put in, the ‘thirstier’ the house gets. Enlisting the help of a project manager is one of the best ways you can save money, even if it feels like you’re paying out a chunk initially. A good project manager knows the best people for the job and that’s the best way to get things done.
At Your Space Living we project manage all elements of the work we do, including those that would fall outside of the standard supply and install service. We’ll liaise with all the different tradesmen, suppliers, and everyone else involved with the project. We’ll also guide your budget, and sort out who gets paid what and when. Your job is to sit back and enjoy the wonderful transformation of seeing your perfect home come to life before your eyes. That wasn’t the case on my project. I had to manage the whole thing myself and I was right up for it!
As an experienced project manager, I have managed hundreds of projects for my clients but none came close to the scale of this one. This was undoubtedly the biggest challenge of my career. I was suddenly on a very steep learning curve. Mistakes were made, new contacts and friends were found and my emotions were taken on a daily roller-coaster ride.
Why am I telling you this?
This process re-enforced what I do! Knowing that I can take this amount of stress was kind of satisfying. I needed this ‘education’ so that I could do a better job for my clients. I wouldn’t want any of them to go through some of the things I did. And now I have a fresh perspective and first hand experience. I know exactly how it feels when things appear to be out of control and close to calamity. I also know that things can always be sorted. Small steps, one day at a time. It’s not called ‘building’ for nothing.
The two apartments are almost complete. We have one tenant ready to move into the top floor and are actively seeking a suitable candidate for the first floor. It’s been an emotional journey but I wouldn’t change anything. I’m focussed on the future and helping others going through the same experience.
There’ll be more to come on this story. Work on my new design studio will begin in earnest soon. Watch this space, I plan to make it special.
This video shows the (almost) finished project
Categories: building projects