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A Banquet Of Consequences

Author: Lolly Gautier-Ollerenshaw

I really struggled with what to call this post this morning. Not because I couldn’t think of any number of titles but because none of them seemed to quite encapsulate the essence of what it is I’m about to share with you.

I toyed with ‘The Great Fix-Up’ and ‘Building and Breaking Things’ but both seemed ridiculously cheesy. ‘Everything Will Be Ok’ and ‘Coming Out The Other Side’ sounded like titles for self-help books which is absolutely fine used in the right context but not so for today’s ruminations and ‘Housebuilding and Relationships’ was just plain dull. Instead, I took inspiration from a Robert Louis Stevenson quote which sums up perfectly the journey that Ste and I have been on with the house since purchasing it all those months ago.

I’m not going to lie, part of me does wonder if we were ever meant to buy our house. Selling our first home was pretty straightforward, that is if you leave out the bidding war and a couple that swore that they had no more money but then miraculously came up with another eight grand when we said we were going to go with someone else. But purchasing our second was tricky, I’m not going to go into all the details here as it is deathly boring, but it was a drawn out affair that sent my stress levels rocketing. And then all of a sudden, we were standing outside our house, keys in hand, the proud owners of our new abode with a to-do list a mile long.

I thought our troubles were all over, yes we had a mammoth project ahead of us but we’d refurbished a house before and we were equipped weren’t we. Surely the hard part – trying to buy the damn thing – was over? We had a plan so what possibly could go wrong. Answer…pretty much everything. Planning rejections, delays, unforeseen drainage rerouting oh and a pregnancy that was supposed to happen at least a year further down the line resulting in a massive chunk out of our budget and even further delays to the project. I’ve talked about all of these issues before in this post, this post and this post so I’m not going to go over old ground again here.

But what I haven’t talked about is the effect that this renovation has had on my and Ste’s relationship…because it’s been tough. Really bloody tough. So tough there have been times when I’ve wondered if my desire for a bigger house had ruined everything and was any of it all really worth it?

I’ve admitted before that I have sat at the bottom of our stairs on more than one occasion, head in dusty hands, sobbing about the enormity of the project in front of us and wondering when it would all end and whether it would break Ste and I in the process. But I haven’t really gone into any more details than that. It was at a recent RMS team meeting that Lauren suggested that perhaps you folks might like to hear about it, that my (over?) sharing might be therapeutic…for both me and for you. That actually someone somewhere might say…that’s exactly how I feel/felt too. So here I am…revealing all.

The project started well, both Ste and I went at the house all guns blazing, determined to be out of my parents’ house (where we had temporarily decamped) within the year. Walls were knocked down, plans submitted, skips ordered and so on and so forth. And then at the end of February 2014, just two months after we’d got the keys, I found out I was pregnant. Initially there was mixed feelings…well from me at least. Excitement that our family would be expanding before the year was out but a huge dose of trepidation about what this would mean for the project. For a start I was determined to be as much help as possible on the DIY side of things but at five months pregnant, Ste decided he really wasn’t comfortable with me perching on the top of ladders and breathing in the dusty atmosphere. That meant one less pair of hands to help out. Then on top of that I was very conscious about the impact of my maternity leave, less income for a start, and then when I did go back to work the subsequent effect of nursery fees on my monthly salary and what this meant for our renovation budget.

We’ve been lucky, very lucky in that we’ve been able to stay at my mum’s, rent-free and with storage space to boot. This has been a godsend in so many ways – complimentary in-house babysitting, on-hand support at any time of the day or night especially in the early days of Hector being a newborn and a constant captive audience for him to show off to. But…and it’s big BUT, there have been times when I’ve felt my personal space being invaded – something all new mums have to adjust to anyway – so god only knows what it must have been like for Ste to have to live with my family for that length of time. We had gone from living in our own house just the pair of us and our own rules and then suddenly we were cohabiting with several other people in a house where we weren’t exactly guests but nor did we feel like we could do what the hell we liked either. Throw in a newborn and you’ve got a bomb waiting to go off.

I became significantly less available when Hector was born, from a hands on DIY perspective, since all my waking hours were devoted to keeping our newborn bundle happy and fed and nurtured which meant the responsibility for keeping progress on the house moving fell to Ste. A project that should really have been about the both of us became something that Ste had to deal with on his own whilst simultaneously managing the rapid growth of his business on very little sleep when all he wanted to do was to be with us watching every moment of his little boy growing up. To say he was stretched is an understatement and naturally this spilled out into gripes and sniping and general discontent.

In return I felt a huge burden of guilt, guilt that I couldn’t be more help to Ste, guilty he was doing it all on his own when before we had the comfort of each other’s company when various bits of DIY got boring or tedious or just plain hard work. He was toiling away at the house, often in the cold and after a full week of work on a building site to boot. For him there was no respite and he was fed up to say the least. In turn I felt incredibly lonely; whilst he was building his heart out creating a beautiful home for us, we weren’t spending any time together and I really bloody missed him. It felt as though a massive gulf had opened up between us. Even typing this now is bringing tears to my eyes…

In short, we both respectively in our individual ways felt on our own with it all. Add into the melting pot, a budget that effectively ran out half way through, all the aforementioned delays and a reduction in workforce and you’ve got a project that almost ground shudderingly to a halt half way through. The effect this had on our morale was devastating; Ste regularly began to proclaim he hated the bloody house and that none of it was worth it which only made me feel worse in turn. Well meaning friends asking about how our project was progressing only bought the problems to the fore again even when we were out trying to forget about the situation for an hour or two. Both of us felt embarrassed about our lack of success.

And then it felt as if something changed at Christmas. Ste took, for the first time in forever, a decent two and a half weeks off for the festive break giving him the chance to recuperate and catch up on some much needed rest. The house seemed to have passed a crucial turning point with plastering being completed and rooms being painted and bathrooms being ordered and it now seems as if we’re on the home stretch. We’re hoping to have pretty much the whole of the upstairs complete, with the exception of carpets, by the end of February with a prospective move in date of April. Suddenly it doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming anymore…the excitement for both of us is coming back.

That’s not to say I don’t have any regrets; I would have loved to have been fully immersed in every single aspect of the DIYing rather than just making the various aesthetic decisions. Yes the vision for the house has very much been a joint effort but the actual doing/creating has been all Ste and I’m so incredibly proud of him for that if not a little bit gutted that not more of my blood, sweat and tears has gone into it.

As for us? We’re a bit battered but so much the stronger for it. We completely and utterly understand the importance and value of teamwork in a way that we hadn’t before. We certainly know a darn sight more about each other…our strengths as well as our limitations. The key is to work with these weakness rather than store them up and use them as barbed ammunition at the wrong times; I’ve certainly learnt this the hard way anyway. In actual fact, I’ve fallen in love with Ste all over again; he’s my real life hero.

Funnily enough only the other day Ste turned round to me and said ‘when we do all this again with house number three, because let’s face it we’re going to do it all again aren’t we… at least we’ve got a tonne of knowledge under our belt to help us and we’ll know we can get through it.‘ which suggests to me that he hasn’t really lost his appetite for the old house refurb game after all. Proof then folks that what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger. Just trust me on that one…

Author: Lolly
Lolly is a self-professed frustrated florist and styling maven with an endless passion for all things pretty.
Follow Lolly on instagram @graceandgable

36 thoughts on “A Banquet Of Consequences

  1. Love this, thanks so much for writing it. I’m sure I’m not the only person who totally relates.

    We moved to our farmhouse with its derelict barn in 2012, hoping to convert the barn and make that our home while the older smaller farmhouse became a lovely holiday home for my parents. It’s 2017 and the barn is looking like it will be finished by the five year anniversary of our move- and we will be moving in with not one but two (all being well) additional little people! We always joke that we enjoyed being like everyone on Grand Designs and having a baby and a build that we did it twice…

    But yeah, the feels. The strange man emotions and hurt pride at slightest critique of design. The different attitudes to tge planning process. The hiding bad news. We were out at 10pm this week dragging a cistern around a proposed en-suite, before Christmas we had our first row for years which ended in me storming off through the fields with toddler in tow and two shamefaced apologies.

    But like you say, we’ve come through. We are strong, we still love each other, we still love that bloody stone monstrosity. This week the steel went in for our glass bridge that will link the upstairs rooms and I’m so proud of my husband and delighting in his joy at seeing his dream come true- as long as I get those Fired Earth tiles..?

    You can see pictures of the barn (including pyjama bathroom planning shot!) #rodwaybarn on IG

    Thanks so much Lolly I hope I’m not the only person who spills all their building tissues and issues today!

    1. It’s so nice to hear (in a slightly strange morbid (is that even the right word??!) way) from other people going through the same thing as Ste and I. It makes me feel like we’re not the only crazy people in the whole world taking on a mammoth project and hoping for an amazing outcome. I completely empathise with you..the change of minds half way through, the rows, the attempt to slam doors when there’s no doors in your house because you took them all off etc etc etc. Your project looks amazing Lucy…truly fantastic…and much more of a challenge in comparison to my small fry house. I can’t wait to see it when it’s all finished.
      P.S. Don’t back down on the tiles…oh and those pyjamas are immense.

  2. Wow Lolly. I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated the mountain you guys have had to climb. I’d forgotten just how long you’ve been doing it for a start.

    I read this with a knot in my tummy and tears in my eyes. I hope writing it has been cathartic for you, it certainly sounds like you’re coming out the other side now. Thank you for sharing so honestly ❤❤xx

    1. Thank you gorgeous girl. It truly has been cathartic…not sure what Ste is going to say when he reads it as I haven’t told him that I’m writing this post yet. I’m hoping he’s able to hear what I’ve got to say. But yes…I mean how long?! It’s been a three year project but there’s light at the end of the tunnel now…I can’t wait to share all the finished details with you very soon xxxx

  3. Lovely to see such an honest post. We ‘only’ did an extension on our house and were ‘only’ out for 3 months living with my parents, but my god did that test our relationship. I was 5 months pregnant, we had a 2 year old toddler, no end of building problems and there were a LOT of tears. After one particularly bad visit to the site I called my husband in tears and his suggestion was that I just stop visiting the house if it was that upsetting! Not helpful!

    And totally agree about well meaning friends asking how the house was going. In the end I’d text friends before a meet up and ask them to try not to mention the house!!

    It’s all worth it in the end. We’ve been back in for just under a year, and the new improved house is everything we dreamed it would be (and we’ve nearly paid off all the accumulated debt it took us to get here!) x

    1. If it’s any consolation Sara I’ve had similar conversations with Ste on the phone usually when I’ve visited the house out of the blue and things aren’t quite how I want them to be. I end up ranting (out of frustration) which must be the icing on the cake for him when he’s trying to spin all the plates. Anyway enough food/kitchen analogy from me, it’s so great to hear that you guys are in and are happy and that the debt is nearly paid off too!

  4. Thanks for the very honest post. I wish there were moving like this telling it like it is about house renovations.

    Husband and I moved into our place about 5.5 years ago and it required a lot of work. We had a six week overlap with our rented place but it took about a year to get most of it done (and we still have a kitchen, back half of the house, boiler replacement to go through at some point…). The dust, amount of time required (neither of us have done up a house before) and stress were immense. We got through it, but I won’t underestimate how much it takes to do that again, when yes, we move to the next house.

    All the best with the remaining work with your house and have a successful move into it (-and then enjoy it!).

    1. Morning Caroline! I think the funny thing is about these kind of posts is that you’re able to hear so much more what the writer is saying if you’re going through/have gone through a similar thing yourself. Thank you for your lovely comments xxx

  5. Thank you Lolly – this post has come at exactly the right time!
    We exchanged on our first house on Friday and started renovations yesterday, oh and I’m coming up to seven months pregnant! We’ve been living with my mum while we saved/looked for a (maybe/maybe not) forever home and getting an offer accepted seemed to take sooo longgg. And now we can’t believe we have a house! It’s so exciting and all a bit scary too. I was happy when we found out we were pregnant, that is not horrified when two pink lines popped up! But it was all very unexpected.
    Our house isn’t anywhere near as big a project as what you and Ste have had to contend with, but it needs a bit of work done and I was stripping walls and ceilings of hideous wallpaper yesterday. I’m determined not be involved as much as I can. We’re hoping to be in before the baby arrives… Keeping my fingers and toes crossed for both of us!! x

    1. How exciting Sarah!! And huge congratulations with the new house and the impending arrival! I’m thrilled for you all. Good luck with all your renovations xxx

  6. Thank you so much for this post and for your honesty and I am glad everything is becoming more positive for you now. Once that gulf appears, for whatever reason and whatever stress you are going through, it really does take real strength, compassion and understanding to close it and not take the easy route of being upset and angry, which just serves to make the gulf wider and wider. Marriage can be tough and it can be hard work and thank you for being honest about that. But as you said it really does make you stronger xx

    1. What a lovely thing to say Sarah. I have to say that a huge support for both Ste and I has been my mum. She’s been the voice of reason when both of us have been too angry/hurt/confused/worn out/frustrated to be able to talk to the other rationally and I thank my lucky stars that Ste has such a brilliant relationship with her. Marriage is bloody tough but as you say it’s about being honest about that. I hope by sharing I might have been able to help someone somewhere today xx

  7. Really great post and very timely as i’m currently eight months pregnant and we’re in the throws of trying to complete at least one room upstairs in our house before the baby arrives! I too feel a bit useless not being able to help out a lot, especially as my husband is also juggling a full-time job and trying to set up his own business.

    1. Huge congratulations Alex! Not long to go now! I completely empathise with the feeling useless emotion. Please try to rest up though at some point; it’s so important to make sure you’re looked after too. Sending your husband lots of good luck vibes too xx

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this Lolly. We’re at the start of our house renovations…the very start of it we have no actual house to renovate yet (thanks so much for all your tips on your last post by the way!) and it’s something that we discuss a lot. I am impatient, emotional and want everything now whereas my husband is patient, logical and happy to enjoy the waiting around. We balance each other out (thank god, I couldn’t be married to someone the same as me – what a nightmare) but we both know it will cause tensions mid way through a project of a house. It’s nice to hear from others that things aren’t always perfect, I find it really comforting. xx

    1. Oh I’m glad I could help Sian! Did you decide to go for the house you were looking at in the end or have you chosen to wait? I’m glad you’ve recognised that there will be tensions throughout the project. With all the will in the world something will go wrong/get delayed/won’t go quite to plan – all of which can pretty much be resolved – but it’s how you manage it between you that will truly be the success of the project. I’m wishing you all the luck and magic in the world xx

      1. We’re still umming and ahhing. I feel like it’s *our* house whilst the boy is not so sure. Trying to remember that if its meant to be, it will happen. And also trying to not put too much pressure on him and let him decide in his (logical!) time. X

  9. I thought it was just me and my husband who were like this and we only refurbished our downstairs. We relied solely on a family friend who is a builder by trade but did all his work for us in the evening, along with my husband. Space was an issue and as I am not the most practical so I was just getting in the way and taking up valuable space. I decamped upstairs and became the tea maker and attempted to control the dust. My husband worked 10 hour days so was coming home, getting straight on with the work and falling into bed around midnight. This went on for five months and there were arguments, tears, fall outs and despair that it was never going to end. I felt guilty for not knowing enough to help more and was lonely upstairs in the spare room with the cat, my husband was exhausted and fed up of not having time to chill out…not the best way to start married life! However, when it was finished we had the dream kitchen, new floor, electrics, lights, plumbing, walls, doors and entrance way. We learned a lot of lessons about what to do/what not to do the next time around as well as about each other. It definitely made us a stronger team and we have since moved to a bigger property and have a baby on the way! We have lots of plans to make this house have just as much ‘Wow factor’, just maybe keep a few evenings for us!

    1. Oh Hannah you are most definitely not alone! And hats off to you for managing to convince your builder mate to help you out with your first project. A true friend indeed! I think if you can take the lessons learned from your first project and apply them to your second then you’re quids in! I’m so excited for you, for your soon to be expanding family and of course for your new home. Keep us updated xxx

  10. What a gorgeous post, Lolly. I think that, while it would have been EASIER on you if things had worked out differently, the reality is that you guys are stronger, wiser and more enriched precisely because it’s been so tough. As hard as it’s been I don’t think that’s something you can really regret and the day you pop that champagne cork in your new house, it will taste 10x sweeter.
    I’m a very solid believer that the hard times are just as, if not more, important than the easy times because they teach you SO much more about yourself and those around you. They also help you to appreciate the good times more!
    We had a tough old time as a couple when I got pregnant as I had hyperemesis and my mum had to move in to look after me even though she lived thousands of miles away! So for three months, I had a stressed husband who was so busy at work but worrying about me, a mum who was having to look after me 24/7, a dad who was stuck abroad working without his wife for company, as well as a brother and sister in law who were doing loads to help. It was the hardest time of my life but I look back at all the good that came out of it, how strong it made us, how selfless my parents and were (as always), how supportive my family is. From difficult times comes all sorts of good and it sounds like right now you guys are reaping those rewards (as are we with our 9 month old bundle of joy!). Xx

    1. Kate I can’t even begin to imagine how awful you felt during your pregnancy so I take my hat off to you that you are able to look back and see all the good things that came out of the experience. As you so eloquently state – our own house challenges have made us stronger, wiser and more enriched. I particularly love the ‘enriched’ comment because that is nail on head for me. You’ve summed it up perfectly. Love to you and all your family xxx

  11. I’m at work at the moment and can’t wait to read through this properly. I don’t know if anyone really understands what pressures a home renovation can have on a relationship Massive massive learning curve!!!

    1. That it does Hannah! And I’m sure if we did it all again then we’d find that we had even more to learn doing that one up too! Your home is absolutely stunning by the way xxx

  12. Such a brave and honest post – it sounds like it has been such a difficult and stressful time for you both! Of course these things only make you stronger and I just know it will all be worth it in the end! (Gorgeous photo of the two of you by the way – no wonder Hector is such a beautiful little boy!)

    On a much, much smaller scale I can relate in the teeniest tiny way – I am 7 months pregnant and we are in the process on having our bathroom done and trying to decorate all the bedrooms before baby comes, which feels mad now that we’re in the middle of it but seemed like a good idea at the time! I just hate how useless I feel!!! My husband won’t let me do anything, which I guess is probably right but as someone who usually get’s stuck in with anything I just feel totally useless and helpless! I’m desperate to paint something or rip some tiles off!! xx

    1. Hi Kate – hope you’re well, I’m 7 months too (and feeling more like a whale everyday!) We’ve just bought our house and trying to do most (two thirds of it) up before the baby arrives!! I’m getting stuck into the DIY on the weekends – stripping wallpaper and doing little bits of bobs. If I get tired, I make a round of tea and catch my breath. I’ve found that the the tasks I’m doing make me stretch no more than my yoga class, so if you want to help and feel you can I’d have a chat with your husband! Good luck with the renovations (and baby of course!) x

      1. Hi Sarah, congrats on your pregnancy!! Totally with you on feeling like a whale now – although strangely I kind of like it! I did manage to strip a bit of wallpaper while he was out the other day actually, but got told off for it haha xxx

    2. Thank you so much Kate! Obviously I’m biased but it’s so lovely to hear compliments from others about your kids let alone yourself so you’ve made my week 😉
      At seven months pregnant I applaud you for wanting to get stuck in; I think at that stage I just wanted to eat chocolate. How far off are your bedrooms and bathroom from being complete?

      1. Oh I’m doing plenty of that too of course 🙂 But I just love a bit of decorating and feel like I’m missing out. Perhaps I’m crazy… Bathroom is almost done now, downstairs toilet was being started today and once that’s done we’ll get on with the bedrooms! 9 weeks to go and feeling the pressure eek! xx

  13. Ohhhh..finally got the chance to read through this post without the possible distrurbance of work!
    I one hundred per cent empathise with you Lolly and this post could not have come at a more timely point. As we are renovating a home that once belonged to my husbands grandparents, we have had very testing times. I had totally underestimated the emotional attachment my husband has to the house and I have had to stop myself bulldozing my way through the restoration. The interior is barely recognisable to what it once was and although it had to be done, I’m mindful this has not been easy for him. Cue arguments about how we should be spending our money and the time in which it is taking. I’m an organiser and I want things done now but I’ve had to develop an enormous amount of patience and understand that there are certain changes that he just wasn’t/isn’t ready for. I’m also incredibly impulsive where he is more mindful of where the budget is going. I still can’t believe that two years on we haven’t finished one room in the house but when he is working from home he is struggling to deal with the endless visits from plasterers, glass fitters and such like. It’s massively stressful for him, particularly as we are both pretty DIY phobic!
    Despite the difficulties, I have an enormous amount of respect for my husband and what he has had to contend with, and I know that what we are doing now is only ’round one.’ The house will continue to evolve and change through our life time and I shouldn’t get so hung up on it being right the first time. I’m wishing you lots of luck for the future and there will be bright times ahead for you all in your beautiful new home- you’ve most definitely earnt it xx

  14. Oh Lolly. It’s been quite a ride. Thanks for sharing this and hope you’ve found it cathartic. It’s going to be amazing. I’m looking forward to the house warming ?

  15. Fab post Lolly, your renovation has truly been an epic one! I totally empathise with your feelings on the whole thing – we’re nine weeks into our Victorian cottage renovation juggling the work with actual work (hubby full time and me four days a week) and looking after our two-year-old with him taking on the brunt of the house stuff (I’m not as effective at digging up floors and rebuilding chimneys!) and me solo parenting. We’re living at my parents and are lucky to have both sets of parents on hand for childcare help, but since we’re relying on them for a place to live I don’t feel like we should (and also don’t want to!) put on them with evening and weekend childcare duties too! So I’m occupying our boy while hubby wishes I was more hands-on with the house, and I wish he’d be around more to actually spend time together as a family. BUT we’ve made really good progress so far; totally stripped back most rooms to brick, full electrical rewire, full central heating system and new boiler, all woodwork sprayed for woodworm treatment, chimneys rebuilt and leaded, created a loft space which has now been insulated and boarded, built two brick fireplaces and lined the chimneys ready for stove installation, upstairs is fully plastered with skirting boards fitted and started painting and downstairs is partly plastered (ceilings/hall/pantry done) and floors are now coming up ready to be concreted and relaid. Still a way to go (plus we’re extending in two years’ time!) but we can see the light. It’s tough going though, and a huge stress, but we’re in it together and I think it took a few words (tears!) at the weekend to make us both realise that. Huge luck with the rest of the work – there IS an end and it WILL be worth it! xx

  16. I only now got the time to catch up on posts since I started back at work full-time after my one year maternity leave. Lolly, I love this post and I felt so much for you. I’m so glad both of you got out stronger on the other end. Life sends us lots of tests and those of us who really belong together will work through them together, be it a house, a disease etc. You’re right, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!

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