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Renovating A Living Room

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.

Showing redundant fireplace as a design feature

Showing redundant fireplace as a design feature

A Job Well Planned

Good planning and preparation is ‘key’ to the success and satisfaction of any DIY project; time well spent at this stages is more likely to give you the desired outcome that meets with your expectations, than if you rush into a job with paint and paint brush in hand just to give the room a facelift.

Planning for the Renovations

Good planning and preparation is ‘key’ to the success and satisfaction of any DIY project; time well spent at this stages is more likely to give you the desired outcome that meets with your expectations, than if you rush into a job with paint and paint brush in hand just to give the room a facelift.

Our Living room hadn’t been redecorated for years and needed it; so the main objective of this particular DIY Project was a much needed redecorating and painting of the room. However, for several months prior to starting the project my wife and I regularly sat down together to discuss our expectations, exchange ideas and come to a common agreement on the general design, style, colours and objectives as part of an outline plan; all designed to enhance the comfort, ease of use and aesthetics of the living space.

When a room needs revamping it may be tempting to just give it a lick of paint (painting and decorating), or perhaps a makeover without putting in much thought other than for colour scheme, the decor and perhaps some design features.

However, this is a good time to consider what you don’t like about the existing room, what doesn’t work, what could be improved and what could be added. Spending time thinking about this and identifying what you would like to achieve may result in the DIY project becoming a renovation job rather than just a makeover or a simple painting and decorating, but it will certainly guarantee a greater satisfaction once the project is complete.

In our Livingroom we didn’t like the painted skirting (we prefer natural wood), there was unsightly speaker wires around the room for the surround sound system, we didn’t like the Artex on the ceiling and the old carpet needed replacing; and when we sat down and thought about it we quickly drew up a list of a whole host of other things we didn’t like, wanted to change or improve.

The living room just prior to renovation and redesign of the old fireplace as a design feature

The living room just prior to renovation and redesign of the old fireplace as a design feature

Identifying the Main Objectives for the Renovations

  • Replacing the old second-hand and uncomfortable sofas with new comfortable high quality and hardwearing sofas.
  • Replace the original and well-worn carpet with a new top quality 100% woollen Axminster or Wilton carpet.
  • Choosing a co-ordinated colour scheme for the sofas, carpet, décor and furnishings e.g. curtains, to meet our tastes.
  • Change the radiators around to better suit the use of the room, and to add a radiator to the adjoining conservatory, e.g. the radiator behind the sofa was too tall, preventing the sofa from being pushed back close to the wall; which in a narrow room wastes valuable space.
  • Reposition the electric sockets for more convenient use e.g. most of the sockets were hidden behind furniture.
  • Rationalising the light switches e.g. switches for different lights scattered around the room, so a desire to have them all on one switch panel with dimmers.
  • Making the redundant fireplace more of a feature.
  • Replacing all painted wood e.g. skirting boards, with natural wood finish.
  • Hiding the 7:1 speaker cables for the TV sound system e.g. with coving.
  • Opening up the storage space under the stairs by widening the gap and turning it into a proper alcove; to make the room bigger and more spacious.
  • Doing something about the Artex ceiling.
  • Sanding back the painted door to natural wood.

Choosing Décor and Sourcing Materials

Having agreed our objectives the key to deciding on the colour scheme and décor for the whole project was deciding on the colours of sofas and carpet first. The sofas we chose came in a choice of red or green; we opted for the red and then chose a green carpet as a contrast; this allowed us to plan the colour scheme for the rest of the project e.g. light green for the walls to pick up greens in the carpet and red curtains to complement the red sofas.

Having chosen our new sofas and carpet at the start of the project, we didn’t want them delivered until after renovations were complete, so that they wouldn’t get damaged during the makeover; especially as we had nowhere else to store them. Therefore after shopping around and choosing what we wanted, we placed our orders (securing them with a deposit) and asked the shops to reserve them for us until required.

We then dealt with each of the other objectives on our list; sourcing all the build materials we would need e.g. plaster, wood, lining paper, wallpaper, emulsion paint etc., shopping around for the cheapest suppliers, and then placing all the orders all the same time; so that at the start of the makeover I had everything I needed to complete the whole project.

Sequencing the Main Tasks

Having chosen the new sofas and carpet and ordering all the required building and decorating materials the main sequence for the renovation was:

  • Empty the room of all fixtures and fitting and all but essential furniture. The only furniture we kept in the Living room for the duration of the renovations was the old sofas and a table for a portable TV.
  • Gut the room, take up the carpet, remove all the old skirting boards and strip the walls.
  • Do all the messy demolition work, such as demolishing the wall under the stairs and adding the support beam
  • Do the build work including replacing the radiators, repositioning the electrical sockets and lighting, adding the coving to hide the speaker wires, tiling the fireplace and fitting new skirting boards.
  • Repair and making good the walls, floors and any wood e.g. plaster repairs on the walls.
  • Then a thorough clean of the whole Living room, washing down the walls and sweeping the floors.
  • Painting and decorating, including hanging the lining paper and wallpaper.
  • Getting the carpet laid, and finally
  • Bringing all the furniture back into the room and fitting all the fixtures and fittings.

Our Reasons for Replacing the Skirting Boards

The skirting boards were one of the first things to be removed when we gutted the Livingroom but one of the last things to be re-fitted before the painting and decorating.

The reasons we chose to replace them is that we like the look and beauty of natural wood and, unlike painted woodwork, its maintenance free.

Most people paint wood, usually white for skirting boards, and once painted it quickly discolours and becomes tatty so you’re forever committed to repainting it every few years; usually by giving it a quick stand-down to create a key for the new paint because it’s easy and quicker than sanding back to the bare wood.

However we prefer the look of natural wood, and once wood stained, oiled, waxed or varnished to bring out the natural look of the wood (highlight the woodgrain) which also provides a protective surface, it’s virtually maintenance free.

When we bought the house the skirting was already painted white, so during our initial makeover and subsequent redecoration and painting of the Livingroom we just kept it white. Now, as we were doing a complete renovation, it was the right time to rip out all the old skirting boards and replace them with new wood with a natural finish.

It also gave us the opportunity to change the profile and height of the skirting boards to something we preferred and which would work well with the décor for our Livingroom makeover. The old skirting boards were 3 inch high with a bullnose profile; for the replacement we opted for 4 inch skirting with a Torus profile.

For the finish I chose a light oak varnish, which with three coats on pine wood gives a close match to the oak furniture in our Livingroom. The oak varnish I use is quick drying (you can re-varnish within the hour), it brings out the beauty of the wood and provides a waterproof, tough surface that’s easy to keep clean with a quick wipe of a damp cloth.

Rather than fitting the new skirting board and then varnishing it, I varnished all the lengths I needed in one go (before cutting to size), let them dry and repeated the process twice more. When it came to fitting I cut the lengths to size as required and then touched up any edges with varnish as necessary afterwards.

UK vs USA Homes

British homes differ from American homes in that all original walls, including interior walls, are almost always brick rather than timber frame or stud walls.

Also, in Britain (and I assume the same applies in the USA) before knocking down walls that may be structural you need to check with your local authority (local council) as planning permission may be required; and in any event you will need to comply with Building Regulations.

Making the Living Room More Spacious

When the house was originally built back in the 1930s access to under the stairs was from the kitchen and it was designed as a built in Larder. A previous owner blocked off the access from the kitchen and created an arched opening from the Living room to create a bar (drinks) area under the stairs; which was quite nice, but after we moved in we added shelving at the back (for DVD storage) to match the colour and design of the wood of the drinks bar.

Also, in a previous project, when we renovated our kitchen, we bricked up the old kitchen door (which was opposite the original Larder) and fitted a new backdoor on the other side of the kitchen. We then blocked off that portion of the kitchen with a stud wall and reopened the original access to what was the old Larder. This created a small roomed area behind the kitchen which we converted into a cloakroom with access from the Livingroom via under the stairs.

Now that we were doing a full renovation of the Livingroom, after checking to confirm that the wall was not structural we decided that in order to give easier access to the space under the stairs and to open it up to make the Livingroom more spacious we would knock down part of the brick wall to widen and raise the height of the opening.

Even though the wall is not structural the few rows of bricks above the new opening would still need to be safely supported (in accordance with Building Regulations) so upon demolishing the wall I install a suitable support beam. I also needed to add a new false ceiling, re-fit the lighting and relocate the light switch (which was previously fitted to the wall which I demolished) for the lights under the stairs; and then make good the brickwork around the sides with plastering.

Law on electrics in UK

I don’t know what the regulations are in America, but in Britain these days you can’t just do any rewiring yourself. Under British law the work has to be done by a fully qualified electrician, who will give you a certificate on completion; or if you do the work yourself you do need to get a qualified electrician to check it and sign it off before he connects it to the mains power, at which point he will then issue you with the certificate. I opted for the latter as I am semi-qualified and feel confident in what I do, and because it’s a lot cheaper as it saves on the labour costs; plus I don’t have to explain to someone else what I want, I can just get on with it and do the work to my satisfaction.

Rationalising the Electrics

The three areas that needed rationalising were the mains power sockets, lighting and light switches, and the phone socket:-

  1. Most of the power sockets were behind furniture making them inaccessible, so we were too reliant on four gang extension leads; and one set of double sockets was behind our solid oak TV cabinet, so we couldn’t push the TV cabinet against the wall which wasted valuable space in what is quite a narrow room.

    So the first job was to pull up the appropriate floorboards and re-wire the sockets into suitable locations where they wouldn’t be hidden by any furniture. We took this opportunity to replace the old white plastic sockets with Georgian style brass finish wall sockets, and I put the extra effort into drilling out recesses in the brickwork so that we could sink all the sockets into the wall rather than just having them wall mounted.

    While ordering the new sockets we also ordered two double sockets that included built-in USB chargers, fitting one by the TV stand and one on the side wall by the main sofa.

    A common problem with modern TVs, once you’ve added your cable box, sound system and DVD or Blu-ray player etc. are the unsightly plugs and power leads from all the ancillary equipment; plus the problem from not having enough wall sockets in the first place.

    So to resolve these issues I fixed a TV masterplug 8-gang power surge socket to the wall just behind the TV screen. For us, an ideal solution as we have our TV screen in the corner of the room at an angle so that we see the front of the screen straight on from the sofas; and by angling the screen it conveniently gives easy access behind the screen from one side, from where we can access the power plugs for the TV and all ancillary equipment.

  2. The lighting itself was as we liked it, so we didn’t change that, but the old light switch for the lights under the stairs was on the wall which I demolished as part of opening up the space under the stairs and making the Living room more spacious. So I had to re-route that light switch to somewhere more suitable; which was fine as I wanted all the light switches for the room in one convenient place anyway, and dimmer controlled. Therefore I purchased a modular triple dimmer switch unit with a brass finish and re-wired all three lighting circuits to it.

  3. The problem with the phone socket was that it was visible and therefore unsightly. On checking the cable under the floorboards I could see there was ample spare cable to reposition it closer to the corner wall where it would be hidden by the oak furniture; and as the phone is permanently plugged into the socket (unlike power sockets) it’s something we don’t need to regularly access. Also, unlike electrics, the work doesn’t need to be certified by a qualified professional, so I was free to just get on and reposition the phone socket to wherever I wanted.

Modifying the Central Heating System in the Living Room

When, years ago, our central heating system was upgraded we had two modern radiators fitted in the Living-room, but the one fitted behind the old sofa has always been a bane because it was the same height as the sofa preventing you from pushing the sofa close to the wall; which in a narrow room wastes a lot of valuable space.

However, as the sofas we like have a steep incline at the back (creating a triangular space between the sofa and wall) a half height radiator would snug into that space nicely without touching the sofa, and leaving several inches gap, even when the sofa is pushed close to the wall

The six inches of space we reclaim by using a half height radiator (allowing us to push the sofa closer to the wall) and the three inches of space we save on the other side of the room by removing the power socket behind the TV stand (allowing us to move that closer to the wall) gains 9 inches in total usable width to the living room; which for a big room may not sound much, but for a smaller room can be significant.

The only real downside to replacing the radiator with a half-height one is that the heat output is less. However, the full size radiator behind the sofa had a higher heat output than the radiator under the window; and I also wanted to add a radiator in our newly built adjoining conservatory; which would add to the heat of the Living room. After doing a few calculations, by swapping out the radiator under the window with the more powerful one removed from behind the sofa (replacing it with a half-height radiator) in conjunction with a new radiator in the conservatory, the overall heat balance is maintained to our satisfaction.

To further conserve on energy and make the heating system more efficient, while I had the floorboards up to do the plumbing I made sure that any new pipe work I added was well insulated with pipe insulation.

Adding and Replacing Other Radiators at the Same Time

I know the conservatory is a separate room, but by heating that (which is something we wanted to do anyway) it means that the temperature difference between the conservatory and living room is less so the heat loss through the wall into the conservatory is greatly reduced.

Also, although the radiator in our main bedroom was technically the correct size for the room, because the combi-boiler is in the adjoining bathroom and all the central heating pipes to the radiators around the house run under the bedroom floor (effectively underfloor heating) we never needed to use it. Therefore, after changing the radiators downstairs I swapped out our bedroom radiator for the one that was under our Living-room window. The radiator from the Living-room being about two thirds the length of the one it replaced in the bedroom, and a lower heat output; which is fine as the pipes under the floor keeps the bedroom warm anyway. The main advantage, and the prime purpose of swapping in this radiator, is that as the replacement radiator is smaller it takes up less room and therefore gives us more usable bedroom space.

Central Heating Aftercare

Once all the plumbing was complete I added Fernox F3 to the radiators (Central Heating Cleaner) and ran that for a few days in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. I then flushed out the system and added Fernox F1 (Central Heating Protector). Usually when adding these fluids to the central heating system most people isolate a radiator from the system, by turning off the valves at both ends, then unscrew the entire radiator vent nut in order to pour the fluid in through the vent.

However, when the heating engineer upgraded our central heating system he added an inlet pipe to the system; installing it at the back of the built-in wardrobe next to the airing cupboard where the combi boiler is housed. I find this inlet pipe a lot easier and quicker to use when cleaning the system out as there is just the one stop cap to undo, rather than fiddle about with all the valves in a radiator; and the opening is much bigger so you can pour the cleaning and protective fluids straight from the bottle without using a funnel.

The access pipe the plumber installed in the bedroom wardrobe for adding cleaning and protective fluids to the radiators

The access pipe the plumber installed in the bedroom wardrobe for adding cleaning and protective fluids to the radiators

Replacing Damaged Floorboards

Being an old house quite naturally some of the floorboards were damaged and split, so needed replacing. I couldn’t just order new floorboards from a local DIY stores because everything was in imperial measurements (feet and inches) when the house was built, whereas modern floorboards are in metric. Therefore I carefully measured the existing floorboards in millimetres and then phoned a local saw mill and asked them to cut the three bespoke floorboards I needed to the exact width and depth required.

I was really impressed with the ‘Service’. Not only did my local saw mill cut and plain the three nonstandard sized floorboards for little extra cost, but they delivered them within the hour for cash on delivery; only charging me an extra £5 ($7) for the added cost of resetting their machines to cut none standard sized wood (width and depth) and for delivery. Now that’s what I call ‘Service’.

Concealing the 7:1 Surround Sound Speaker Wires

Once I’d fitted the new floorboards the next task before making any plaster repairs to the walls was to fit coving around the top of three of the walls to conceal the speaker wires for the 7:1 surround sound system.

Being from the ‘old school’, in the days of Hi-Fi (High Fidelity) before the ‘digital’ revolution, I appreciate ‘quality’ sound; and I’m amazed with how the young generation are so content with MP3 audio when MP3 files are not music files but just data files that chops off the high and low frequencies to heavily compress the data. I much prefer ‘wav.’ files (although 10 time larger) as they are true digital music files and closely emulate the quality of hi-fi. Therefore, when it comes to TVs I’m concise of the limitations of the built-in speakers and greatly appreciate the enhanced quality of ‘Dolby Digital’ played back through a surround sound system.

So naturally to complement our TV we have a complete 7:1 surround sound with lots of speakers and speaker around the room fed by loads of speaker wires; which can look rather unsightly. As part of the Livingroom renovation I could have chased the wires into the walls (cut a channel in the plaster, and plastered over the wires to make it flush with the wall). However, I opted to hide the wires with coving, which is a lot easier and quicker, and which provides an attractive feature to the décor of the room.

I had the option of either the cheaper polystyrene or more substantial plaster coving. I opted for the plaster coving which, although a little more expensive, and trickier to put up, is far more aesthetically pleasing. To stick the coving to the wall I used generous amounts of ‘instant grab’ ‘No more Nails’ adhesive. On my first attempt I found that a 3 metres (10 feet) length of coving was too much for the adhesive. I could have supported the coving with a few screws in the wall under the coving, until the adhesive had set; however I decided to cut the covings in half-lengths, and with holding them in place for just a few minutes until the adhesive took hold, that worked like a charm.

Making a Design Feature from the Old Redundant Fireplace

Years ago we had our gas central heating system upgraded to a modern combi boiler which provides near instant hot water for the taps and gas central heating on demand that did away with the need for a gas fire, back boiler, emersion tank and expansion cold water tank in the loft; in other words, a far more efficient system that’s far cheaper to run and takes up a lot less space.

At that point the old fireplace became redundant an initially I squared off the original fireplace, plastered the inside and fitted glass shelves inside the recess to make a display area. At a later date a friend helped me to break through the chimneybreast above to create recessed area. We used house bricks to make an arched recess, created a false back with plywood (which I treated with teak oil), faced off the base and front with recycled solid oak floorboards, and then completed by fitting a plate glass shelves.

For the current project my wife and I wanted to go a stage further by making the whole fireplace and chimneybreast a design feature by tiling it all. So after watching some American and British DIY makeover programmes on the TV for inspiration and ideas we headed for our favoured local Tiling shop to choose our tiles; including some glass tiles which, although expensive, are a popular feature in many tiling projects on TV.

Once all the renovations were done the crème de la crème (icing on the cake) for our fireplace design feature was to add mirrored glass at the back of both recesses. The bottom recess was easy as it’s just an oblong, so I only needed to measure the height and width of the opening; whereas the top recess with the arch was more challenging e.g. I needed to be sure to get mirrored glass cut to fit exactly in place.

To get an accurate shape and size for the arched recess I used thick (1400gsm) lining paper as a template which our local glazier supplier could use to cut the mirror to size. It was a simple case of cutting the general shape and size of the opening from thick lining paper and then pushing the lining paper into the recess and scoring all around the edges with my fingernail. Then carefully cutting around the shape and eighth of an inch inside the scored line to give the required gap for fitting glass; which can then be finished off with either sealant or beading around the edges once fitted. The mirrored glass being fixed in place with mirror adhesive applied to the back in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Door Restoration

A previous owner replaced the original interior doors with modern hollow flush finish doors, which we don’t like. So when a couple of years ago a friend replaced his back door with a modern double glazed uPVC door and was going to throw away the old one we asked him if we could have it. When I got it home it was a near perfect fit for our Living-room so that’s where I fitted it. The door he gave us is solid mahogany (and very heavy), it was wood stained on one side but unfortunately white painted on the other. Therefore as part of the renovations I took the door off its hinges and took it outside where I could then use my belt sander to strip it back to the bare wood. Once cleaned up I re-hung it, rubbed teak oil into the wood and when that was dry gave it a generous coating of beeswax furniture polish (not containing any silicone), and buffed it up to a shine.

Furniture polish with silicone e.g. spray polish, is a false economy as the shine fades within days and the silicone attracts dust so you are forever having to dust and polish the furniture weekly to keep it nice. Whereas a proper beeswax polish not containing silicone (although a lot more expensive and requires more work to buff up) gives a much longer lasting finish and better protection; so that rather than polishing weekly you only need to polish occasionally e.g. once or twice a year.

White painted door sanded back to bare wood, oiled and waxed with beeswax

White painted door sanded back to bare wood, oiled and waxed with beeswax

Painting and Decorating

Not my most favourite part of DIY, but essential to get right as it’s the finishing touches that makes all the difference between a mediocre job and a ‘job well done’.

When painting and decorating I like to do all the woodwork first and then work from the top down e.g. ceilings then walls. Having varnished and fitted the new skirting, re-stained the window sill, touched up the door frame, and restored the door back to natural wood, it was time to paint and decorate.

As is common with old houses our walls are not perfectly flat or smooth, so just sticking wallpaper over them without lining paper would show all the imperfections; and the ceiling was painted in artex, which we didn’t like.

As regards the ceiling, the ideal solution would have been to just plaster over the artex, but plastering isn’t my forte. I can plaster a small area of a wall to a fashion but ‘knowing my limits’ I wouldn’t be able to plaster a whole ceiling; and we didn’t really want to fork out for a professional plasterer, although it was an option. Therefore after my wife and I sat down to discuss all the options, we decided that because the artex paint was more bubble rather than spikey that if we covered it with thick lining paper it wouldn’t get rid of the artex effect altogether but it would tone it down to a less prominent and more pleasing finish. Therefore, after doing lots of research on the web we opted for 1400gsm lining paper which is thick enough to cover most blemishes but not too heavy to be near impossible to stay on the ceiling when trying to fix it in place.

Needless to say, it was still a fiddly job, but by following the manufacturer’s instructions, with lots of patience and perseverance, I managed to get the ceiling papered with the lining paper to a satisfactory standard; and once painted with white emulsion looked quite respectable. In fact it was so good that it made our old smoke detector look rather tatty, so after a bit of research I purchased a new smoke detector that suited our requirements, which had good reviews and was recommend by the ‘Fire Service’.

Using Lining Paper

Papering the walls with lining paper was another challenge in that because of the false arches on the front wall, windows and doors and the alcove under the stairs there wasn’t any straight runs to easily hang the lining paper horizontally in according with all the advice if you intend wallpapering afterwards.

However the lining paper is an inch wider than wallpaper so the risk of the two lining up on a join is minimal; therefore, for simplicity, I took the executive decision to hang the lining paper vertically.

The other challenge was the false arches on the main wall. Cutting the top pieces to shape with an overlap of an inch, and snipping slits in that overlap every inch to fold them over into the curve underneath was easy enough; and likewise, cutting the top curve for the lining paper underneath was easy. The challenge was properly fitting the strip to go up in underneath the curve of the arches, the problem being that the lining paper shrinks as it dries; so that the following morning when you come down the lining paper has pulled taught, and away from the profile of the curve. My solution was to use a Stanley knife to cut the middle of lining paper where it had straightened up, apply a generous dab of wallpaper paste on the underside of the lining paper and re-stick it to the curve of the arch; where it then stayed.

Once the lining paper was up, and I waited 24 hours for it to dry I then wallpapered the room, left it for another 24 hours to dry, and then painted the wallpaper with two coats of emulsion. When that was dry we could then put up all the fixtures and fittings e.g. curtains, wall clock, framed pictures etc., and then wait for the carpet to be fitted before bringing all the furniture back into the room. Once the carpet was fitted one final DIY job I did was to reupholster the footstool with a piece of carpet off-cut.

Tips on Using Lining Paper

Is painting and decorating your forte

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Arthur Russ

Your Comments

Arthur Russ (author) from England on November 14, 2016:

Thanks Dr Pran, I find that relaxing with a cup of coffee is when I get most of my inspiration (my thinking cap); and it's a great personal satisfaction when what I visualize in my mind's eye all comes together on completion of a DIY project.

Dr Pran Rangan from Kanpur (UP), India on October 15, 2016:

I have seen your innovativeness and creativity in renovation of your home. I have become a great admirer of your creative skills.

Thanks for sharing the hub.

Dr Pran Rangan from Kanpur (UP), India on October 08, 2016:

You have done a wonderful job renovating your home. It seems you have a real good sense of interior decoration too. After full renovation, your home will look great, a source of envy for many.

Thanks for sharing it.

Arthur Russ (author) from England on September 17, 2016:

Thanks, yes it was a lot of work, and quite disruptive in that we were living on bare floorboards for a couple of months; but the end result was worth the effort.

Glen Rix from UK on September 12, 2016:

My goodness, what a lot of work! I like the idea of re-purpose get the fireplace. I have to face painting the staircase in the next few days. After that I'm done. Getting too old for diy decorating,

Sumaira abbas hub on September 05, 2016:

its good

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