Room by room

I have alluded to the fact that we are having building work done. Time for me to blog properly about it.

Since we first moved into this house, I have periodically announced to Oli that I wanted to knock down the wall between our two reception walls. Like a massively less successful and considerably less expensively dressed Kirstie Allsopp, I would stare balefully at the wall that stood between our sitting room and our study, and I would plan its demise. Oli was uncertain. I was resolute.

One of the reasons for knocking down that wall was that, truthfully, the study was never a very well-used room. It was full of bookshelves, which should have been brilliantly useful but which really just attracted Stuff. It housed the piano, which neither Oli nor I play anything like as much as we would like to. The study basically functioned as a big dumping ground come buggy park. Which I think we can all agree is a pretty expensive waste of space.

So we finally got to the point where we could start doing just a few of the grand ideas I have for the house, and I was determined that we would knock through. Oli was still nervous, but reassured both by my certainty and also by the knowledge that when it comes to design and decor decisions, his role is a consultative one …. at best.

And operation ‘ground floor renovations’ was born. It was in three major parts:
1. Remove the shower from the ground floor bathroom, get shelves built for washing machine and tumble drier, and turn room into utility room.
2. Knock through two reception rooms.
3. Remove window from the study (second reception room) and put in french doors.

Truthfully, getting this work done was equal parts amazing and horrifying. I really seriously thought that my childhood would have prepared me for the inconvenient and messy aspects of building work. After all, my parents are inveterate DIY and renovators. Turns out I was wrong. All my childhood gave me was the uncertain benefits of having ‘an eye’. After being dragged around countless old houses for sale, and exhorted to imagine how lovely they could be if done up, I can definitely do that. I can look at the bones of a room, see past the mess and the damp and the decor, and see that it would be a great space. What I can’t do is any of the practical stuff to get them there. Or live happily and calmly with the mess and disruption required to make major improvements.

WindowThis is the space in our study where the window used to be. Part of my plan for here is that putting in French doors will open up the side return of our garden. It’s pretty wide, and is currently used to store the hose. I have a lovely mental image of some pots, some trellis, a little table and chairs. Basically I think the French doors here will give us a bit more garden, which will be lovely. Once the hole had been made in the wall (and once the rotting lintel had been found, and replaced) I started to get quite excited.

Corner by corner - french doorsHere are the french doors in situ. I am so pleased with them, they’re totally beautiful. Our builder made them to match the proportions and panels of our front door, which means they look as if they have always been there. I am planning to paint the outside the same pale grey-blue as our front door, too, just to emphasise the similarity.

Corner by corner - renovations in progressThis was the hard bit, though. Here you can see where the floorboards were taken up, in order that the enormous steels could come in through the french doors, and one could go under the floor forming the bottom part of an enormous metal frame. Said metal frame is basically tasked with holding the house up.

Keeping the faith was hard when the rooms were a tip, the girls were running riot, both reception rooms were a no-go area, every available room in the house was full of things from the reception rooms, and all the items I owned seemed to be in boxes, with all the important things in the boxes at the bottom.

Corner by corner - protecting the cornicingThis is the wall that was coming down. This is the view from the sitting room. RIP wall. Roy our builder talked very knowledgeably about the things he would do to protect our beautiful cornicing (one of the very few original features left in the house) but obviously there are no guarantees. So seeing it with the protective frame around it, ready to be stuffed with soft material to hold it steady, did give me a wobble.

What was really difficult was trying to actually imagine what it would really look like. So it was genuinely serendipitious when I was contacted by the folk at RoomSketcher, asking if I would be interested in trying out their product. RoomSketcher is an online tool which describes itself as for ‘visualizing homes’ (more about that Americanism later). Well, why not?

It was very easy to sign up. I did have that moment of faltering at something new …. does anyone else have this with technology? When you’ve bought a new phone, or a new printer, and you KNOW it will be perfectly easy to do, but there’s the box and the manuals, and the help pages, and the quick starter guides, and it all suddenly seems so complex when all you want is for it work perfectly, seamlessly, without you having to do anything other than make tea. I did get over this. I realised if I wanted something nice from RoomSketcher I was going to have to put in a bit of time. So I allocated an evening to getting to grips with it, cleared some mental space, watched a couple of the videos, and jumped in.

It won’t work on the iPad, which is a pain, but hardly their fault. RoomSketcher uses flash, which just won’t work on apple devices. This was a huge inconvenience to me when our laptop suddenly stopped working, as I had to halt work on my roomplan entirely for about a week until our replacement arrived. Again, not exactly RoomSketcher’s fault, though.

Once I’d remembered that I stored the house details the estate agent created, and that this included floorplans and measurements, I realised I was away. It took not very long at all to create a room outline, and then the fun began. I put in the dark wood floor that I’ve long been dreaming of, filled in the walls an elegant pale grey, and began to play. Sofas. Bookshelves. Rugs. Oooh – cushions! We don’t have a fireplace at the moment but re-opening up the chimney and putting one in is definitely on my to do list, so I stuck one in my room too. Ditto the beautiful built-in white cabinets for the alcoves which are currently on my lottery list.

I did run into a bit of trouble trying to layer things up. I couldn’t get a picture to appear above the fireplace, and ended up with it resting in front of the fire. I spent a minute or two wondering why my fireplace looked so strange, and realised I’d placed it facing the wall rather than the room. These are obviously small things, and I’m sure if I was a regular user I would laugh at myself. But they were a bit fiddly to get my head around.

Corner by corner - room sketcher imageBut – look! Doesn’t it look great! Once you’ve put some stuff into your room, you can play with it in various ways. You can take snapshots, you can upgrade those snapshots to ‘premium photos’, you can create a ‘room 360′ from any point in the room (which makes a little video as if you were in it, spinning slowly around on the spot). I have to say that my initial feeling, that this was a program that seemed nice but gimmicky, was being replaced by a sense of how versatile it was.

Corner by corner - roomsketcher image 2I was impressed by being able to find the EXACT Expedit toy storage unit we have. And this was brilliant, because for ages I had been thinking that when the wall came down, we could move the Expedit from the middle of the chimney breast, and put it behind the sofa. But I had been wondering whether this would really work, and if there would be enough space to move from one room to another. Ta da! More than enough space. Highly pleasing.

I found a piano as well, and sofas which approximated our sofas enough to give a good impression of the room. I could have dived right in and spent ages filling up the bookcases with books and ornaments, and looking through different pictures on the walls, but I decided enough was enough.

I did struggle a bit with a few other things, though. Creating the bay window was hard. I ended up making angled walls and dropping in windows to give a bay impression. There is a better way to do it, but I wondered as I did it whether the software was American and perhaps just not used to us quaint old Brits with our Victorian houses. It’s not American, apparently, but the person who does the interior design aspect of the site *is* American, so you have to watch out. Thankfully I have wasted enough time on US interior design blogs to know that a hutch, for example, is not something in which to keep a guinea pig, but instead what we know as a dresser. See also ‘credenza’, and other such esoteric terms. I can see, however, that if you have more of a life than I do don’t spend time reading American websites about homewares then this aspect might be confusing or frustrating.

The best bit, though, was switching to 3D mode, and just spending some time virtually ‘walking’ through my room. After all the planning, the scaffolding, the building regs confusion, the rubble, the dustsheets and everything, it was desperately soothing to just click through and walk to and fro, through where the existing wall was, imagining a time when the walls would be finished, and small children could run happily from room to room.

I was given access to a VIP account for 6 months in order to review the product, and I was thinking about whether I would try it again. RoomSketcher do three different types of account, a free one, VIP (which gives access to more features like high-res floorplans and 3D pictures), and a pro account which is more for commercial use. I can easily imagine property developers using the pro application to sell properties off-plan, for example. The VIP account is $49 (around £30, depending of course on exchange rates) and Pro is $99 (£60 approx).

As an interior design tool, I am probably not so enamoured of it, just because you are obviously limited in what you can do by the pre-determined options. Thinking about this more carefully, I think if you are into interior design and love to buy stuff straight-up from the high street, then this might be perfect. But if you’re into a mishmash of second-hand, DIY, some high street, and some personalised stuff then it is very hard to recreate that look here.

But honestly, if I had another big project to do, then yes I would purchase a subscription. If I was buying a house and thinking about taking walls down / dramatically altering the room layout then I would probably have a play with RoomSketcher just to see whether the rooms would flow. Testing out whether a ‘standard’ size sofa would fit in my room was brilliant, and I can’t think of another way that I could have had a virtual ‘walk’ around my new room without using this.

Disclaimer. I was given a 6 month RoomSketcher VIP account in order to write this review, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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One Response to Room by room

  1. What you’ve produced with RoomSketcher looks great! When you’re making big changes and taking walls down, I’ve found these tools really useful, although you’re right that it can sometimes can be a major fiddle to actually do. Good luck with all your building work!