An experiment with flatpack…

Having thrown out Mr Shiny Shoes and his unimaginative ideas, I was left in need of a solution for my dressing room.

I suppose I could follow my usual route of dump the clothes on the end of the bed or over the back of the nearest available chair, and scatter the shoes all over the house, but that sort of defeats the object of having a dressing room really. At that point I came to the conclusion that it was going to have to be a DIY job, which really only left me two options:

  1. I could either get creative with some flatpack, or
  2. I would have to build something completely from scratch.

Since I take great delight in complicating everything I do in the barn, I decided to try a combination of both.

Using bog-standard flatpack furniture was not an option – for the same reason I’d let Mr Shiny Shoes in to have a go at designing something; the shape of the room wouldn’t accommodate standard size wardrobes and it would have to be something bespoke. In addition to that, I didn’t really want just a room full of cupboards. I was aiming more for an open ‘designer showroom’ type look (not that I’ve spent that much time in designer showrooms to know what that look really is!)

My brilliant solution? Build myself a bespoke wood frame, then sneak off to IKEA and by a load of their fixtures and fittings to kit it out. Simple!

So I worked out a design for my frame and did my usual trawling of the internet to find a timber merchant  who would supply the timber to build it. I came across a company that promised precision-machine-cut-to-size oak – perfect for what I wanted. So I drew up my design, worked out my requirements and sent my order in.

IMG_0388Unfortunately their machine wasn’t feeling very precise on the day it cut my order. Or perhaps they had lost their tape measure.

All the wood in the picture is apparently precision machine cut to 50mm……

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Equally unhelpfully they decided to scribble all over the wood in thick black marker pen – which meant that I spent several hours with a sander, trying to get the wood in a decent state to use.

I should probably have complained, but given the issues I’d had with actually getting it delivered, I really wasn’t in the mood to send it all back and start again, so I decided I would have to make do with what I had. I just won’t be using that particular timber merchant again…

IMG_0394Having cleaned and sanded it all down, I also decided that I could make it all look a whole lot more professional if I could add some kind of decorative effect to the wood.

So I went out a bought myself a new toy – because every girl needs a router….

(And before anybody asks, no, I’d never used a router before – but how hard could it be?)

Right. That’s it, all set to build a dressing room!

I started by routing a number oak posts and fixing them into the floor. I have to admit, it was with a fair degree of nervousness that I put the first one in place – because fixing these posts in place required me to drill through my lovely solid oak floor (Ouch!)

Hey ho – no going back once a couple of dozen posts were drilled into the floor. So then I added all the beams between the posts so I could fix the internal fixtures such as drawer runners or shelves.

After that, even the hell of an IKEA flatpack holds no fears – apart from the usual incomprehensibility of the instructions, and the worry of why you always have two screws left over that you’re sure you should have used somewhere….

And you have to admit, the routing does add a certain professional finishing touch to any DIY carpentry:

The real beauty of designing your own wardrobe arrangements is that you can make sure it is built to meet exactly your own requirements. Because let’s face it, every girl needs a home for at least 50 pairs of shoes…..

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All there is left to do now is figure out what kind of work surface I’m going to install.

Shiny shoes in the wardrobe

Thanks to my architect’s brilliant concept of the ME space, I ended up with a walk-in wardrobe to die for. A whole room in fact. 22ft x 14ft of space entirely dedicated to my shoes, clothes and handbags. Every girl should have one.

So how do I make best use of it all? Because yes, it’s a lovely big space, but unfortunately, when it comes to putting in the furniture, it’s a bit of an awkward shape. Right under the eaves, the ceiling slopes down on either side so much that the walls on either side of the room are less than a metre high. Which doesn’t allow for a huge amount of full-length hanging space.

I played around with a few ideas, drawing up a few different layouts for where I could place the furniture, but hadn’t really come up with a plan when I went to the Grand Designs Live show.

As I’ve blogged before, at the show I was largely ignored by anybody on the ‘serious’ building side of the show, because clearly girls don’t know anything about renewable energy or bricks. But it was a very different matter on the other side of the show; I was besieged by people wanting to sell me interiors stuff.

One particularly persistent representative from one of those bespoke bedroom furniture companies managed to trap me in the crowd.

“Are you looking for some new bedroom furniture?”

“Well yes, I am actually, but I don’t think you can help. I need a design for a whole room, not just a run of wardrobes along one wall and a few drawers to the side. My space is a lot larger than that so I want something more creative.”

“That’s exactly why you need our help. We can design very creative bedrooms for every kind of space.”

She got my ‘sceptical’ look.

“And if you book an appointment now, we guarantee an extra-special show price. 70% off!!”

She got my extra-special ‘sceptical’ look – the one I reserve for people I believe are talking complete and utter B***S***

I mean, l I love a bargain as much as anyone, but I’ve discovered before that those ‘exclusive’ show prices aren’t so exclusive after all – you’ll find the same ‘discount’ on the company’s website. And these bedroom furniture companies are particularly bad – because nowhere, on any brochure or website, will they show you the pre-sale, undiscounted price. How do you know whether you’ve really got 70% off if they never give you an original price to compare to??

I’m firmly convinced that their discounts are based solely on how much they think they can screw out of the prospective client.

Still, at the time I didn’t really have any alternative bright ideas on how to turn the space into my very own walk-in wardrobe. So having a designer come up and have a bash at producing something creative couldn’t do any harm. And you never know – if I liked the design and the price really was as spectacular as promised, then maybe this would be one job that I just handed over to the ‘professionals’.

An appointment was duly made for the regional designer to visit me on site. (He was based in the North of England – apparently Scotland doesn’t order enough bespoke bedrooms to warrant their own regional designer!)

On the appointed day, he turned up – in his smart suit, shiny shoes and even shinier BMW convertible. And minced his way reluctantly across my ‘building-site-excuse-for-a-garden’.

It was the couple of cigars sticking out of the breast pocket of his blazer that really finished the image. I could just imagine him at the end of the visit, lighting up his victory cigar as he drove off with the roof down, smug in the thought of yet another sucker who fell for the sales pitch.

First impression didn’t improve much once he got inside and launched into his sales spiel. “I know you were referred through the GD Live show, and I’m sure they promised you a show discount. Well just ignore everything they said because I will be able to give you a much better offer.”

“Really. Well they offered a 70% discount. So what are you offering?”

“Oh, we don’t need to talk numbers now. Trust me. I’m a salesman.”

“Yeah, well I’m a beancounter so I am going to talk numbers. They said 70% off, you’re telling me you’ll better that. So you’ve got to be offering at least 71% off – or am I missing something. Your margins must be phenomenal if you can still make any kind of profit on that.”

But it was like trying to reason with the BT voice automated response system – very frustrating and entirely pointless. So I gave up, took him to the dressing room and then left him to get on with his drawing.

After an hour or so sitting at my dining room table, Mr Shiny Shoes declared he had finished and triumphantly showed me his design. Entirely as predicted, and demonstrating about as much imagination as a piece of mouldy cheese, it was full height cupboards along the back and a row of drawers along one wall. Right. Great. What do I do with the 18m² of floor space you completely failed to make use of?

Then he told me how much it would cost.

“Er, haven’t you forgotten to add the discount into that?”

“No. Trust me this is a bargain offer. You wont get such a bespoke, unique, creative, high quality design for this price anywhere else. And this is the best price I can give you. I’m not going to be phoning you in a few days with a better price. I don’t like playing that kind of game with people.”

Yeah, well. You’re kitting out my dressing room, not the bedrooms of Buckingham Palace. So thanks very much; I’ll be in touch. Not.

No wonder he’s driving around in a BMW convertible.

And surprise surprise, after a few days of my wall of silence, the inevitable phone call came. “I don’t normally do this, but this is such a unique project, I’ve managed to persuade Head Office to let me give you an extra discount……”

That’ll be another DIY job still on the list then….

Those little squares of hell…….

If you’ve got a bathroom with a floor area somewhere in the region of 18m², it makes sense, if you’re planning on tiling the whole room, to use the biggest tiles you can find. Nobody, in their right mind, would consider tiling a room that size with 2.5cm squares.

Except somebody who likes to make life as difficult as possible.

To be fair, this wasn’t entirely self-inflicted pain. Yes, I’ve installed a wetroom style shower, and small tiles feel like a safer non-slip option, so that’s my own fault. But that’s just a relatively small surface area. The bigger problem goes back to Mr Incompetent Builder, who in the very early days of the build, decided there was no logical reason why the joists and the steel lintels should be put in at the same height. As a result, even with some judicious handling of the chipboard flooring, and an overlay of cement tile backer board, there was still a risk that large tiles could break on the uneven surface he’d left me with. No choice really – that’ll be some more mosaics then.

However, as I stated at the end of my last blog, I do vaguely recall, after all the trauma of creating the mosaic for the bathroom walls piece by piece, that I promised myself I would never do that again, and in future any mosaic tiles used would be ‘straight out of the box’.

So I made a plan: All of the shower/wetroom area in black mosaic; all of the floor in white mosaics. Straight out of the box. Dead simple.

My plan lasted about as long as a Labour/Conservative coalition – as soon as I realised I’d screwed up the tile order and bought too many sheets of black, and not enough sheets of white. Doh! So I would have to have some of the black squares on the floor, as well as in the shower area.

But that’s OK. I can still use whole sheets. No need to get complicated…

Except that actually it would probably look a lot neater if I gave it some kind of edging. Nothing too tricky. I’ll just take out a couple of rows of white and replace them with black all round the edge. Of course, the corners will be a bit fiddly, but nothing traumatic…..

And bit by bit those tiny little changes and ‘improvements’ develop and grow and morph and take on a life of their own. Until you find yourself in the middle of creating a full-scale masterpiece – tile by tile.

I mean, I know I really did say ‘never again’ after I’d tiled the sauna. Admittedly a good year or so had passed from when I finished the sauna to when I started the bathroom floor, but how could I have possibly have forgotten the backache, the cursing and the frustration of fiddling around with tiny little square tiles? Evidently my brain is good at burying the bad memories. Why else would I suddenly decide that actually it would be a really good idea to create a bespoke pattern across practically the whole area of the floor, using individual mosaic tiles? I suppose it really comes down to “do I really want a giant chessboard on my bathroom floor?”

Not particularly. So either I had to order more white tiles, or I had to get creative with the black and the white.

IMG_0677So I started, once again, with my ‘pattern’. But I kept forgetting to print off my Excel spreadsheet grid, so this time I had to draw one out by hand, and then colour it in…

And then came the real fun job. Once again I found myself laying out individual tiles, piece by piece.

These mosaics are slightly larger than the other (2.5cm instead of 2cm – woohoo!) but a larger area to cover – only 8,000 or so to put down….

And having laid them all out, and checked the pattern, I then had to lift them all again so I could apply the adhesive. So I stacked them all in blocks so I didn’t lose the pattern.

And when I had finally laid everything, I stood back and admired my handiwork. And took some photos so I could show off my handiwork to the social media world.

But as I was looking at the photo later I realised there was a mistake in the pattern. How could I miss that? 28 little black and white squares that need to be swapped over.

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Spot the deliberate mistake…..

Only 28 tiny tiles – that nobody on FB could spot until I told them where to look. So why didn’t I just leave it as it is???

Because once I’d noticed it, I knew that my anal, petty, symmetrical brain would go into melt down every time I’m I sat on the loo.

So the following weekend, out came the hammer and chisel. And order and harmony was restored.

All it needs now is a bit of grouting – that won’t take long, will it??

(Well I thought that’s all it needed. But my Mum went in there for the first time the other day. And came downstairs and uttered the immortal words “Did you know one of your tiles is wrong – your pattern isn’t symmetrical?”

One tiny white square that should be a black one. And now I know about it, I won’t be able to sit on the loo in peace until I’ve corrected it. Never let your Mum in your ME space!!)

50 shades of grey on the bathroom walls…..

Bendy wall board may be dead easy to work with, and I now have lots of lovely curves in my bathroom, but let’s face it, it’s not the most elegant finish on the planet.

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So how do I make it look pretty? Painting is not an option, unless I skim plaster the board – and as I think I’ve mentioned in the past – plastering is not a skill I have. Which means my only option is tiling.

So how do you tile a curved wall? Clearly my previous tiling strategy of “great big tiles + small area = less work and less mess” isn’t going to work here. Big tiles don’t go round bends!

The only way to tile round a bend is by using mosaics. Fortunately the world has moved on from the bad old days of the Romans, cutting individual tesserae and sticking them all down one by one. Nowadays mosaics come in sheets, on a mesh backing, usually in a nice useable 30cm x 30cm size. So it’s just like handling a flexible version of a large tile, and just as easy to put up.

In theory……

Unfortunately, I’d been indulging in some of those posh homes & interior decorating magazines again. (I think they become a bit of an addiction for self-builders). And in one of the posh house articles I saw a beautiful bathroom decorated in mosaics that graduated in colour from floor to ceiling. I decided that’s what I wanted for my ME space bathroom. Helpfully the article had the contact details for the suppliers, so I checked out their website. And nearly fainted at their prices; I would need a second mortgage just to cover the 5m² wall of my sauna. Undeterred, I spent ages trawling the internet trying to find cheaper alternatives, but without success.

I think I mentioned in the last blog the concept of the “DIY hell or high water approach”. In my normal stubborn way, I decided there had to be a way to replicate the look, without the squillion pound bill. I mean, if you think about it, it’s just mixing up different colour mosaic tiles. How hard can that be?

At work, an Excel spreadsheet is my answer to everything – but I never envisaged using it to tile a bathroom. However, being the total nerdy numbers geek I am, I designed a pattern by creating a formula to distribute black, white, three shades of grey, silver glitter and mirror squares in a randomised pattern to give me the graduated mosaic effect I wanted.  (OK, maybe not the 50 shades of grey I promised in the title – that was just to get your attention.…)IMG_0831

That gives me my template for a 2m x 1m length of graduated mosaic. Now all I have to do is replicate it with the real thing.

I went online and found a website selling individual mosaic tiles in a whole range of colours, and duly bought a couple of boxes of black, a couple of boxes of white and the necessary bags of grey, dark grey, light grey, mirror and silver glitter tiles. (My clever little spreadsheet had worked out how many of each I needed.) I also bought a 10m roll of mesh backing and a gallon of PVA.

All set to create my masterpiece……

What did I say at the beginning of the blog, about the bad old days creating a mosaic tile by tile?

Well, yes. That was me. I put a load of newspaper down to protect my wooden floor, marked it into sections of 30cm2 and started laying my tiles. One by one. Face down. Following my pattern. All 4,725 little squares. And I rued the day I ever came up with such a daft idea. Backbreaking work hunched over the floor for hours at a time, and impossibly frustrating trying to keep all the tiles equally spaced and in straight lines.

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When I’d finally got them all laid out, I painted each one with PVA, rolled out my mesh backing over the top, put a load more newspaper on top of that, and weighted the whole lot down with an entire set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. And left it to dry out for a couple of days.

I’m sure some of you have already anticipated what happened next (and are smirking away to yourselves). PVA glue and newspaper – has a tendency to stick – to everything. The newspaper was stuck to the back of the mesh, the front of the tiles were stuck to the newspaper underneath, which in turn had stuck to the wood floor.

I believe, at this point, a certain amount of bad language ensued. I spent the next few evenings cleaning everything up and scraping newspaper off the tiles and the floor.

Worse – I’d created this monstrosity in my flat in London – without giving any thought to how I would get it up to Scotland. A metre-wide roll of glass mosaics – too big to take on as carry-on luggage, and too fragile to want to risk having it thrown around in the hold of a plane. I ended up having to hire a car to chauffeur it all the way to the frozen North.

So much effort, and this was less than half the job. I needed at least one more 2m length plus a bit more.

I really couldn’t face the thought of doing all that again. But another scouring of the internet provided an alternative solution. A ‘Mosaic Square’ – a 30cm square plastic tray with 225 mosaic size holes.

You just lay out your tiles in the holes and then stick a square of mesh on top – creating your own custom-designed mosaic tiles. What genius came up with that?

It was still a long slow job – I kept losing track of which section of the pattern I was working on, and in which order they needed to be arranged. But at least I wasn’t ruining my landlords antique wood floors. And I could smuggle them up to Scotland in my carry-on case (as long as nobody stopped me to check the weight of my bag!)

In total, over 10,000 little 2cm squares individually stuck down. Probably one of the fiddliest jobs I’ve undertaken in the barn. And at the time I swore I’d never do it again. Stick to the standard mosaics out of the box in future……

Still, the end result looks quite impressive – if I do say so myself!