Evie Kissack chats to Lucy Kemp - the woman utilising Instagram’s accessibility and image-orientated content to reach a dedicated audience of restoration lovers.

Property Renovation in the Age of Social Media

By using social media as a platform to connect with other home renovators, Lucy has transformed her property – alongside partner Dan - under the watchful eye of thousands of followers; documenting their inspiring journey along the way. Offering insight into budgeting, styling, design, upcycling, building, and more, the Victoria Road Restoration Insta page showcases the very best of home improvement from a personal perspective. The reality of creating a dream home has never been so genuine – and captivating. 

Offering insight into budgeting, styling, design, upcycling, building, and more, the @victoria_road_restoration Inatagram page showcases the very best of home improvement from a personal perspective. At almost 18,000 followers, its is a haven for all things reno. The brainchild of Lucy Kemp, 'Victoria Road Restoration' follows the journey of a family transforming a disheveled building into a forever home. 

For the benefit of our readers, could you please explain a little about your project and how you first came to document your progress via social media? 

We have lived on Victoria Road for seven years. We lived directly opposite the house that we bought. We’d always seen it and thought it looked beautiful. We could see that it had been neglected, it was an old lady who owned the property and you would hardly ever see her. We always said that if at any time it did come on the market, we would love to bid for it because it would be our dream home. In 2015 the ‘For Sale’ sign went up – the old lady had unfortunately passed away and the house went on the market. It went to sealed bids, which was terrifying. I work from home, so could always see people coming to view the house and I kept thinking, ‘No don’t buy it!’ [Laughs]

We put in a reasonable offer at the top end of our budget in the July, and in the September we were told we had the house. Unfortunately, it took two years to complete, because the old lady had no family. So, although we had the offer accepted in 2015, we didn’t actually get the house until 2017! During that time, the good thing was that we had lots of time to plan. I could think about the interiors and Dan (my partner) could spend a lot of time designing the space, as we didn’t really use an architect. As soon as we did get the keys, it was all systems go. We could really get cracking. 

So, living opposite the property and seeing its potential is that what made you fall in love with the house? 

We had lived opposite it for five years. Especially where we live – in Harborne – the next rung on the property ladder for us was a big leap. We were first time buyers when we bought our first house, and we fit it to what we could afford. The price bracket was huge from a two-bed terrace to four-bed house. Buying a renovation project allowed us to stretch our budget – the price was lower because the house was a complete mess, but of course we had to have enough funds to get the house to the standard we wanted. The renovation project has allowed us to have a house we would have never previously been able to afford. 

Budgeting is, of course, a huge part of home renovation. I think it’s easy for people to be unrealistic about how much things actually cost - what are your top tips on how to handle finances? 

Oh, massively. It’s on every episode of Grand Designs! [Laughs] It’s like; do you not all watch the programme? 

I think, be realistic. Do your research. We had a lot of structural work to do with the house. Although it’s not sexy spending a lot of money on steel beams, we had to think about what the essentials were, what had to be done. Phase one for us was to think about the essentials and get the quotes. Don’t always go for the cheapest tradespeople either. We used a really good builder – he wasn’t the cheapest but he was the best. The old saying – ‘buy once, use forever.’ 

You have to consider the longevity, of course.

Definitely. We had a big spreadsheet and broke the project down into phases. We started at the top of the property and looked at the roof, builders, insulation, and the non-negotiables. All of the ‘fluffy’ stuff - the soft furnishings – comes later. It’s just about prioritising and being realistic. Having a contingency plan too. Always make sure you have 20% above your budget. There will always be something that you can’t possibly budget for. We had to take up every single floor joist in our house, because they were all rotten – that was an additional expense we didn’t foresee. It’s all in the planning. Don’t rush into it – especially big renovations. Create a good relationship with your builder because that will help you to recognise costs to avoid nasty surprises. 

With neglected period properties, I assume there are lots of unexpected costs and issues to deal with once you strip back to the foundations and see what you’re actually working with?
Definitely. We didn’t anticipate how much this would come into play. We thought we would just be able to refurbish the whole rear of the house. But, the builders explained to us that the foundations were only two bricks deep – which is so shallow! They suggested for the whole rear part of the house that we knock it down and rebuild it, rather than try to repair it. Whilst that was heartbreaking –
you’re spending huge amounts of money for someone to knock part of your house down which is soul-destroying – actually, in the long run, it’s better to do that. Now it’s all completely sound and as good as new.

Did you and your partner Dan have any experience with home renovation before taking on the Victoria Road project?
We did a little. The first property we bought together was a two-bed terrace and it had a bathroom downstairs past the kitchen. With that property, we moved the bathroom upstairs; we had to strip it back to brick and plaster to do so. We also put in new fireplaces, and did a lot of things ourselves with the help of a builder in around 2-3 months. So, it was a much smaller project! It did give us a little insight into renovation, though. We’ve always liked period properties; Dan is a bit of a wannabe architect and we both love interiors. I guess at the time I thought that project was huge - I remember when we finished I thought I needed a huge break. It was absolutely nothing in comparison to this! [Laughs] We did get some good experience, especially figuring out how Dan and I work together…how you have to compromise on things and work as a team. Stu, our builder on the current project, worked on the last house’s garden space as well.

You’ve highlighted a really great point about home renovation and relationships - something some people might not even consider before taking on a project. You now have an addition to your family - congratulations on your new baby!
Thanks! Property renovation is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It’s all very exciting when you’re looking on Rightmove and finding the right house, but it’s stressful for so many reasons. It’s financially draining, time draining, emotionally draining, physically draining if you’re doing a lot of the work yourself…you need to really understand your role in the project. I am quite a strong-willed woman. [Laughs] I see Dan and I as equal, of course, but a part of me had to let go at times and let him get on with the project managing side of things. I had to accept actually Dan was better at chatting to the builders and I had to get off my feminist high horse at times! [Laughs] Dan’s role is project managing, my role is doing a lot of the budgeting, sourcing, finding the best price for things, etc. At the beginning of the project I don’t think we had really defined those roles, we fell into them. Once I had accepted my role and how I contributed to things, rather than us both trying to do the same thing, it kept us moving. It’s like having another job, really!

Having really good communication between you and whoever you’re doing the build with is key. It’s also very important to not always talk about the build. It can completely take over your life – it’s all we talked about for a good couple of years!
You should have rules like not talking about the renovation past a certain time, or over dinner, or in the bedroom – there are certain safe spaces you need to find! [Laughs] 

What's the biggest challenge you've faced yet, and how did you feel when you overcame it? 
The most challenging part was actually securing the finance for the property. We did get a mortgage offer, but because it took so long to complete it expired (as it does after 6 months). We would have different surveyors come out, and the second surveyor told us it was inhabitable meaning the bank would put 100% retention on the money until the property was considered habitable. That was just…terrifying. We worked really closely with a brilliant mortgage advisor and had the surveyor come back out to see all of the reports to prove we could do it. When you have such a big renovation project you need all of the money. It was really stressful because we had waited two years to get the property and at the last minute were told we couldn’t. The second offer was that the bank would hold back 30% of the mortgage, and after a certain amount of time they would come back to view the property and see if they could release all of the remaining funds. We had to install a temporary kitchen in one of the bedrooms, and do all kinds of stuff to satisfy the criteria. But, eventually we got it!

Thank goodness! [Laughs]
Yeah, it was so stressful but the day we got the remaining funds was such a good day! The relief to know we could finish the house to the standard we wanted with the extra 30% of money was amazing.

Your house oozes personality through an eclectic mix of furniture, accessories and design. It’s a fusion between the period property’s original features and modern elements. What advice would you give to newbie renovators on how to inject personal style into a room?
The house is a Victorian property, and we wanted to keep the front of it true to that period. We wanted to show off the high ceilings, fancy cornices and big skirting boards. As we moved through the house, we gave it a more contemporary twist. The original hallway tiles weren’t salvageable, so we had to get new ones put down. We’ve recreated the deep skirting boards; we’ve recreated the cornicing. As you move through the house, the style changes. The front room is very traditional; it’s a ‘Hague Blue’ room with a big fireplace. In the back reception room we started to put in more contemporary details, as it leads into the kitchen, which is really, really contemporary.

I think it’s quite important – which, now as I say it, it sounds like we planned it but it was unintentional – that the interiors flow in a house. As you move through the space it needs to make sense, so you’re not jerking from a really traditional room into a bright yellow and petrol blue kitchen. You go through a little journey. We knew we wanted the steel replacement windows – they’re industrial looking so we’ve gone for a few similar touches in the kitchen and laundry room. For example, the shelves are made of chunky scaffold board. On the floor, I have used traditional tiles, so it’s a mixture of those styles.

Dan and I both like mid-century interiors, so we have a 1960s-style sideboard. Sometimes we just buy stuff we like without knowing whether it’s going to work. Occasionally you have a happy surprise and you think, “Yay that looks ace!” but other times you’re like, “Oh god no.” The biggest tip for interior styling is just to buy stuff that you love – you can spend hours going down an Instagram/Pinterest rabbit hole and try to recreate someone else’s look – but it’s really important to find your own style, because it will become timeless, in a way. If you buy something just because it’s a trend, in a few years’ time it might go out of fashion. Buy what you like, and not what you think you should like.

Definitely. Some of my favourite pieces in your house aren’t the most expensive, but are actually the charity shop finds!

Recently my mum went to a fete in her little village and someone was selling off these 1960s side tables. My mum knows my style so she WhatsApp’ed me and said, ‘Do you want these? They’re five pounds!’ I said yes, and then at the end of the fete everything went down to half price, so she got them for £2.50! But, then she said she felt guilty because they were so cheap so she gave the woman four quid. [Laughs]

I love reclamation yards, love charity shops, love auctions – I’m obsessed with auctions actually. I like stuff that has a bit of a history, a story to it. It’s nice getting new pieces, don’t get me wrong, for example our sofa is new. But, I enjoy having a rummage for furniture.

The house holds a lovely mix of pieces, some old, some new. There are certainly a few statement pieces in each room.
I tell you what; I get a lot of questions about our dining table in the kitchen. A lot of people ask me where that is from. We have a big kitchen, and I knew I wanted something that could cater for a lot of people – originally I wanted a table that would seat 12, but Dan said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. [Laughs] Having a table that big is very difficult. We’d salvaged lots of timber from when we repaired our roof, and we had a carpenter sand it all back and piece them together. We had the legs made, because Dan knows a guy who fabricates steel frames, so I love telling people about that!

It’s lovely that you have repurposed materials that aren’t useful in their original state, to create something beautiful. You use your social media platform to help and inspire others, including a #RenoChat where you personally answer people's questions. Did you ever expect to have this level of response when you first began documenting your journey? 
Oh no, not at all! I didn’t even really know that there was a renovation community on Instagram at first. I am originally from Northampton, but obviously I live in Birmingham, so I thought I would just put everything on our Instagram page so my family far away could see what we were doing. We would upload pictures, and of course you do want to document your renovation, when we did our last one we took photos and Dan’s mum made a cute photo album – but you never really look at it. I guess Instagram is like a modern photo album. I started putting a few hashtags, and I remember I found a woman in Kings Heath and she had a renovation account with a few thousand followers, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, how does she have that many?’ [For readers that don’t know, Lucy now has 20.3k followers]. I started chatting with her about what she was doing, then ended up chatting to other people renovating in the country, and realised there was a real community on social media. Honestly, it’s such a supportive and helpful community – people give great advice. I’ve given so many people our builder’s details, and a woman gave me some light switches for free! It’s really amazing.

The Instagram page started to build fairly quickly. The first weekend I got 50 followers, and then it just became much bigger. I started to think, ‘How could I be useful with this?’ and I began recording weekly live chats with other renovators, experts, architects, builders and editors of home magazines. I thought people would find this helpful. Sometimes people ask me very technical questions, and Dan laughs because I have to ring the builder to ask how he actually did things. If we don’t know the answer, we will find out the answer! I think people think I’m more talented than I actually am! [Laughs]

You’re very honest about the project, though. If something goes wrong, you make your followers aware, which can help people to understand the challenges that come with renovating, and how to overcome them.
Yeah. The nicest thing for me was that one lady who I chatted with on direct message a lot asked for my address after we had our newborn, and she sent me a card and had knitted a cardigan for her! It was so lovely. I’ve definitely made some friends from the project.

As the renovation project nears its final stages, what are your thoughts on the future of the Victoria Road Instagram?
We still have the garden to do, there’s a lot of work. People are quite invested in the project, I think. I made a decoration for Christmas for the kitchen and often do DIY projects, and I think there are little things like that I can continue to do. The advice side of things I can definitely continue. There probably will be more property projects Dan and I will get involved with in the future. We have some plans…we are property obsessed so there will definitely always be a story to tell.


Follow the journey: @victoria_road_restoration / www.victoriaroadteam.co.uk

Image Credit: Richard Kiely

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