How (not) to build a house

If you who follow me on social meedia you might know that we are in the process of building our own house… *from scratch*.

It’s been nothing short of a total ordeal, which is why I haven’t put pen to paper before. I didn’t want this mailer to turn into a catalogue of moans and gripes! But we are half-way through the build now, so I thought I could start with PART 1.

Or how we got from this... this
A brilliant idea

First let’s rewind a bit. Twelve years ago, my husband and I were desperately trying to buy a house in a market that was rocketing upwards. We had sold our tiny house in Islington 3 years earlier, and made numerous attempts to buy in the area but were constantly being out-gunned.

We then struck upon the idea of looking at a commercial building and combining my business with our living situation to create a live/work environment. And commercial property was SO much cheaper. This we thought was nothing short of a brilliant idea!

We came across a warehouse on Corsica street, in an amazing location just by Highbury Fields. It was at a bargain price, especially considering how huge it was. We snapped it up. On the day we completed, I remember nervously opening a bottle of champagne with slight apprehension about what lay ahead.

Planning prohibition

The building only had commercial consent, but we thought it would be easy to get ‘change of use’ on part of it so that we could live there too. But… no. Islington council wouldn’t let us convert a single centimetre into residential use. So our new plan was to build a house in the back yard for us to live in.

This is the part where you would all glaze over if I were to go into the brain-numbing, eye-pokingly frustrating process of getting planning permission. Dear reader, it took us *8 years*.

We had so many council departments to deal with that by the time one box was ticked, the person in charge had left and someone new would make us start from scratch. To illustrate just how long one of our pre-applications took, our case officer became pregnant and gave birth before it was dealt with.

The tree officer (who I think may win the award for being the most onerous) asked us to build the house on stilts to protect a tree, despite surveys showing it had no roots under our property. But by that point, if Islington had told us to build a spaceship and paint it pink we would have agreed to it.

The cherry on top

Before we were allowed to knock this derelict shed down, we had to put it on the property market for a whole YEAR – just in case anyone wanted it. I shall skip over the other 5,987,097 annoying, ridiculous bureaucratic requirements etc we had to satisfy.


Finally, during the first lockdown (now seven years into this process) it was decided that the council couldn’t make a decision. So it went to committee – i.e the local elected councillors had to decide. They pretty rapidly agreed to the building, commenting that they couldn’t believe it had taken so long and they had never had an application with so much support from neighbours.

This was one of the few advantages of the process taking so bloody long. My neighbours got to know my lovely business and after initially resisting plans, backed us all the way.

But it was not over yet! It then took us one whole year more to *get the actual piece of paper* to allow us to start the build.

The first day of building!
We are plannning to etch one of my designs on the cladding
The roof going up. I can't really believe it.
A sample etched tile...

Part II of How (not) to build a house coming soon…

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P.S. The fun bit of a project is the interiors of course ! I will be sharing this as it starts to take shape. If you’re in this process too, or thinking of renovating, here are some wallpaper ideas

More stories…

How (not) to build a house – part 2