Introduction: A Useless Space Made Useful! Narnia Is a Bathroom...
So in this Instructable I will talk about one of "those" projects. You know the one, that you start one day and then never, ever quite get around to finishing.
It carries a couple of morals:
1) Just because you don't know how to do something right now, it doesn't mean that you can't do it ever.
2) Sometimes, things go wrong. We are only human, and of course getting emotional about stuff is in our nature. But sooner or later, you are going to have to come back to it. But wait until your head is clear before you do!
3) Not many things are impossible: Eating wine gums without chewing, that is impossible. Never ever peeing on the toilet seat when you are a guy, that is impossible. But for the main part, there's usually a road through somewhere.
I told my wife "When I say I'm going to do it, I mean I'm going to do it. There's no reason to remind me every six months about it!" - well, time's up. Best get it finished!
This is part of our house renovations - we've been renovating for years. I don't think we will ever be finished! We have an en-suite bathroom, but it was FAR too big. So, I erected a stud wall half way down the room, fitted a new bathroom with a fantastic double bath at the end and it was all very lovely, but what to do with the space that was left?
A workshop? No, too small.
A nursery? No, too cold.
Storage? Nope - I don't want to climb over piles of stuff when I need to pee at 3AM!
So, what? Well... For the longest time, it was just left with a "I'll get to it one day" mantra. For a couple of years it stayed like that.
Finally, it became too much and something had to give. I realised that I had too many unfinished projects, and it was time to tidy up my life a little.
Coupled with the fact that I was quite ill with depression at the time, moving things forward to get out of the rut was good healing for the soul. This project, however, turned into a real ordeal, a baptism of fire and a crash course in DIY.
We decided on making it into a walk-through wardrobe, with fitted units and some nice lighting. An actual, real life Narnia. that is, Narnia if you are willing to manage your expectations and accept that if you barge in and find Mr Tumnus in this context, it is highly unlikely he would be pleased to see you.
This was a huge learning curve, and quite a journey! What was supposed to be a simple "stick some wardrobes in the space!" turned into a major building project that took YEARS to finish.
So, make a cup of tea, strap your slippers on and prepare yourself for a bit of a crash course in just about every trade there is, because finishing this project took a LOT!
*EDIT* I added a floor plan to give an idea of where this "useless space" is.
Since this isn't a "How to make what is in my photographs" I won't put an exhaustive list. But I used:
Cement mortar (lots of it).
Bricks (52 of the damn things, which doesn't sound like big deal but you'll see why it was a problem later)
Plasterboard (or "Drywall" if you live on the wrong side of the Atlantic)
Some kingspan rigid insulation
A bunch of MDF
LED lighting strips
Sliding wardrobe doors from another project I had left over
A king size bucket of hopes n dreams
More curse words than the dictionary currently holds
Step 1: Assess What Is There!
Well. I looked at the internal walls - brick and lime mortar. The mortar was crumbly, and so I decided to rake it out and re-point my first wall.
A nice easy job, tools you'll need are:
A selection of pointing trowels
Some cold chisels
A mortar hawk.
Some scrap ply wood to use as a mixing board
A stiff brush
Maybe a pointing tool if you are fussy about the final look, for neatening up the joints
I used the hand chisel to cut mortar out to about 1-2" deep.
It takes time, and it would be quicker with a grinder and blade, but this is an internal supporting wall indoors, so I wanted to keep the dust down.
This is a really simple job, and not much to write about. Clean up regularly, get rid of all the dust and keep your work area clean.
Once you have raked out the old mortar (don't go too deep, you don't want the wall to fall down, an inch or so is plenty!), give it a wash down with water. This will also help prevent the dry bricks sucking all the moisture out of your mortar too quickly.
I used ready mixed dry mortar, just mix to the instructions on the bag. I used an old piece of ply wood, made a pile of dry mix and made a crater in the top.
Then I added small amounts of water, mixing the dry mix into the water each time using a trowel, until I had a nice smooth mortar that held its shape when made into a ball, as per the instructions on the bag.
Don't mix too much mortar at once, it goes off quite quickly and it's better to mix enough to fill your mortar board at a time, and mix more when you use up what you have.
Using the trowel I used to mix the mortar, I scooped up my mix and dumped it on the mortar hawk. Sadly, the picture I've used here isn't me doing the pointing, as I don't have a picture of that (I only have two arms, dammit!) but the picture I have uploaded demonstrates exactly what to do. Just push mortar into the gaps you have cut and fill them up.
It is messy work. You WILL get mortar everywhere. It's smart to put dust sheets down. You're going to make a mess!
Once you have pushed mortar into the gaps and used up what you have, you can go around with the pointing tool and make the joints nice and neat. Once the mortar starts to go off, a quick brush of the wall with your stuff brush to knock off the excess mortar will make it look much nicer.
I didn't worry about discolouring the bricks with mortar as I planned to paint the wall, but you can wash the wall once the mortar has gone off to get rid of the smears.
Rinse your tools (you need to start with clean tools every time!!!) before you mix the next batch. Rinse, and repeat, rinse and repeat! It's painstaking work, but quite therapeutic once you find your groove!
Once the wall was pointed and dry, I painted it with masonry paint. Just some white matt finish stuff.
It's a smart idea to water down your first coats as the bricks will suck the moisture right out of the paint.
Use a proper masonary brush, otherwise you will be at this forever!
I added a strip of LED lights to the top so I can change the colour of the wall... And done! Or, so I thought...
Step 2: The Second Wall... Oh, That Damned Wall...
Feeling pleased with the first wall, I thought the next wall would simply need the same treatment. Oh, how wrong I was!!!
While raking out the mortar, I realised some of the top bricks were totally loose. So I took those out by hand...
The next bricks were also loose... So I took those out by hand...
Then the bricks beneath that were loose, so... You can guess where this is going!!!
This wall is a cavity wall, so an outer brick wall, a void, then an inner brick wall. The two walls are tied together with "wall ties" - pieces of steel set into the mortar to keep the two walls secured to one another.
It was the inner wall that had failed, but the mortar in the outer wall was not great either.
I kept going and ended up taking the whole wall down to the floor. What I also found was that there had been a window bricked up, very badly, and newspaper, concrete, plaster and all sorts had been used to make up the gap. A real facepalm moment! That was what had caused the mortar to fail. Moisture and damp must have been soaking through for years!
I took great care to save all the bricks (these are old imperial bricks, so tough to replace!). Once the wall was deconstructed entirely, it was time to reassess things a little.
I had a BIG wobble, and a BIG sulk, and so the room was left for a while while I had my tantrum.
A while... More while. Another while... And then a bit more whiles... Depression hit again and I left it alone for months, feeling defeated.
Step 3: Talk to a Professional!
After a few months I spoke to a few professional builders and gathered quotes to have this all put right. However, I quickly realised that the advice I was given differed wildly between builders, as did the quotes to put it all right.
One thing became apparent though. There was nothing that was not out of the realm of DIY here. The house hadn't fallen down, nobody died, and once you get out of the "OMG what have a DONE?!?!?!" feedback loop, the way forward became pretty clear. The roof was supported by the outer wall, so there were no immediate structural issues to worry about. I decided it was time: Learn to lay bricks!
So. I took my old bricks, cleaned the mortar off them, arranged them into piles of whole and partial bricks, watched a few online tutorials about bricklaying to get a general idea of what was required, and away I went.
I started by re-pointing the inside face of the outer wall using the same technique as the other wall. This was pretty simple, the only difference was adding wall ties as I went, to be picked up by the inner wall when I rebuilt it. Here, I would STRONGLY recommend you look at your country's building regulations to know how many, what type, and what spacing! I used wire wall ties (first pic), so that I could bend them into position and work around them. There's nothing special about installing them, they just get shoved in with the mortar and cemented in place so that one loop sits in the external wall, and the other loop picks up the internal wall.
Setting a level string line to give a datum to work to helped (nothing technical here, I just pulled string tight between the existing brick courses either side of the gap and nailed it in place into the mortar), but it turned out to be pretty simple and straight forward.
Mixing small batches of mortar and taking my time, completing a couple of courses of bricks each evening to take the pressure off, I started to piece the wall back together.
There's no way to really explain "how" in a text tutorial, but once you start going, you quickly get the hang of how much mortar to put on each brick.
There was, however, a problem. I ran out of bricks long before I reached the top of the wall thanks to which ever buffoon had blocked up the old window with play-doh and the contents of the hoover.
What is worse, I couldn't find imperial bricks for reasonable money anywhere!! So, I was forced to use metric bricks for the top of the wall.
Metric bricks are slightly smaller than imperial, so I had to lay thicker mortar to make things line up, and cut some of the bricks to make them fit in the spaces but it worked out well in the end!
You can see in the pictures the difference in the old and new bricks, but it doesn't draw the eye too much. Since the wardrobes were going to go in that space, I figured it didn't really matter anyway...
And that is where I found the NEXT problem... Oh I HATE this house...
Step 4: Insulation, Insulation, Insulation!!!
While finishing the top row of bricks, I realised that things did not quite look right. Why could I see the tiles at the very top of the wall? Surely there should be insulation there-oh-wait-oh-damn... So THAT'S why this end of the house is so cold! There's no insulation in the ceiling here!!!
Time for another sulk. And more sulking. I ignored the room for quite a while again. Then I looked at it some more, with a little enthusiasm for getting this thing done!
There are no photographs of this part, as I was due to go away with work so called in a professional. A friend of mine had just started trading as a joiner, and it turns out she is really rather good. So I hired her to pull down the ceiling, insulate the roof, and put up a new ceiling.
She did an amazing job!! 100mm of insulation correctly installed, a new ceiling, and a contracted plasterer came in to render it all and I came home to the picture here! My careful brickwork was totally hidden, and you would never know there had been a problem there to start with!
Fantastic, a blank canvas to work on for the next step!! All I need to do is paint, put the wardrobes in the space and tile the floor... Surely, that's all that is needed now?
Step 5: Tiles!
The room was primed and painted - when painting fresh plaster, you need a waste coat or a primer. DON'T use PVA!!! But, you don't need any instructions here. I just slopped liberal amounts of white paint around until all the walls were the same colour with no patchy bits left. Took about 3-4 coats.
That task done, it was time to look at the floor.
Sadly, I have no pics of the "in progress" because my wife did it and surprised me while I was working away! She did a great job!
We used the same tiles as the bathroom to give the floor a flow through the rooms. These tiles are porcelain, so we needed a special tile cutter.
I STRONGLY recommend a wet wheel tile cutter bed with a diamond bit (first pic). They aren't expensive, and well worth the investment especially with porcelain tiles. Have spare diamond blades to hand though! Porcelain tiles blunt your saw very quickly, even with the wet cutter.
Point to note: A wet cutter keeps the dust down, but it does still make a mess! It's just an easier mess to deal with. But the quality of cut is pretty nice, very little damage to the glaze on the tiles.
You'll need tile spaces, adhesive and a tool to spread it too. Oh, and some grout to go in the gaps (don't use adhesive for this unless it's dual purpose!).
Oh, you'll need a straight edge too with a spirit level to get all the tiles nice and even too!
The floor was lined with 22mm ply wood to make it more rigid and accept the tiles (this is a wooden suspended floor). Although I would use "Hardie Backer" tile backing boards next time, much thinner, stronger and better, I'm told.
Anyway, taking the grout line from the bathroom, she used this as a centre line, laid out the tiles, and cut them to fit where needed, noting the position of each tile.
Taking care to cut tiles to fit nicely around to door frame etc, remember to always measure twice and cut once!
She mixed the tile adhesive in batches in a bucket, spreading the adhesive on the floor as she went with a tile adhesive spreader (second and third pic). Sorry, that's not a pic of her spreading the adhesive, that's a stock picture I had to steal. But it conveys the point - you are looking for a nice, thick, liberal coating of adhesive. Don't be shy! The ribs in the adhesive allow you to press the tiles down to get them all nice and level, and ensures they all bond nicely.
Place tile spacers between the tiles to keep the spacing even, and check the level between tiles often. Use your straight edge to make them nice and even. DON'T STEP ON TILES THAT YOU HAVE LAID, obviously! And think carefully about the order you lay the times so you don't tile yourself into a corner!
Make sure you wash your tools between batches of grout! And, of course, wash your tools thoroughly afterwards!
Once the tiles are laid and the adhesive is completely dry (follow the instructions on the adhesive container!), you can grout the gaps.
To do this, mix up batches of grout in your bucket, and using a suitable tool (a pointing trowel works) work the grout into the gaps until no more will go in. Make sure you really pack it in there!
Afterwards, you can go round with a squeegy (ours was just a neoprene strip attached to a plastic handle) to clean off the excess from the tiles and make it neat.
Once dry and totally set (again, follow the instructions on your grout), clean up with a scourer and water, and mop up often! You'll find you have to clean up several times after tiling.
I think you'll all agree she did a great job!! And this renewed my motivation to FINALLY finish this damned project!
Step 6: Wardrobe!
So, now all we had to do was put the wardrobes that we bought into the space. That's simple, right?
The ceiling is now 150mm lower than before, because of the addition of insulation. Which in turn means that the wardrobes are too tall.
Awesome. #facepalm So, I opened my cupboards, fished out my best sulking pants, and wore them for another short while, until my wife told me to get undressed, put my big boy pants on and to not lose heart.
Undeterred (because we came this far!), we opted to design and build a fitted unit using the doors from the one we bought.
A quick mess around with SketchUp after taking some measurements, and this is what was come up with! Half drop, full drop, three drawers a side and a storage shelf on top. All using the doors from the wardrobes we already had. Simple, effective, nothing too flash.
That'll do nicely!
Step 7: My Joiner Friend to the Rescue!
My joiner friend stepped in to do this part for us. Not because it was out of our skill set, but because I was away again with work and her work is great. It also meant pushing things forward without any stress for us.
Also, why not put the money in the pocket of friends?
On that note... I never did understand the "mates rates" thing, to expect a discount just because you are friends. Surely it should be the other way, you pay a little more because they are a friend?
Anyway... This is what she put together for us, and we were delighted with the results! Cheating, I know. But sometimes having someone push things along for you can really make a world of difference to your mental well being.
Step 8: A Lick of Paint, and Finito!
So all that was left to do was paint the wardrobes.
We opted for matt white again here.
A point to note is that MDF also soaks up a lot of water like a sponge. So, use a watered down coat first or primer. it took about 4-5 coats of paint to get a good finish.
However, matt paint is also a little dusty, so I wouldn't recommend this for inside a wardrobe!! One day, I'll use a satin finish or a vinyl paint, but for now I'm happy with it!
Finally, after all that work and years passing by, a usable space that looks great! Maybe I'll add a towel radiator and mirrors one day... But then that would make this still unfinished, right? Hahaha!
It was a journey, a real journey, and I learned tons. I had some real lows with it, and doubted myself a lot. But just plodding forwards, little by little, got me to where it is now.
I guess the message is, don't lose heart. Feel free to put a project down if it's getting too much, and come back to it later. I still fall down my mental rabbit hole from time to time, and my "black dog" (the name for my depression) turns up now and then, but looking at what you have achieved rather than what you haven't can work wonders for a weary soul.
Participated in the
Finish It Already Speed Challenge