Renovation Before & After Renovator's Notebook

Our Wedding Registry Helped Pay for Our 670-Square-Foot Renovation

An architect couple’s savvy guide to a lengthy London remodel.
brick house

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In Renovator’s Notebook, homeowners open up about the nitty-gritty of their remodels: How long it really took; how much it actually cost; what went horribly wrong; and what went wonderfully, serendipitously, it’s-all-worth-it-in-the-end right. For more tips to nail your next project, follow @reno_notebook.

Size: 670 square feet 

Location: Forest Gate, East London

Year built: 1890

Top priority: Create a flexible, open-concept first floor and carve out plenty of storage. 

When it came to purchasing their first home, Irene Astrain and Peter Schledt of Astrain Schledt Architects were willing to take on a big renovation in order to meet their slim budget. While a full gut renovation wasn’t originally on their minds, they fell in love with a home in the Woodgrange Conservation Area, an East London neighborhood first developed as a commuter town in the late 1870s. “It was an absolute wreck, but we could see the potential,” Schledt says. Original checkerboard tile and Carrara marble fireplaces with cast-iron inserts were jumbled in with 1990s updates. “That’s where it’s quite handy being an architect. You’re able to see past horrible renovations to the original features,” he adds.

Astrain and Schledt purchased the property for £400,000 (approximately $629,000) in September 2017, spent another £16,000 ($20,000) on foundation repairs, and did the rest of the labor themselves with help from Schledt’s father, an avid DIYer and former classic-car specialist. When the couple married in 2018, they asked guests to contribute to their renovation fund or directly purchase items off their wish list, which included a dining room table, microwave, and even the kitchen sink. Below, Schledt breaks it all down in his own words.

The Receipts

open living and dining area with check floors

Get a glimpse into what the couple spent on their now highly functional two-bedroom, two-bath home. 

  • Bespoke millwork: $6,200
  • Steelwork: $3,600
  • French patio doors: $3,100
  • Superfront green kitchen fronts: $2,100
  • Plykea birch plywood kitchen fronts: $2,000
  • Kitchen appliances: $1,800
  • Kitchen skylight: $750
  • Radiators: $750

Customize Basic IKEA Boxes

dated white kitchen
The kitchen, before.

Today the first floor is completely open, filled with clever storage, a spacious-feeling living room (with a curtain to separate for overnight guests, parties, etc.), dining room, and kitchen, all leading to the backyard garden, but it took quite a lot of work to get there. We wanted a custom kitchen yet for the price of a builder-grade one. By using IKEA boxes paired with Plykea and Superfront fronts, it allowed us to have a quite high-end, bespoke space, and we managed to do it all for under £10,000 ($12,000). Even going to a low- to mid-spec kitchen supplier would have cost £20,000 ($25,000).

Highlight Original Details

home under construction
The kitchen and dining space, before.
curtain being pulled back

When we first viewed the house, the original black and white Victorian floor tile was covered up by an awkwardly located bathroom. The first move was to rip out the ground floor and restore the tile. It’s the focal point of the whole downstairs; it’s where our dining room table sits, between the kitchen and living room, and is the central social hub.

Salvage and Reuse

dated wood stair case
The stairs, before.

When it came to the floorboards, we saved as many as possible and got some from neighboring properties. Because we were able to restore all of the floors, it was a big cost-saver. We also tried to retain other original features, including the cabinets in the living room, which we painted a dark gray. Furthermore, when it came to the addition of any internal partition walls during our renovation, we used wood from the site. 

Futureproof Your Design

curtain separating dining from living

The home is obviously very small, just two bedrooms and two bathrooms, but we designed it with the future in mind. Whenever we made moves, we wanted to futureproof the property with a large, airy space downstairs that is open from the front to the back. We added new French doors and a skylight above the kitchen, too. When it came to the upstairs, the strategy was to make it as efficient as possible. We have our primary bedroom, and for the second bedroom, our children’s bedroom, we looked at bed dimensions from the start. Whether we stay here for a long time or sell, we want it to be marketable as a family home. 

Get by With a Little Help From Friends (and Family)

dining table

When we got married, we found a bespoke way of doing our registry and asked for specific things for our renovation. People seemed to love that idea. We listed our microwave, oven, and kitchen sink, and our guests liked that they were able to contribute in some form (they could also donate money) with things we use in our day-to-day. The sofa was paid for by Irene’s cousins in Spain. The dining table, which cost about £1,000 ($1,200), was purchased by multiple people who didn’t even know one another, including cousins, friends, and coworkers.

Utilize the Garden

couple at outdoor dining table

In the garden, my dad and I built a 96-square-foot studio to maximize the space we have across the whole site. It’s become a third bedroom, a home office, and playroom. Every day, I go in there with my daughter for breakfast while she plays.