Dining Room DIY Renovation – part 1

A girl with a sledge hammer? Not using builders? DIY renovation of a Victorian dining room while her toddler is napping? Can she pull it off…?

It was a sunny September day, still a bit warmer than expected for this time of year.

As per my daily routine I had few hours ‘to spare’ when my toddler was having his afternoon snooze. The dining room in our ‘new’ house (purchased 7 months earlier) was on my renovation agenda. It was a large room in need of serious updating. Early 90’s carpet made my skin crawl. Large and ugly 80’s gas fireplace was an eyesore not to mention a health hazard. And the wallpapers although not being that bad, were starting to come off at the seams and they covered all room including the ceiling.


It all started just innocently… with a stanley knife cutting the carpet and ripping it bit by bit. Casually pulling off the wallpaper with bare hands stripe to stripe. My husband was in a bit of a shock when he got home from work as in the morning we had a dining room and now the room resembled more of a bombsite…

It took me few afternoons to remove all wallpaper as the thin layer of paper was stuck to the wall. I had to use wallpaper steam stripper, scraper and a lot of elbow grease to remove all the layers of paper and old wallpaper glue. The coving and the ceiling rose turned out to be low quality Styrofoam so I had to take them off as well. I was surprised that I haven’t noticed that before – bear in mind the ceilings are very high and my glasses are usually somewhere in the drawer…

What I found under the wallpaper was another story… Considering the plaster being 137 years old it wasn’t in the worst condition but there were a lot of big cracks and small chunks missing. The wood strips on the wall edging were showing… It was time to admit DIY defeat and call the professionals… (Really? So soon? – I hear)

I got four different plasterers over to assess the job spec and the cost. The quotes were ranging from £300 to £780 and that was a cost that I just didn’t budget for… In my naivety I was hoping that the dining room refurbishment will be more of a ‘strip wallpaper and paint’ sort of job with floor being sanded down and painted but no major costs involved. Dining room looked a total mess so I had to try to do the plastering myself… surely I couldn’t make it worse than it was… I had to give it a shot…

Well… it turns out that if you can do icing on a cake, you can plaster as well! It wasn’t easy. It was a big job and a hard work as of the size of the room. Plastering over the whole ceiling and walls wasn’t the job I was looking for so I’ve used 3 different types of fillers, layering them on and sanding down in-between. White, marshmallow-like, fluffy filler was perfect for small cracks as it was super easy to apply even in a very thin layer and it had elastic properties which help to stop the cracks re-appearing. Grey, cement-like, big hole filler was good for the edging of the walls on the chimney breast and around windows. You can use it to cover up to 5cm deep holes so it was great for the places where chunks of plaster were missing. It took me few weeks to complete the job as I could only do few hours here and there (when my toddler had his snooze or when hubby was home in the evenings/ weekends). All in all I did well and I was happy with the results. Well… not as rustic as in the kitchen where I was learning how to ‘plaster’ last summer and the outcome… let’s just say I went for a rustic finish 😉

Here are some before and after pictures of my ‘plastering’

Not bad, huh?

Once the missing chunks of plaster were re-filled and all cracks repaired, it was time for an undercoat of primer which I made out of white emulsion paint and water in ratio of 4 parts of paint to 1 part of water. This sealed the walls in preparation for decorating so the plaster wouldn’t soak up the paint. This saves you money by reducing the number of topcoats giving you a great finish and DIY primer undercoat is cheaper than ready-made one and it works just as good.

Once the undercoat was dry, I could see more cracks and holes that had to be fixed as I’ve missed them on the background of stained, 137 years old plaster. So once again there was a filler, sanding and primer.

The ceiling had some yellow water stains. I had a problem covering them up with an emulsion paint in my previous house so I’ve learned my lesson and used PVA glue as an under coat. This creates a great seal so water stains won’t show through.

When it came to coving, I wasn’t really convinced about the plaster one. Firstly it was a bit pricey. I did obtain few quotes just to be sure and they were around £300. Another thing that put me off it was the fact that it does crack with the time. I think I’ve seen few too many houses where plaster coving was already showing cracks few years after installation. This happens usually due to vibrations and miniature movements of the house. So instead of costly plaster I’ve opted in for a Duropolymer coving. This is a very lightweight coving, made out of material which has flexible properties and it’s very easy to install and to fit into the space. You simply cut it to size and glue it onto the walls and ceiling. Once the glue is dry, fill in the gaps with the caulk which is another great material which is also flexible (Caulk is fantastic and easy to use when you need to repair the cracks in the existing plaster coving). For the finish, I’ve painted the coving with white emulsion paint. This coving costs around £6 per 1 meter. The product looks great. Despite its lightweight it cannot be compared to Styrofoam coving which has different structure where you can see the texture coming through. I will be definitely using Duropolymer coving in future projects and it is a product which I recommend.

The ceiling rose had to be a plaster one as that was the only way to get the design that I wanted. It came with a price tag of £70 including the installation. It then needed one coat of DIY primer (as the walls) and then 2 coats of emulsion paint.

The old gas fireplace has been safely disconnected by a gas man and taken away. This is a job that certainly is not a DIY. I was left with an ugly base which has been made out of brick and … garden slabs! I did enjoy smashing it with a sledge hammer! But what I really got excited about was the glimpse of a Victorian tiles peaking at me from underneath the rubble. Once I cleared off debris and dust I could examine my little treasure. Unfortunately it wasn’t as fancy as I have hoped for. I was really hoping for a typically Victorian tile mosaic but the tiles were of a rather simple design, few were missing, few were damaged. I was now left with a hole in the wall aka firebox and not-so-fancy Victorian mosaic. There was no fireplace surround as the previous owners of the house got rid of it to make a space for ‘more contemporary’ 80’s gas fire monstrosity (Why? Oh Why?). What the chimney breast revealed was a silhouette of the original Victorian fireplace. It used to have a large fire surround (about my height!) and I could only imagine how fabulous it must have been!


Stripping the walls from the wallpapers felt like an archaeologist mission as Victorian plaster was telling the stories of the past. I could see the red brick line of where the picture rail used to be – I’m guessing that wouldn’t be covered by the plaster but the brick line was running around the room to provide extra support to the rail. I could see the marks of the shelves fixings in the corner of the room – Victorians loved to have all their quirky collections on display. There was also a ‘blueprint’ of a very large cabinet which could have been used by the Victorians to display the plates and store china and tableware.

Another job which I couldn’t DIY (after disconnecting of a gas fire) was chimney sweeping. I was glad to find out that the chimney was in a good condition and I could actually use my fireplace as an open fire. The fireplace in the living room wasn’t that lucky but that’s another story to tell…

The windows were new double-glazed UPVC so at least this wasn’t causing a concern however when I took off the edging strips around the window to re-fix them after I’ve done my ‘plastering’, I’ve noticed large gaps in the wall just stuffed with bits of rubble. There were no actual holes through the wall as the walls are super thick stone built about 50 cm deep, but the bad finish of the windows fitting was defeating the purpose of having good insulation with draft blowing through the holes around. Once the expanding foam was sprayed into the holes, then set and trimmed, the edging strips could be re-fitted around the windows. It is disappointing to find a bad quality finish like this especially when spending a fortune on the new windows. This is why it is good to closely supervise any contractors. We’ve learned it the hard way when refurbishing our previous house.

I wanted to keep the costs of the renovation as low as possible so I was fully committed to DIY.  It was a time to think about the floor. What we found underneath was more than we bargained for…

Find out what lies beneath in part 2 of Dining Room DIY Renovation

… to be continued


11 thoughts on “Dining Room DIY Renovation – part 1

  1. omg! How did you manage all that while having a toddler?! Most of my friends / family with kids struggle with babies/ toddlers + household as it is yet alone doing DIY?! I mean…. Like…. Say what?! Well done! You go girl!

    1. aww thank you, your comment actually melts my heart (a little) 😉 it’s hard sometimes juggling everything as a mum and as any mum I do have good and bad days but I do get quite excited about DIY (sometimes… and sometimes I just have enough!) so I think that gives me the energy and a little planning goes along way 😉

  2. Great tips and info on saving money and diy! Looking forward to second part! Can’t wait to see the outcome!

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