The past week has been back to work, back to school, and working my way through a load of DIY jobs round the house. So let’s see if I can help you with some of yours…


It’s coming up to seven years since we bought our house. It was completely derelict and uninhabitable when we got it and it’s 110 years old so needed a lot of work. It took about a year to get it up to scratch as I was doing most of the work in my spare time, as well as finishing a part-time BSc at evening classes. When people ask whether the Bake Off was a stressful experience, nothing was as much hard work as that year! Our eldest daughter was a toddler at the time, so it was also difficult having a little person on site but she liked to try and join in (see above). My parents were really patient as my wife Sarah and I moved in with them while we did the building work. After we did that, both my sisters and their families ended up doing the same for different periods of time while their own homes got renovated (by me and my Dad!) To get a home anywhere (but particularly in London) these days is so difficult. If it wasn’t for the fact I was able to do the building work myself and could live with my parents for a while, there is no way it could have happened for us.

We were talking about this when we watched Ethel and Ernest over Christmas (by the way, if you haven’t seen it yet it’s only going to be on iPlayer for another few weeks here and it really is ace). Back then, a milkman could afford a three-bedroom house in Wimbledon! But one of the other things we noticed about Ernest was how much of the work on his house he rolled his sleeves up and did himself. Obviously, people not wanting to DIY keeps me in a job, so it’s no bad thing(!) but I’m always keen to encourage people to give jobs a go themselves.

I worked my way through a few household tasks of my own this week – putting up a bay window curtain pole for the curtains Sarah made, fixing the children’s book shelves (I used this, it’s an extremely useful DIY product), sorting out old clothes to go to the charity shop and getting my workshop cleared out. This weekend on Twitter and Facebook, I asked people what household jobs they’d been putting off and wanted advice with. Here are some of the responses I got:

  • How to replace a light bulb with a new light fitting
  • How to varnish wood
  • How to fit new skirting boards
  • Mixing mortar for York stone slabs
  • Putting up shelves
  • Painting bathroom & cleaning up grout
  • How to get DIY done with a toddler around
  • Fixing a leaky tap
  • Putting curtains up
  • Affixing trough planters to the top of brick walls
  • Repairing a shed roof
  • Finding a good roofer / electrician / builder
  • Fixing guttering
  • Sorting the garden
  • Dismantling an old sofa
  • Stripping wallpaper

To be honest, there are so many here that I could write a whole book on it I reckon (the sequel to BIY perhaps!) Unfortunately I don’t have time to answer all of these today but I’ll use these as inspiration for future blog tips throughout 2017, so do keep them coming in. There are a few here I need to do myself at home so it’ll be easier if I actually do them and then show you how I did them with pictures, for example, installing a new light fitting and putting more shelves up. Gives me an incentive to get round to them myself. But a few of my tips are below:

  • DIY with a toddler: we got a playpen on eBay and an IKEA rug so that there was always a clean surface to put our eldest down. As she got older, we would let her join in ‘helping’ – giving her some sandpaper and wood to sand down usually kept her occupied. She also became quite good at stripping wallpaper, once we’d loosened bits she could help peel them off. Or take the childcare in shifts – a couple of hours of DIY each while the other keeps the little one occupied. It can be a bit of a slog with littluns, but it is possible!
  • Mortar for York stones: six parts sharp sand to one part cement
  • Putting curtains up: make sure you get the right curtain pole. We’ve needed bay window poles in both the homes we’ve lived in and I just put up the 4m one of these. I drilled these right through the uPVC edging and into the wooden frame behind with 5x50mm screws. Usually I’ll use a spirit level for curtain pole fixing, but as our house is old and the ceilings/floors aren’t completely level, I did these by eye to the top of the window frames. If you’re drilling into the wall, make sure you use the right sized rawl plugs, depending on the diameter of your screws. And if you order yourself a Screwfix catalogue, you’ll get the hang of what all the different items you need are actually called.
  • Finding a good builder: I don’t recommend sites like Rated People as anyone can sign up to it – it’s not a trade body. Personally I’m a member of the Federation of Master Builders and they have a great section on their website to find reputable tradespeople here. But the best bet is to always go with recommendations. Have a look who’s having work done down your street and ask your neighbour if they’ve been happy with them. My dad and I are in the fortunate position where we’ve never had to advertise as most of our business is through recommendations and we’ve ended up working for many generations from the same families as a result
  • Stripping wallpaper: my Grandad always said “let the water do the work” when stripping walls, and he was not wrong! For smooth vinyl papers, you can peel off the top surface by hand and soak the backing with a mix of water and this stuff. Many walls will have multiple layers on and often the dreaded woodchip! Perseverance is the key here, and maybe a spiked roller. The right tools can make life so much easier. Obviously I have a lot of tools as part of my business, but HSS is a fantastic hire company for ones we don’t have – particularly ones we use less frequently. Have a browse through their website and see what you can hire. Don’t let not having the right tools be your excuse.


The most important thing when trying to tackle fairly big DIY projects at home is to schedule them into your diary. Last year, I wanted to paint my front door (above). But as my building and baking work is so busy, Sarah and I knew it wouldn’t happen unless I made time for it. I blocked out two weekends in May as I needed good weather (the door stays open most of the time you’re painting) and the bank holiday gave me an extra day. I turned down all social and work engagements and got stuck in. Booking it in advance gave me plenty of time to think of all the tools I’d need to have available so I didn’t waste any time having to pop out and get things – this is a really important factor to consider. So make a realistic list of the things that you think you can tackle in 2017, and the things you might want to get someone in to do for you instead, and spend some time in January deciding when you’ll make time for it. Don’t give yourself too much though or you’ll never feel like you’ve achieved – only that you’ve still got loads to do – under promise and over deliver! I’ve had a two page to-do list pinned on my kitchen wall since 2012 (as this article mentioned – and it’s still there too!)


After a year of maternity leave, Sarah goes back to work tomorrow so we’ll need to get into the swing of both of us working full time and having three kids to get sorted too. We’ve spent the past week thinking of ways to try and make things run more smoothly at home, like getting everyone’s clothes ready and getting the kitchen set-up for breakfast before we go to bed. It’s made life a lot easier in the mornings. Two things we have that are really useful are the magnetic notepads pictured above (available here and here). We spend Saturday mornings meal-planning for the week ahead and usually doing a big online shop so we’re ready. If you’ve never meal-planned before, start simple. It’s pretty hard to feel inspired for what you’ll want to eat all week. Start with your favourites and try to avoid things that need too much prep on week nights. For example, we’ve just had a big roast chicken that will be chicken and vegetable risotto tomorrow night and chicken and vegetable soup with bread rolls on Tuesday. Once the kids are in bed tomorrow night I can make the bread rolls for the following day.


There’s not really been much baking from me this week as we’re all still a bit full-up from the Christmas break! But I’ve got some cool cakes planned over the next few weeks so keep an eye on my Instagram, especially as I’ve got a new phone so hopefully the pictures will look even better. I hope some of my tips have been helpful this week but as always, let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to know. Until next week, Happy Baking and Happy Building too!!

4 thoughts on “DIY

  1. Love reading your blog! We have been renovating our home for the past year, so this post was especially interesting. The work was made more complicated for us as we are Brits living in the USA and everything here is so different, I don’t think they do anything the same way as us! It’s been a real challenge but we are finally getting finished. Someone told us to put a little fabric conditioner in the water when soaking wallpaper. It’s supposed to make it easier to remove. It helped a little and was great at masking the awful wet paper smell! Keep up the good work – your recipes are great!


  2. Pingback: How to Pipe Royal Icing | Richard Burr

  3. I love the little glimpses we’ve got of your kitchen. My house is only 2/3 as old as yours, but I think it probably presents many of the same challenges as yours did in creating a kitchen you can cook in (no place to put the bowl down, no such thing as a plumb or level surface or 90-degree angle, no storage for all a cook’s stuff). I don’t suppose you’d be willing to talk about your priorities and choices and compromises in creating a cook’s kitchen in an old house?


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