A DIY sandstone renovation

A DIY sandstone renovation

Reuben and April tackled the risky DIY demolition of the interior of their 1880s sandstone house

By Laura Snoad |

Unafraid of hard work, Reuben Welch and April Marr took on a Grand Designs project that involved demolishing the guts of a sandstone house, modernising the inside and restoring the outside, including trimming and laying 4,200 reclaimed slates.

Grand Designs caught up with Reuben to discuss their hands-on project journey.

What would your advice be to prospective self-builders who want to take a similarly hands-on approach?

With hindsight, I would only recommend this route to people who are practical construction tradesmen or have substantial DIY experience on similar projects.

There are so many skills to learn that it would be almost impossible for a novice to organise and build without continual supervision from a trained professional. Some of the more enjoyable parts of the project were when I had people helping who actually knew what they were doing!


Photo: Beth Evans

What are your tips for finding a fixer-upper?

Patience and decisive action. Keep looking and have your finances sorted out in advance, so you can move quickly when the opportunity eventually arrives. Pay for a full survey if you aren’t in a position to judge the true cost of repairs – I’ve learned this the hard way on our latest project.

How difficult was it to get planning permission?

We never had any real issues with getting consent since the design was in keeping with the original character of the local area. The later extension I built was in stark modern contrast and the planners liked that as well. Maybe we were just lucky.


Photo: Beth Evans

What is the best piece of advice you were given during the project?

To build and slate the roof ourselves. I was always very pleased with our efforts and it was a glorious summer when we were doing it. We had about three hours instruction on slating and then we started. Kevin described it as “a thing of beauty”.

And the worst?

Assuming that people supplying windows cared about what we were trying to achieve. They just wanted to sell me windows.

You sold up and started a new project three years ago. What prompted the move?

We needed more space as we now have two kids and wanted to get out of the city. Also, I was twiddling my thumbs and needed a new, bigger challenge. Our new project makes the last one look rather small, short and easy.


Photo: Beth Evans

What’s different about your new property?

We bought a 17-acre chicken farm that includes a large walled garden and gardener’s cottage. Almost everything in it needs to be completely restored or rebuilt, even the woodland and fields. I had to buy a tractor, excavator and dumper truck. It’s full-on.

How did the Grand Designs experience equip you for this new venture?

It wouldn’t have happened if we had not built the other house first. Our new restoration is proving to be a Herculean task and I’ve just received planning permission to double the size of the new property, so I might finish it by the time I retire!