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Sarah Gibbs

Sarah Gibbs' finished renovation project

Sarah project-managed her renovation of a studio flat in 2020 using sustainable materials and heating options to create a modern, easy and economical living space.

What is the floor area of your project in sq ft or sq m?

The studio space is approximately 20ft x 16ft, the kitchen & bathroom are approximately 8ft x 6ft, and the hallway from the front door is approximately 10ft x 3ft.

Floor plans.JPG

Could you tell us any interesting facts or remarkable features about your project?

The renovation was a complete refurbishment of a standard 1960s purpose built flat.  Quite a few of the original 1960s features were still there including the original gas and electricity meters, a tiny vented window in the kitchen that was part of the original little kitchen larder (to keep things like milk, butter, etc cool and fresh – perhaps before everyone could afford a fridge?), the original 1960s bathroom suite (yellow), the original 1960s kitchen suite (lots of formica), and the original wooden front door.  I project managed the renovation during the first COVID-19 lockdown.  Luckily, most of the contractors I used were happy to keep working (keeping safe at all times, only one person working in the flat at one time, etc) and, although there was a bit of disruption at first in terms of sourcing materials, I was able to keep the project to my 3-month schedule (March-May 2020) and I moved in on 1st June 2020.

Experience at the Centre

How many times have you visited The National Self Build and Renovation Centre before?


What would you say is the most helpful feature or resource at the NSBRC?

Lots of exhibitors and contractors to do with all areas of self-build, renovation, interiors, energy, etc, under one roof, and the facility to arrange slots to talk to experts, and to come away with new, forward thinking, and different ideas for self-build/renovation.

Did you use any exhibitors at the NSBRC? If so, who?

Yes. Herschel Infrared Heating

What did you enjoy most about your visit to the NSBRC?

The day I visited, 7 December 2019, was a good day to visit.  It was a Saturday and was quiet within the exhibitor area itself.  I was able to have a good look round the exhibitor stands, to read information easily, and to pick up various brochures/leaflets.  I had booked an appointed to chat to an architect and an energy efficient expert, and I didn’t have to wait long to speak to either.  They were both very helpful, and I have used an idea suggested by the architect to make the most of my small studio space by keeping fixings and furniture around the edges of the room thus keeping the centre of the room empty and achieving a feeling of space. I was also looking for a sustainable, economical and energy efficient method of heating the space, and I picked up the information on Herschel Infrared whilst looking at the exhibitor stands.

Would you recommend the NSBRC to a friend, and if so, what aspects of the Centre would you recommend and why?

Yes, definitely. I would recommend all aspects of the Centre.  From just picking up initial ideas to the very helpful training courses and the technical help desk facility, it’s a great centre for anyone who is keen to learn more about any aspect of self-build/renovation/home improvement.

Sarah’s Home Improvement Journey

What first inspired you to undertake project – what did you hope to achieve? My budget was limited, and I had been looking for a while for a small property to buy in/around Worthing, near to my family.  I wanted something that I could transform into an easy, economical, living space just for myself, that would be easy to maintain, that included some forward-thinking sustainable aspects, and that would suit an uncluttered look and feel. I wanted to achieve an economically efficient home - the renovated space incurs just £250 monthly outgoings (including council tax, energy, water, flat maintenance & ground rent and insurance, and broadband).


Did you use a project manager, or did you choose to self project manage? I project managed the renovation.


What was your budget and were you able to stick to it? I had around £100,000 to spend on the purchase of the property as well as the renovation.  I just about managed to stick to within this budget.  I bought the property for £78,000 (short lease that I will extend at some stage).  Approx. £22,000 spend on the renovation including: full clearance and removal of existing fittings, re-plastering, new electrics, new plumbing, new heating system, new flooring, new kitchen, new bathroom, new kitchen & bathroom tiling, carpentry (loft bed and shelving/cupboard area), new front door, new internal doors, a couple of new windows, some new furniture.


What is the value of the property now? £135,000 - £150,000 – possibly even more once the lease is extended.


What aspects of the process did you find stressful – and do you have any tips on how to avoid the pitfalls you encountered? I really enjoyed most of the process.  In a way, because of the renovation happening in ‘lockdown’ and my wonderful contractors being grateful of the work and keen to keep going, I think it was made easier for me than if I had had the stress of having to wait for contractors to fit it in to their normally busy schedules.  I only had one contractor who was very difficult (stressful for me) to pin down to committing to doing his work (kitchen fitter, flooring, tiling), and in the end I had ‘let him go’ and another of my trusted contractors finished off his bits.  This type of renovation requires all contractors to work together on timings etc and if one falls out of the schedule it’s like a snowball effect - everything else gets disrupted.


What did you find most enjoyable about working on your project? I enjoyed everything about the renovation.  I enjoyed working with some great local contractors and watching them turn the little studio space from a shabby, sad and grubby little flat to a wonderful light, bright, fresh, modern, sustainable and easy to maintain studio space.  I enjoyed researching new kitchen and bathroom fittings, sustainable flooring, unusual creative aspects to add to the modern designs (such as hand-made kitchen & bathroom tiling from a supplier on Etsy), a sustainable heating method (infra-red panels), a purpose-built type of loft bed space, purpose-built storage and shelving.  I enjoyed the ‘organic’ nature of the process, not being 100% sure at the outset how it would all come together but having faith in my decisions and the contractors that I chose and being dedicated to my 3-month time scale. I LOVE everything about my renovated home.


What is one of your favourite features about your project? My choices of wood for the various features within the space.  I love wood, and the space brings together a variety of wood types both modern and antique.  Sustainable bamboo wood for the flooring, birch-ply for the raised cabin bed and lower bed and for the shelving/cupboard units, oak wood tiles for the kitchen and bathroom flooring, internal oak doors, an antique walnut desk that slots into the shelving unit, a solid ash wood small round dining table, a soft-wood 1950s free-standing wardrobe, a small bamboo wood table, and a small free-standing Regency bamboo cabinet.

I also love the infrared heating panels that are fitted on my ceiling.  They provide an energy efficient, economical, noise-less, easy, smart-operated, clean, zero-carbon emitting, moisture repellent, form of heating for this small space.  I am so grateful to Herschel Infrared Heating (contact picked up at NSBRC) for all their excellent help and advice.


How did you tailor your home to suit your lifestyle? I wanted to create a modern, easy, clean, energy efficient, space-enhancing, light, airy and comfortable feel to this small studio space that would suit my uncluttered and uncomplicated lifestyle and yet spacious enough for small family/friend gatherings and an easy space for my grandchildren to come play/stay, etc. I have achieved this through all aspects of the renovation: a minimal cupboard policy throughout (cupboards encourage clutter), lots of use of wood and white-colour, minimal furniture, energy efficient infrared ceiling heating panels, a small water heater for kitchen & bathroom (minimal use of water), maximum use of natural light via the main studio window and the internal glass panel door, thoughtful use of small studio space that combines living, sleeping, and eating areas in one space and yet maintains the feeling of uncluttered and spacious, and modern and easy kitchen and bathroom spaces.


Is there a possibility you would ever undertake another project in the future? If it ever happens, I will embrace it enthusiastically!  I have a dream of living in Greece in a renovated old stone Greek property.  I would relish the thought of tackling such a project myself, but if this doesn’t happen, then living in an already-renovated old stone Greek property would be just as heavenly!


If so, is there anything you would do differently? No.  I would want to achieve very similar outcomes such as use of sustainable and natural materials, use of energy efficient lighting and heating systems, maximum use of natural light, simple and uncluttered feel, mixing old and new fixtures and fittings in a modern and sustainable way.


What would your top tip be for other NSBRC Visitors about to embark on their first self build or home improvement journey? Just make that first contact, by phone, email, or visit, however big or small your project, and whatever your query, you certainly won’t regret it.  There is every topic available at the NSBRC on every aspect to do with self-build and renovation, plus experts to talk to (who won’t make you feel un-informed), and helpful courses.  You can wander around the exhibitor stands at your leisure and can pick up so many different ideas that perhaps you weren’t aware of.  I would definitely make it a first port of call for any self-build/home improvement journey.