Buying a house 101: the pros and cons of choosing a 5% deposit mortgage

We ended up opting for a 5% deposit to secure our mortgage. It was essential for us to get on the property ladder. We saved £12,000 in order to buy a £240,000 two-bedroom 1950's terraced house in Essex. Keep in mind not all banks or building societies offer this so it really does depend on if you'll be eligible. This was the perfect scenario for us at the time and I don't regret it one bit. As with all things there are pros and cons with it. Here are just a few pearls of my wisdom of what I found out. I really hope this new house buying series is helpful!

You can get on the property ladder a lot quicker as you don't have to save as much. At the time we bought, the house prices were going up so quickly that we could barely keep up. If we had stuck it out to save a 10% deposit there was a chance we would have been priced out. We just knew we had to take the plunge while we could.

By saving less for a house deposit, you have more of a chance to save extra to spend on doing the house up. Our house look quite a while to go through so we had four months between having our offer accepted and getting the keys. In those four months we were able to save some money to help with the renovations.

There are quite a few Government Help to Buy Schemes to choose from so there is great variety to find one that works for you. Some are only suitable for new homes. Sometimes we all need a little helping hand!

Your mortgage repayments will be higher each month as you are borrowing more so you need to really think about how this will effect you. Buying a house is a massive financial strain and it can be very hard to adjust. I still think you need enough money to be able to venture out  for a social life a few times each month.

The main Government's Help To Buy scheme only applies to new builds. Which is great if you're after a new build! But we wanted to avoid a brand new house. My dad and boyfriend both work in the construction trade and were adamant an older house is always best.

You can only use certain lenders as not all banks and building societies offer the opportunities. This can quite limited who you use.


Buying a house 101: what to consider when you buy a doer upper home

When we were looking at a home to buy, we came to the conclusion that we could either buy a really nice flat which didn't need much doing to it or buy a house which needed a LOT of work. We came to the conclusion that we would eventually have to move from a flat within a few years, it was never going to be a 'forever' home. Whereas we could buy a two bedroom house and really be able to stay there and build a home. We could take our time really doing it up to our tastes without having to worry about spending all the money and then having to room because we would outgrow it.  Taking on a doer upper is a huge task and at times it can feel too much. It's not for the lighthearted at all! But if you want to go down the same path as us then there are a few things I think you should consider...

1. Work out what your budget is to do the renovations and double it. We were pretty lucky that my dad is very handy so we have saved a hell of a lot on labour costs. But not everyone has this resource! Labour is probably the most expensive part of saving for a house and it's very easy to forget about it. Costs tend to spiral out of control and you have to be prepared for it!

2.  Dealing with structural issues is so much more expensive than dealing with cosmetic issues. make sure you have a full survey if you're buying a doer upper. That way you don't have any nasty surprises waiting for you when you start the work.

3. Consider which rooms are the most important to you and which rooms you can live without doing. For us we wanted to make sure the downstairs looked ok so we decided to concentrate on the kitchen and the living room. You'll have to accept that it won't all get done at once and it will be a work in progress. You have to order each room in importance.

4. Be prepared to live in a building site for a while. The reality is you simply won't have the money to overhaul the house completely - unless you're very lucky! We ran out of money within a few months and now have to live in a half done house for at least a year in order for is to save up to do another project.

5. We used a few tradesmen for jobs that my dad couldn't do such as plastering and electrics. Always make sure you get a tradesman that someone has used before and has been recommended. Don't just pick one out of the yellow pages. Ask around friends and family to find people you can trust.


Buying a house 101: Things to look out for during a house viewing

I thought I'd introduce a little house buying series on the blog for those who are looking to buy. I seem to have reached that age where my friends are starting to look after finally managing to save a hefty deposit. We were amongst the first and now I look back there's so much I would do differently but you only learn don't you?

First up is house viewings. You're finally in the position to buy and start organising some house viewings. But it is so overwhelming! I felt like I wasn't quite old enough to go and felt completely out of my depth. But here are some questions you should ask and things you need to look out for.

1. The chances are you'll go to your first house viewing during the day. The area will be the least busy it ever will be in the middle of the day thanks to children being at school and adults are work. To really get a feel for an area you have to see it at night too. I'd recommend driving round in the dark if you can.

2. Always check the shower pressure. You do not want to find out it's a bit pants after you move in.

3. Some areas sometimes have rubbish 4g so make sure you check your phone to see how the signal is.

4. Open windows. We didn't open any windows and one of ours was broken when we moved in. Lesson learned!

5. Parking can be an absolute nightmare where I live so we made sure to drive by at different times of day to see how the parking was. You don't always want to have to park round the corner and have to get a bus to your front door!

6. Make sure you open the cupboard doors in the kitchen. We moved in thinking we could wait a few years before we replaced the kitchen. But, on moving day we realised the kitchen was in a terrible state with mould inside. We could have found this out on the viewing day if we thought to check!

7.  Be sure to give the bathroom a quick once over to ensure you can't see any obvious mould.

8. If you know someone in the construction industry then we sure to bring them with you on the second viewing. They will help to make sure it looks structurally ok. My dad spotted things on the roof that I never even thought to look at!

9. Drive around the back if you can. We saw a beautiful house and my dad suggested we take a drive around the back to look at the garden and it was then we realised the next door neighbour had no fence, broken glass, terrible overgrown grass and didn't not look like a neighbour we would want to live next too!

10. Ask questions about the boiler. These are very expensive to replace and if you buy the house you'll have to factor in the cost if it's old. Our boiler was 20 years old and we're currently saving up for one!

Getting into bed with Leesa

There's an in-joke in my family which is if I can't be found then it's usually because I'm laying in bed. At any hour during the day. It's true. I absolutely love my bed, my bedroom is my favourite place in the house. I think because I live such a busy life that I associate my bed as my safe haven. A place where I'm away from the hustle and bustle of every day life and alone in my thoughts. This only child really enjoys her own company at times! So when Leesa got in touch with me to see if I wanted to try out one of their mattresses I obviously couldn't type yes fast enough! A foam mattress is the dream.

Vacuum packed, the mattress arrived in a cardboard box about three feet tall. It got delivered to our local corner shop, we got a 'sorry we missed you' card through the letterbox and went to collect it. It was really handy to be sent a tracking number so we knew where the mattress was at all times. I couldn't believe a double mattress could fit into something so small! Once its unrolled out of the box, it magically lays on your bed and inflates before your eyes. I loved the cool, Scandi vibe of the grey and white stripes. Usually mattresses look quite ugly but this doesn't even really need bedsheets. It's certainly very easy on the eye! I really do appreciate a company who try to do some good in the world. One mattress is donated for every ten sold. How cool is that? Over 30,000 mattresses have been donated so far. They also plant a tree for each order and donate employees' time to volunteer in the local community.

Designed with three layers of foam, the combination of all three aim to cool, body contour and offer pressure-releving core support. I have terrible posture and it's something I need to work on. So as a result sometimes I suffer from quite a bad back. After trying the mattress out for the past month, I've really noticed a difference in my quality of sleep. I'm waking up each morning feeling really refreshed after having a great nights sleep. It's amazing how much a broken night of sleep can affect your day.

Offering free delivery, each customer gets a 100 day risk-free trial so if it isn't right you can send it back free of charge.

If you fancy treating yourself to a mattress then I have a special £100 off code. Just enter ASTORYOFAGIRL at the checkout  and voila. You won't regret it - trust me!

This post was created in collaboration with Leesa, who provided a Leesa mattress for review, but all views and opinions expressed are my own.


Welcome to my dining area

Like I mentioned in my living room post we knocked down the partition wall to create some more space. We knew we wanted a big table but didn't want the room to feel small. Opening up the room that was once used as a bedroom was the perfect solution. I'm really proud of this corner of the room and love sitting down each night for dinner.

I'd be eyeing up dining tables made from scaffold boards but bulked at the price. They were coming up at nearly £800 and we just couldn't afford it alongside renovating a house. I had resigned myself to having to eat from a camping table and mentioned the dream table in passing to my dad. He asked to see a picture and then declared that he would be able to make it himself! He managed to get some scaffold boards and we were kindly given the metal hairpin legs as a housewarming present from Connor's sister and her boyfriend. After sanding them down, my dad put it all together in my house and oiled it three times. He also did the same for a matching bench. I'm so in love with it and it looks better and better each day as it gets more worn. I know it's something I'm going to treasure forever.

My mum found this mirror for a fiver second hand and she thought it would make a perfect upcycling project. Turns out mums know best! We had some Farrow & Ball downpipe paint shade left over from our feature wall so decided to sand the mirror down and apply the paint. I thought it was a great way to help bring the room together and it really stands out against the white wall.

I'm a crockery addict so couldn't resist these zebra plates in Homesense. I was kindly given a voucher to spend and these were the first things I picked up. I found the dinner plates in the sale on Habitat's website and was over the moon to find out they matched. LSA International is one of my favourite interiors brand, I've been lucky enough to pick up a few of their pieces in Homesense and worked with them on my blog a couple of years ago. I love the simplicity of their products and the great quality. This glass bowl is such a gorgeous piece and makes a great statement for the middle of the table. I love the idea of keeping old gin bottles and using as vases or for candles. It remind me of this old-fashioned French bistros with the wax covered wine bottles.

We've hit a bit of a stalemate with the house now as we've run out of money so this will probably be the last interiors post for a while!

Mirror: Bootsale find with Farrow & Ball paint
Glass fruit bowl: LSA International*
Yellow table runner: Sainsbury's
Grey chairs: ebay
White chairs: Dad's friend
Table legs: eBay
Bench legs: eBay
Dining table: Made by dad
Bench: Made by dad
Zebra plates: Homesense*
White dinner plates: Habitat
Round placemats: Rinket
Glassses: Zara (old)
Silver cutlery: TK Maxx
Tall planter: Maisons Du Monde (old)

Renovating a bathroom - options I'm exploring

Now that our kitchen is finished, out next big project in the house to save up for is our bathroom. Replacing a bathroom in a home is one of the most expensive jobs to undertake so it's so important to really think things through. Mistakes can be very costly! One of the ways to ensure things go to plan is investing in professional help when it comes to finding your dream design. After all, they know the bathroom industry inside out! Innovative & latest bathroom designs with a variety of products are available in Harrogate showrooms.* Make sure you talk to someone as sometimes they come up with ideas you never thought of!

Image from Pinterest via Elle Decoration Sweden

Image from Pinterest via Living Extra 

Image from Pinterest via Sheer Luxe

Image from Pinterest via Harvey Maria

I'm toying with a few ideas when it comes to deciding on a design. I'm keen to keep in with the colour theme of grey as like the rest of the house. I really like the idea of having one colour which pulls the whole house together. I'm thinking light grey patterned tiles on the floor to help make a statement and white metro tiles in a chevron pattern on the wall. Maybe spilt the wall with tiles on the  top half and a dark charcoal grey on the bottom half. Grey and white are such great colours to use as a base because you can change the accent colours quite easily. When you're spending so much money on a renovation it's not ideal if you get bored of it easily and then can't afford to switch it up.

I'd love a whole new bathroom suite as our one has seen better days. At the top of my list is a huge, round waterfall head shower and a rounded bath. Ideally I'd love a freestanding bath but alas, we just don't have the room. Storage is also something I'm extremely keen to incorporate because space isn't at a premium and I have a lot of lotions and potions to keep hidden! I'm hoping to get a cool sink cabinet in a charcoal grey. Storage doesn't have to be boring! Finally I'd love a luxurious glass basin and huge statement mirror on the wall to help finish it off and hopefully make the room feel bigger.

I guess we better get saving!

Welcome to my new living room

It's been a long process - and still ongoing - but we now have our second room complete. That feels good to say! We've finally completed our living room and it's such a joy to come home after work and relax. I wanted a room where I could display all my knick knacks I've collected over the years and one that really represented our personality. A room where people walked into and thought, 'yes this is very much Sophie and Connor's home'. So how did we transform it? Read on! I will put all the links at the bottom.

The owners before us loved colour and the walls were a very bold Quality Street purple shade. It didn't really fit into my minimalist wall theme. It also boasted a carpet that absolutely reeked of cat wee so didn't stay very long at all. I'm not much of a carpet fan at all if I'm honest so decided to splash out on a real wooden floor as we don't plan on replacing it. The dining room had been blocked off with a partition wall to make an extra bedroom. We took this down to help open up the space and it's been a revalation. It's made the house look so much bigger and although we're not using it as a dining room, it's really helped to have that extra space.

There was a white York Stone fireplace that had a very distinct 80s feel to it. This had to go straight away so my boyfriend and his dad very kindly got rid of it in the first week. We had been told by the previous owners that it was an open fire but when we looked into it further, it turned out it wasn't actually safe. The gap was too small and it would have cost too much money to make it bigger. Money that we didn't have. So we went to plan B. Thanks to the partition wall being taken down, the fireplace was no longer in the middle of the room. So my dad and Connor boxed out the fireplace with plasterboard to help make it central. I absolutely love how it looks and it's such a talking point of the room. I'm obsessed with grey as I think it makes a great neutral. It's a shade that so many other colours go with. Farrow & Ball's downpipes is that dark, charcoal grey that I craved and was the perfect choice. The patchwork tiles help to lighten it up and stop the area from being so dark. Yellow is my all time favourite colour and I was keen to incorporate this into my living room. Mustard and grey are one of the best combinations so I choose to use mustard as an accent colour.

One thing I desperately wanted was a gallery wall. For the past five years we've been trying to collect prints from all the different cities we've visited. We haven't managed to pick one up in every place but I'm so happy with the ones we've collected. I love that every time I glance at them I'm immediately transported back to happy memories. I opted for an array of difference coloured frames to help make the pictures stand out against the white wall.

I'm not a fan of blank walls and my boyfriend isn't a fan of things on the wall. So as a compromise I picked up the copper shelf to help display some trinkets and make it feel homely. By having a shelf, my trinkets feel much more contained and less like clutter. When we went to Copenhagen, our Airbnb had a billy bookcase in their living filled with little knick knacks they had collected all over the world. I've totally stolen that idea. At the minute it mostly just houses my travel books but I do have Matryoshka dolls from Budapest, a programme from Aladdin on Broadway and a traditional Dala wooden horse from Sweden. I'm very much looking forward to filling it up!

The next project? Saving for a boiler and moving it to the loft so we can decorate our bedroom!

White paint: Cotton White Dulux
Grey paint: Downpipe Farrow & Ball
Grey and white patterned tiles: Wickes
Glass vase: LSA International via Homesense*
Grey concrete planter: La Redoute
Yellow planter: Sainsbury's
Light grey chaise lounge sofa: DFS*
Mustard armchair and matching stall: IKEA
Grey metal floor lamp: IKEA
Grey side table: La Redoute
Black wooden bookcase: IKEA
Custard cream cushion: Nikki McWilliams
Gin cushion: Matalan
Abstract cushion: Sainsbury's
Mustard patterned cushion: Rooi*
Grey crochet stalls: Aldi*
Copper shelf: Maisons Du Monde
Mustard herringbone throw: H&M
Grey radiator:
Black metal cage lampshades: IKEA
Gallery wall picture frames: Wilko and IKEA
Gallery wall prints: From travels
NYC print: Oliver Bonas

Welcome to my new kitchen

It's official. We finally have one room completely finished in the house. The kitchen was the most important thing to me in the house. I love to cook and wanted a space I could really lose myself in and one that became the hub of the house. You can often find me on a Sunday with flour in my hair and every utensil filthy as I spend the day working through my never ending supply of cookbooks. Thanks to my dad who did a spectacular job fitting it, a family friend who look time out to do our work tops and thanks to Connor who planned every last detail, I got the kitchen I always dreamed of. Scroll down to the bottom to see where everything is from. So what did it look like before?

The layout was the first thing that struck me. It's pretty small but it didn't seem like they were making the most of the space. I also didn't like the fact you had to go through the living in order to get into the kitchen. It was pretty bland and painted this awful yellow colour which gave me a headache. It looked like hadn't been updated quite a few years, the flimsy cupboards had seen better days and the cooker was disgusting. That was the first thing we threw out.

I've always wanted a red and grey kitchen. It's one of my favourite colour combinations. I'd been collected small red appliances for a few years and we decided to go for the full statement of investing in a matching fridge and dishwasher. Best decision ever! Once we had our colour scheme confirmed, we drew up some plans to decide the layout. Like I mentioned earlier, the space wasn't utilised very well so we decided to block up the existing door and reopen the door in the dining room (the kitchen is originally an extension.) After it was plastered and our spotlights were fitted, it was time to tile the floor.

I wanted a white tiled floor to help brighten it up as I was afraid to many dark colours could make it seem smaller than it was. We opted for grey grout as we didn't want to spend all our time scrubbing the floor. I'm a very messy cook so it really would be very time consuming. For the wall tiles, I wanted a lighter grey and fell in love with these flecked hexagon tiles from Topps Tiles*. After seeing a honeycomb pattern on Pinterest, I immediately knew I wanted to recreate this at home. We used white grout to help make the grey stand out. They create a great contrast with the charcoal grey units and I couldn't be happier with the end result.

Despite knowing they would be a nightmare too keep looking spick and span, I had my heart set on light oak worktops. We bought our from DIY Kitchens and oiled them three times before we used them. I feel they create a 'country' style kitchen but yet still help it feel modern. We live in a 1950's house and I didn't want to go too traditional. The Belfast sink has been my dream and is a great talking point. Every one always comments on it when they walk through the door. I was adamant I didn't want traditional kitchen door handles so spent a good few weeks scouring the internet. The octagonal handles caught my eye and I love them so much. I feel they really help jazz the kitchen up.

Thanks to the size, we are pretty limited on cupboard space. I have a lot of crockery and a lot of cookbooks. This is where shelves came in handy! I've always loved the idea of having crockery on display as I feel it helps to make a kitchen feel homely. I've got my favourite cookbooks on the top shelf and will rotate them. After all I do have 156 books to thumb through! We ordered some brackets from Ebay and my dad made us some shelves from an old scaffolding board - which will match our dining room table eventually.

I love an accessory but didn't want to make the worktops seem to cluttered. Believe it or not, this is me being a minimalist! I love anything Orla Kiely as you can tell by my cake tins and utensil pot*. I've tried to pick patterns with a hint of red or grey in them to help them tie into the kitchen.

Finally, I once again always knew I wanted to have a range cooker but we wasn't sure if it would look a bit too large for the space. In the end I managed to get my way and we went for black. I felt that stainless steel just looked to industrial and black was going to age a lot better than any other colour. I didn't anticipate how much of an effort it is to keep black cookers looking spotless!

Let me know if you have any questions - would be more than glad to answer it. Renovating a house is tough business!

Grey kitchen units:  DIY Kitchens
Belfast sink: DIY Kitchens
Solid oak work tops: DIY Kitchens
Silver octagonal door handles: Bombay Duck
Solid oak draining board: Amazon
Utensil pot: Orla Kiely via Hurn and Hurn*
Copper jars: H&M and Homesense
DIY shelves: Brackets from eBay/ shelf made from scaffolding boards
Silver taps: Victoria Plumbing
Grey hexagon wall tiles: Topps Tiles*
Grey wall radiator: Soak
Red fridge: Swan
Red dishwasher: Swan
Red microwave: Swan
Black range cooker: Leisure
Red kettle: Kitchenaid
Red stand mixer: Kitchenaid
Red blender: Kitchenaid

How to do a gallery wall in your living room

Corner sofa: DFS*, Grey floor lamp: IKEA, Custard Cream cushion: Nikki McWilliams, Wire lampshade: IKEA, Mustard throw: H&M, Grey, navy and mustard cushion: Sainsbury's, Gin cushion:  Matalan

We first came up with the idea in Copenhagen two years to start collecting prints from every city we visit with the view to create a gallery wall when we moved out. We haven't managed to pick up a print in every city but we've got a great collection so far. I love having a mementos from trips we've been on as I'm a sucker for picking up a souvenir. They catch my eye and I'm immediately taken back to that walk along the river in Derry or the music festival we went to in Budapest. Here are my tips on how to create a gallery wall in your living room.

1. Choose a theme
We went for travel as it is something we're both so passionate about. If I'm honest, I never stop thinking about where to go on holiday! By choosing a theme I feel it helps to inject some of your personality into your house. Everyone always comments in the gallery wall when they visit and it's an immediate conversation starter. My friend Hannah has a music wall filled with posters from her favourite bands and gigs. It looks great and really does sum up her personality.

2. Pick different sizes
We've gone for a variety of sizes in prints in different colour frames. It helps to make it so much more interesting and much more of a statement. You want your gallery wall to make an impact as soon as you enter the room. Our frames come from both IKEA and Wilko. As we have white walls, we opted for a trio of colours to help make the prints stand out.

3. Lay them out on the floor
Before you take the plunge, make sure you lay them all out on the floor. Take pictures of different combinations so you can really study them before making up your mind. It's a big commitment to put a hole in the wall so make sure you 100% know what you want.

4. Leave room to add
If you choose a big space, arrange the prints so that it looks finished but also has room to add some more. I feel like a gallery wall is an ongoing project that can be added to as and when you fancy. We arranged our prints in the middle so we have enough room at the sides and below to add some more. We going to keep an eye out for some postcards on our next trips to try and fill some of the smaller spaces.


Four tips on how to style your kitchen shelves

Since I've moved out I've discovered I REALLY like rearranging shelves. I love giving all my useless but pretty trinkets a place and seeing it all come together. A couple of weeks ago my dad very kindly made me some shelves out of scaffold boards with the handmade brackets from eBay for my kitchen. It's probably my favourite corner of the house. Here are some tips on how to style kitchen shelves, in my very humble opinion of course!

Use colour
Originally I wanted to have all my glasses on the shelves but it didn't look right. It was too monotone against the white wall. It really needed some colour to help make it pop. I found that cookbooks are a great option for this as they're naturally colourful. Try not to put too many block colours together and break up any white products.

Store things you need
We've popped our coffee cups and our jar full of coffee pods on the shelf. It makes a lot of sense as the coffee machine is underneath it so we won't have to keep walking to opposite end of the kitchen to use it. You want it too look pretty yet practical. Otherwise what's the point? I did want to put all my grains and pulses on it but it makes much more sense to display these bits and bobs near the cooker.

Put the least used things on top
There's nothing worse if you're a lazy girl like me then having to keep stretching up to the top shelf for the things you use the most. So you'll want to put infrequently used bits on the very top. I decided to put my favourite cookbooks on top as they're something I only dig out at the weekend. The sugar, flour, cups and coffee pods are often used everyday in some capacity.

Improvise with bookends
Need somewhere to put those random decorative pieces you bought because you thought they looked nice? They work great as bookends. I treated myself to this gorgeous copper pineapple ice bucket from Oliver Bona with a birthday voucher from last year. I won't ever use it as an ice bucket but it looks really nice on display, it's pretty heavy to keep books up straight too.

What's on my shelves?
Red retro scales: Wilko (similar), copper pineapple: Oliver Bonas, gold and glass jars: H&M (similar), grey handleless coffee mugs: H&M (similar), Linen small candle: The White Company*,  selection of cookbooks: Amazon, brown glass candle: Earl of East*, swan measuring spoons: birthday gift

Do you have any tips on how to style kitchen shelves?


How to update your garden for the summer on a budget

Out of our new house, our garden is probably the best 'room' we have. It's in pretty good shape with some decking that just needs a lick of paint. Just as well with the weather is starting to hot up... I can't wait to spend more time out there. We can't afford to spend a lot of money to spruce it up so I've been keeping my eye out for little knick knacks that help give it a new lease of life. I'm thinking lanterns, cushions and quirky accessories with a bright, slightly kitsch theme. Basically anything that possibly looks a bit tacky... Fishpools,  Matalan, Homesense and ASDA have a great selection of different bits and bobs. Have a look below to see what I have my eye on...

1. Puffin cushion - Maison Du Monde
2. Plastic flamingos - John Lewis
3. Pink hanging pot - TK Maxx
4. Rattan dining set - Fishpools
5. Malamine dinner plates - Debenhams
6. Bistro set - George at Asda
7. Pineapple cushion - Maison Du Monde
8. Pineapple LED lights - John Lewis

How would you update your garden on a budget? I'm always after some tips!

This is a collaborative post with Fishpools


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