A firefighter who transformed a drab old bungalow from rack and ruin into an incredible dream home has told how it consumed 18 months of his life – and inspired a new career.
James Stuart lived in the shell of the dated 1950s bungalow after gutting it to start afresh, spending bone-chilling nights with nothing but a tiny heater and microwave to get him through.
After 18 months of sweat, hard work and determination, the massive valuation of his dream home was such a shock it inspired the firefighter of 15 years to launch another career alongside his public service heroics.
And the 37-year-old, who is also a trophy-winning bodybuilder, has some top tips for others looking to achieve the renovation dream.
At the beginning he was almost overawed at the task that lay ahead of him.
“When I moved in, it didn’t even have a gas connection,” James said.
“I lived in the house the whole way through it, had no lights, no bed and had to use a microwave for food and a small heater for warmth.
“I wasn’t really sure where I was going with it.
“It was colder inside than out.
“I was living in a shell. Using the fire station for a hot shower, having a hot meal at my mum’s.
“I lived and breathed it every day, they were long days.”
The house, in Thornes Moor Road, Wakefield, had been owned by an elderly couple before it went to rack and ruin, and is quite distinctive locally for being situated on a large plot.
James had to take the whole structure back to its walls, replacing and updating all the fittings.
He knocked through two bedrooms in the front, ripped out all the windows, knocked the walls out of the back and extended the bathroom into the hallway.
Having picked up the property for £190,000, down from an earlier estimation of £250,000, James spent between £60,000 and £70,000.
The property has now been valued at £350,000 to £400,000.
The initial plan had not been to sell it, but to make his dream home.
And it was not until he found out the valuation that he realised just how much reward he could get for his hard work – and began to see a new life opening up for himself.
“I kind of thought I can’t give up the chance for that money,” James explained.
“I could have found a new career. Having finished this one I want to look at the next one, and see where I can go with it.”
James had taken a year out at the age of 31 to go travelling through Australia and South East Asia, before returning to the UK to resume his career with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service at Ossett Fire Station in Wakefield – and win trophies in bodybuilding shows.
And there was another lifelong dream he had always wanted to fulfill – renovating his dream home.
And with his first successful renovation in the bag, he feels he has learnt his way around the process and can see no going back.
“I got into my mid thirties and decided everything I’m going to do – let’s do it. No time to waste,” said James.
“It was quite a lonely process. When you are living on a building site, you are freezing cold, you can’t see your mates, can’t have a day off, can’t cook yourself a nice meal, you don’t get to relax in a nice warm house. Every day was a working day.
“I was quite isolated. But you have got no choice because you are living it.
“I actually lost a lot of weight. All the energy had to go into the house. But that’s what I have got to do, if you put yourself through it. Good things will come.
“And now I am willing to do it again, hopefully on a bigger scale.”
As for advice he would have for anyone hoping to copy his success, James says it is all about getting stuck in and doing as much as you can yourself.
“Don’t get a team to do it,” James Said. “Find the materials yourself – that way you can get competitive rates.
“Pay traders on a day rate rather than letting them charge you thousands.
“I have a 50 metre fence running around the house – I paid him £100 a day, learnt how to do it myself and finished it off myself – it would have cost thousands. Try to learn the skills yourself.
“And always work with the trader. Buy the materials yourself so they cannot add costs themselves.”
James added: “You need good contacts. One of my neighbours is a retired joiner – and he is now like my dad – he came in when I needed him. We fitted the kitchen and the garden together.
“I’m probably going to go round his house for Christmas dinner now!”
James says one of the thing he learned was the need to – and difficulty in – budgeting wisely.
“My initial budget of £25,000 was tripled,” he added.
This house was voted the ‘most gorgeous in the UK’
“Everything takes longer and is harder than expected.
“You can budget for a bathroom and kitchen – but that is not what costs, it’s the daily trips to pick up timber, taking trips to get parts every day…”
But now the stunning three bed detached bungalow is in its final form and is being advertised for sale.
It is modern, with such fancy features as a relaxing bed swing in the garden.
James designed a big bespoke fitted television unit with a bio-ethanol fire underneath, having seen one on Pinterest.
Surround sound speakers are in the ceiling and a landscaped garden wraps around the formerly drab home.
“You get a lot of passers-by who stop while walking past because it has transformed so much,” he added.