A Mini Transformation And The Health Risks Of DIY Projects

I’m excited to share a little glimpse into some of the work we’ve done on my one bedroom flat in the past year. My flat is an unusual one: it’s split over two floors and had a mezzanine level bedroom overlooking the living room. We’ve since blocked this off to create a contained bedroom on the top floor, but that’s a project I’ll be sharing in a future post. For now, I’m showing you the little alcove between the doors to the kitchen and the bathroom, which was once a full height cupboard. That’s not all. I also want to highlight some of the health risks posed by even small DIY projects like this one. When we turned the alcove area into a usable office area with full width shelves, I wasn’t aware of some of the nasties we were exposing ourselves to.

First of all a little apology for the quality of some of these photos. I took these on my phone before I got my lovely Olympus Pen so they are a little fuzzy.

diy projectsBefore

The alcove, painted in magnolia, contained a pine cabinet I had painted with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Pure White a year or so earlier. There was also a set of pine shelves, also painted white, and an assortment of what I shall call ‘clutter’; bookends, a magazine rack, a memo board, candles and even a big Yankee foam finger from a trip to NYC.

As you can see, I like my books and also had a long book shelf across the top of the wall. This shelf was actually part of the mezzanine half wall which we removed (again, more on that in a future post!).

I really needed a desk space. Space is very limited here, as anyone in a one bedroom house or flat will know. There really was no room for a separate desk area in the living room or bedroom. I decided we would turn this old cupboard area in to an office space.

I wanted full width shelves to go across the alcove area, and a desk surface for my computer.

To start with, we took everything out and also took the large shelf across the top down. This project coincided with a redecoration of the entire living room. We knew we were going to paint over the magnolia, so took everything down and filled any holes in the wall.

It was also the perfect time for a bit of a clear out of the clutter! I’ve really grown to love decluttering as a process.



We repainted the lounge in three complementary colours from Farrow & Ball: Oxford Stone, London Stone, and Joa’s White. The shelves inside the alcove were cut from sheets of MDF, and Sean added a wooden strip across the front of each one to give the impression of thickness. The desktop is a piece of solid wood kitchen worktop which we sanded and oiled to a darker colour. The long bookshelf also went back up.

After (but not the end…)

afterThe finished shelves and desk are here. It’s not an accurate representation of how this space looks now, however. As you can see, some of the clutter managed to sneak back in to the alcove. It also became a repository for things we wanted to be out of the way while we finished off the rest of the room. The cat’s scratching pad, for example 🙂

I’ve since had a huge reorganisation, have added my computer and various desk-y things like a pen pot.

I’ve also got the most gorgeous chair from TK Maxx (not practical, but I love it anyway).

We also added an LED strip light around the inside of the alcove to increase the light in there. This was a particularly dark side of the room, away from the natural light from the window and balcony doors. We decided it was too much of a faff to channel electric wires across the ceiling as that happens to be the underside of the mezzanine level. It juts out over the living room.

I love the cosy glow of the LED at night. It changes colour with a remote control so you can warm it up with shades of orange and yellow.

Home transformation

We did, however, add a double plug socket. Sean is an electrician, so really he did this, not me. We passed wiring from the kitchen through the wall between the two rooms. The plug socket sits on the back wall just underneath the desk. The cables for the computer come upwards through a small hole cut in the desk.

We did all this very affordably. Using MDF for the shelves and adding a thicker strip at the front to give the impression of thick solid wood shelves saved a lot of money. However, I want to touch on something that’s only recently been brought to my attention. That is, the health risks posed by DIY projects, even those as small as this one.

DIY And Your Health

A survey of over 2000 members of the British public by Slater & Gordon revealed 23% are planning a DIY project in their home in 2017. DIY is a big deal here; we spent ÂŁ5.8 billion doing up our homes last year.

What many people don’t realise (and I certainly didn’t) is that certain materials can be very dangerous to our health. We made the shelves in the alcove out of MDF. So many people have MDF in their homes. It’s cheap, easily attainable and has multiple uses. However, the resin it’s made with contains chemicals such as formaldehyde. This is a known carcinogen, and definitely something not recommended to be breathed in at any point. We can inhale these substances when cutting MDF and sanding its edges. As we did in our living room. A way to help reduce these risks is to wear a mask when cutting it. Also, dampen it first to decrease the amount of dusty particles flying about.

Another health risk is the possibility of finding asbestos in your home when you’re drilling in to walls and re-plastering. Houses built any time from the 1930s to the 1980s are the most at risk. Unfortunately asbestos was rife in homes and workplaces at one point. The main health problem caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma. This is a cancer which often starts in the lining of the lungs and comes from asbestos particle inhalation. It’s a really tragic development that triggers many mesothelioma claims each year against employers who exposed their employees to it, often for long periods of time.

A one-off asbestos survey will inform you if you have asbestos in your home. Don’t take any chances if you are unsure. Only 6% of people have ever had an asbestos survey done on their home, yet 53% of the respondents live in a house built during that critical time period.

I’ll continue to enjoy renovating, upstyling and redecoration but won’t be taking any chances again. We are moving house soon to a 1980s property and will have a full asbestos survey to put our minds at rest.

What do you think of my little alcove? Do you have any tips for making the most of space in a small flat?


This post is in collaboration with Slater & Gordon. 

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  1. Natalie Crossan
    April 20, 2017 / 12:08 pm

    I had no idea that DIY was so full of risk. Especially with MDF. However, my Mum always insists I wear a mask when doing DIY or going in my loft x

    • melissajanelee
      April 21, 2017 / 7:38 pm

      I remember my mum saying that too! We had a loft that had a lot of that fibreglass insulation that was really itchy if you touched it.

  2. Ashleigh Allan
    September 29, 2017 / 8:05 am

    Interesting post

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