Home truths: Tackling poor taste

There's an art to losing the Artex
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The Independent Online

It's that time of year when the property papers are filled with so-called bargains, properties that won't sell. You can bet their nightmare features are bad enough to make even the most hardened bargain-hunters think twice.

It's that time of year when the property papers are filled with so-called bargains, properties that won't sell. You can bet their nightmare features are bad enough to make even the most hardened bargain-hunters think twice. But what if you have no choice but to buy someone else's bad taste? How easy is it to get rid of Artex, fake chimney breasts and appalling stone cladding?

Artex, frequently used in the late Seventies, on ceilings and interior walls to hide imperfect surfaces, is probably the most common decorative bête noire. It is hard to remove, but if it was done before the mid-Eighties it's likely to contain low concentrations of asbestos. Chris Wilmot, a B&Q spokesman, says: "You cover or strip. The latter is harder and messy, using chemical or professional steam strippers which may not work. Replastering is the only sure way."

As B&Q's excellent website suggests, there are DIY skimmers and plasters, but it's best not attempted over large areas if you haven't done it before. The cost of hiring a professional could run into thousands. Elizabeth Welch didn't like the Artexed hall in her detached Thirties house, but she felt confident enough to try to eliminate it by the cheapest method. "I bought the biggest scraper I could find and spent two hours chipping off all those peaks. Now it just looks like Anaglypta wallpaper, but I still hate it."

Stone, brick and even plastic look-a-like brick panels have been used to create that all-important fireplace focal point in many living rooms, large or small. Jim Hughes took great pleasure in removing the mock-Tudor, polystyrene brick and beams and fake copper cowling from the chimney breast of his Victorian cottage. "It was so gritty we could sharpen our nails on it," he says. But it came off easily with a paint scraper, revealing a blown plaster wall which he replastered after removing three bin liners full of birds' nests from the chimney. His DIY kept costs to a minimum.

Removing real brick and stone calls for stronger tools, a helpful friend and structural advice. The fireplace could be supporting a vital structure, and any electricity or gas supplies must first be disconnected. Making good the wall behind it could mean expensive professional plastering.

The grotesqueness of stone cladding will surely lop thousands off the price of a house, but it may cost the new buyer thousands to get rid of it. The random, chunky stone effect makes it difficult to disguise, even with paint. Patricia Newman, a chartered building surveyor, says: "Some will drop off on its own eventually but, if it has been securely fixed to cover poor brick work, masonry or render, it will likely take off part of the original structure with it. The exterior face of the property will then have to be rebuilt."

The cladding may have been fixed on to a framework – a building surveyor could establish this by hacking loose a section. Even cladding that comes off easily could require weeks of work for a competent DIYer. Cheap, yes; inexpensive, no.

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