Whilst most of my creative projects involve paper, glue, baking or clay, there’s one big – nay, HUGE, project keeping me busy in the background, and that’s the renovation of our new house; a crumbling yet beautiful pile that we moved into just before Christmas. We were looking for somewhere big and vaguely unkempt, where Harry could run amok without it mattering, and where adventures could be had and memories created over many years. My husband saw it first, and it’s a testament to the magic of the house that he, ever practical and sensible, was captivated. Windows rattled, mice fled for cover, plaster dust quietly settled around us but still, we decided, it had to be ours. Madness, of the very best possible kind…
So here we are, 6 months in and with no money left, neat fingernails a distant memory and a complete and profound happiness about having found Home. Our first big project was to convert the formal living room into a family kitchen/dining space, where we now spend almost all of our waking hours. This is what it looked like before:
And now after…
The room – like the rest of the house – has some beautiful features we were keen to keep, like the panelling, bay windows and ornate coving from when the house was built in the 1750s. We had an imprint made of this, so we could continue it around the new in-built range cooker and cupboards. A lime-washed, engineered oak floor replaced the old pink carpet (you can see now where all our money has gone…), and is living up to the promise of being hard-wearing and resistant to everything a two year old can drop on it. Much of the space in the l-shaped room was under-utilised before, as the previous owners had understandably clustered sofas round the fireplace and left the far end alone. Instead, we added our main kitchen area here, working with Martin Moore to design a layout which maximises the space, and centres around a large Cook’s Table and chairs which we perch on whilst dinner bubbles away on the stove. (Alright, alright I confess; whilst dinner pings in the microwave).
The fireplace (below) was original to the property but very ornate and rather too heavy with bunches of grapes and dancing maidens for our taste; we replaced it with this simple yet majestic stone surround slate hearth, and retained the original backplate. The fireplace is an object of fascination for Harry, who is convinced the chimney is home to a family of owls, ever since I hooted down from an upstairs fireplace when he was standing below.
By the time we’d finished the kitchen and floor, our collective money boxes were nearly empty, so we bought these two dressers relatively cheaply and painted them to tone with the kitchen at the other end. Random objects gathered at junk sales and flea markets over the years have finally found a home on top (I knew that 3ft wide vintage Ukranian dough bowl would look good somewhere…), and our mismatched white china is stored inside. Our melamine Disney plates and chipped mugs are still around, of course, we just hide them in our new cupboards..
Finally we added a squashy cream Chesterfield sofa in the bay window; the perfect place to read Sunday papers (though the relaxed reading of newspapers is a distant memory, in truth). Cream sofas may seem like another act of insanity, but this one is steeped in industrial strength stain-guard, which so far is doing a magnificent job.
So; Phase 1 is now complete, and the memories of months of rubble, chaos and the Electrician-Who-Fell-Through-The-Ceiling are rapidly fading and being converted into cheery anecdotes. The electrician, I hasten to add, is fine; he stepped off a beam upstairs and went straight through the lathe and plaster ceiling below; fortunately a lifetime of eating Cornish pasties for lunch ensured he simply became wedged between joists and suffered an uncomfortable hour in mid-air, and mid-floor, whilst reinforcements – and a ladder – arrived.