ALL OUR OWN WORK
Turning a Scottish inner-city flat into a calm, light-filled Scandi-style home was a huge undertaking for this young couple, but they’ve created an award winner
On the very first night Emma Hay-Higgins and her partner Adam Kelly moved into their flat in Aberdeen, the DIY gloves came out. The couple were barely through the door when they started ripping up the old carpets and pulling down a built-in wardrobe. Even before their heads hit the pillow of what would be their makeshift bed for the best part of 18 months, they had a vision of what they wanted: to turn their tired ground-floor flat in a Victorian tenement into a modern, Scandi-style home that would reflect their taste and lifestyle.
‘We wanted to take it back to the bare bones,’ says Adam. ‘We were first-time buyers looking for a flat that we could renovate, but also try to increase in value by adding a new room.’
It was 2015 and the local market was booming. Emma and
Adam had been together for six years and were looking for their first home as a couple, but were not having much luck when they stepped into the hallway of this converted ground-floor flat and knew immediately they’d come home.
‘The location was a real plus,’ says Emma. ‘It’s a 10-minute walk to the city centre, there’s off-street parking and lots of interesting independent shops and cafes on our doorstep. Plus, it’s easy for both of us to get to work and access the wonderful countryside nearby.’
However, the downside was the layout: a wide hallway connecting through to a large family kitchen, the living area was at the back, overlooking the small garden while a bedroom and bathroom were at the front. ‘The family kitchen was a waste for just the two of us, so our plan was to turn that into a spare room and study, and then take some of the large hallway to create a modern,
open-plan living/kitchen arrangement in what was the bedroom at the front of the building,’ says Adam.
With the couple working full-time and a budget of just £15,000, they knew they were going to have to give up their free time to transform their new home. They were itching to get on with the major work, but then made an unwelcome discovery. ‘About four days in, we discovered the flat-roof extension, which runs along the side of the building, was leaking,’ says Emma. ‘So we had to repair the gutter, which Adam did himself, and the damage the leak had caused. It was particularly bad in the bathroom – when you put your finger against the plasterboard it just crumbled away!’
Once they’d finished the repairs, Emma and Adam drew up a list of priorities. At the top was installing a new kitchen, boiler and heating system, and then completely renovating the bathroom.
The bedroom, which needed much less work, could be left until later and the study could act as a makeshift workshop while the flat was being transformed. ‘We hired a heating engineer to install a new boiler and radiators, a plumber for the kitchen sink and a joiner and electrician to fit the new kitchen,’ says Adam. ‘The electrician also upgraded the electrical system, but I did the basic updates, such as fitting new switch plates and socket plates.’
As the renovation developed, so did Emma and Adam’s DIY confidence and knowledge. ‘We took down the non-load-bearing wall in the old bedroom – I did it myself with a hammer – as the first step towards incorporating the kitchen into the living area,’ Adam explains. Taking up one side of the living area, the kitchen discreetly houses a fridge, oven and washing machine and a half-sized dishwasher. The rest of the room is now a perfect chill-out place, where the couple can listen to music and catch up with each other at the end of the day.
Emma and Adam’s plan had always been to have a pure white scheme and after a few weeks they realised that this had been a good practical decision, too. ‘When we stripped out all the carpets, we could see the place looked dark,’ says Emma. ‘Aberdeen isn’t the sunniest place, so by painting everything white, light now bounces off the walls. We chose cool wood laminate for the flooring, brought in new streamlined doors, and went for furniture that would stand out – contemporary Scandi design and some mid-century pieces.’
Adam is a fan of furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames, so they invested in an iconic Eames lounge chair, a rocker chair for their bedroom and Eames house bird figures, as a running motif throughout the flat. They added statement pendants in the bedroom and living area, and then set out to make or salvage the rest of their furniture.
‘This was my first time making things for the home!’ says Adam. ‘I learned on the job by watching videos on YouTube and getting ideas from Pinterest. I made the coffee table and, with some help from the joiner, the console desk and shelves in the study. But my biggest project was our king-size bed. After building, I fitted slats bought from Ikea. It looks really good and cost less than £150 unlike similar beds I’ve seen that cost about £700.’
In the old bathroom, which was dominated by a huge, dated, semi-circular bath, Emma and Adam wanted a calm, comforting atmosphere and a practical, hygienic finish. ‘We covered the skylights to make it more cosy and put in underfloor heating – it’s
lovely in winter,’ says Emma. ‘We chose a space-saving suite with a wall-hung basin and loo to make cleaning the floor easier. Grey grout helps defines the tiles and keeps the overall look fresh.’
Their other sanctuary is their bedroom, which is simple in its decor, with Adam’s handmade bed, a freestanding Ikea Pax wardrobe and the designer rocker chair. ‘Our aim was to make it light and peaceful with a sense of calm, so there’s no TV,’ says Adam.
Once the renovation was complete, the couple emptied the spare room of all the half-used paint pots, and turned it into a study and guest room. ‘I can now close the door, sit at the desk and do my university coursework,’ says Adam. ‘We salvaged an original 1960s sofa bed from Emma’s mum’s garage and have already had friends and family over to stay. Everyone enjoys visiting.’
Now the work’s finished, the couple have had time to reflect on their experience. ‘I wouldn’t say the renovation was all plain sailing,’ says Adam. ‘There was a point where we had spent almost all of our budget and were paying for things like the furniture and final touches from our wages. But I was really impressed with Emma’s drive to finish the flat, because it was hard at times and she really encouraged me to keep going.’
Adam and Emma won £3,000 worth of vouchers to spend on DFS furniture. Runner-up in this category, winning £500 worth of vouchers for DFS, was Jane Jones from Yorkshire. See our February issue to find out about the winners of the two remaining categories.
STUDY/GUEST ROOM By creating an extra room, Adam and Emma now have a study area and somewhere for guests to stay. Adam designed and built the shelves and desk. The chair was a charity shop find
ICONIC SEATING The couple invested in an Eames rocker chair from John Lewis to add interest to their pared-back scheme
LIVING AREA Adam made the storage cabinet below the TV and added stylish hairpin legs from Wicked Hairpins
KITCHEN Sleek white gloss units from Howdens Joinery stand along one side of the living space
THE OWNERS First-time buyers Emma and Adam transformed their flat into a modern home
BEDROOM Beautifully simple, the serene space is painted in Dulux Pure White. Cushions from Made add colour and pattern. The light shade and wardrobes are both from Ikea