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

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