‘ We embraced our home’s history’
Stylist at Home Sophie, 33, kept the authentic character of her 1940s house by both preserving and updating in a sympathetic manner
aking on a period house that hadn’t been touched for many years was a challenge that appealed to my husband tom and me,’ says sophie, ‘as we absolutely knew that we could make a huge difference and create a home we could be truly proud of. We’d done everything we could to our previous two-bedroom 1980s house nearby, where we’d lived for nearly five years.
We were both brought up in this area of Hertfordshire, so we wanted to stay close to our friends and family, but knew if we were going for a bigger home, it would have to be somewhere that needed work doing. Luckily, Tom’s pretty handy and he has loads of friends in the building trade, so that didn’t phase us at all. We both love making changes to properties, and I think even if we found somewhere for the same price that was all finished, we’d still go for the project.
When I first looked around this 1940s house in 2011, not only were we the only ones who even wanted to view it, but also I think the builders we’d brought along for a second opinion thought we were mad. I don’t think anyone else wanted to touch the place. Once we’d convinced the estate agents we were serious about buying it, had an offer accepted, and the place was ours, we had two weeks’ grace before we had to move house in the September.
We were thrilled when we discovered we were only the third owners of our property. The first one lived here only briefly and after that, a lady had lived here for more than 60 years. Eventually she moved into a care home, but she left plenty of items in the house, some of which we’ve kept to preserve their history, and incorporated them into our scheme. We’ve displayed her old Singer sewing machine in the living room. There was a chaise longue sitting under the
bedroom window that we liked so much, we just left it there, and a wooden coat and hat stand/bench in the hall. Tom needed some convincing about the hat stand – at first he thought it looked like an electric chair! But he’s got used to it now, and it’s great to have a handy spot to sit and put on our shoes. There were, however, some odd pieces that we didn’t want to keep, like an unsightly row of chairs in the living room, but I had the bright idea of selling them all on ebay at £150, which gave a very welcome boost to our budget.
Although being untouched for many years had left the house with some great original features, it also meant that nothing had been updated either. There was no central heating, and the kitchen had only a sink and a cupboard. There
‘Look at the shapes and colours that already exist in your house and refer to them throughout to give a cohesive feel’
were no units, worktop space, or a cooker, and we knew we had our work cut out.
We made a bedroom habitable and painted all the walls cream temporarily, because we’d be living in the house the whole time we were doing it up. There was no proper bathroom, so we very quickly put a cheap one in, which is still going strong, although we do plan to replace it at some point. Installing central heating was a necessity, and we set ourselves a £10,000 limit for doing all the building work, including putting in a new kitchen and buying all the furniture.
Like many 1940s houses, the kitchen was a small galley-style space with a separate dining room that didn’t fit in with modern living. We wanted the two rooms to be turned into one large area. So we employed a local company that we knew and trusted, Caudle Developments, to pull down the wall, put in the supporting steel and totally replaster the new room, which took a couple of weeks and cost £1,800.
We commissioned some shallow wall cupboards, but we hadn’t realised they’d take six weeks to be made, so we didn’t have a kitchen for a couple of months – luckily we’d booked a long holiday in Thailand over that Christmas and the rest of the time we ate meals at the nearby pub or with family and friends.
With the kitchen all in place, we then made a decision to replace the windows, which increased the budget by £5,000, taking it up to £15,000, but we
‘Modern Mirrors can often seem out of place in a vintage setting so Make sure yours fit in with the age of the house’
were so pleased that we did. We were both determined to replace the old metal windows with something authentic to the age of our home, rather than the Upvc windows that you see everywhere. i know they’re practical and much cheaper, but for us it’s just not the same. We tracked down a local supplier, CW Windows, to carry out the work, and at £8,500, it was our biggest expenditure. But it was money well spent and plenty of our neighbours have told us how much they like them. the window frames are black on the outside and white on the inside, and we teamed them with white paintwork.
We’ve worked our way slowly through the rest of the house, renovating the rooms in the evenings and weekends. We’ve gone with the original features where possible – in the kitchen, the orange and brown of the tiled fireplace aren’t colours i would necessarily have chosen, but i decided to embrace them by seeking out a wallpaper with the exact same shades in it, so it all works together.
i’m an ebay fanatic, which was handy when it came to finding furniture and accessories. i am a bit obsessive once i get an idea in my head, and i’ll search for something for weeks until i find exactly what i’m looking for. i’ll often see an item in a designer shop or a magazine and then keep on looking on ebay until i find it. the dramatic lacquered Oriental cocktail cabinet that’s now in our living room was an ebay piece i fell in love with. although it was a good price, the seller lived in newcastle, and as tom was adamant he
wasn’t driving there to get it, we paid to have it delivered. another bargain was some barely-used mink velvet sofas. this time they were only around the corner, so tom picked them up in his van. they were a great find, as our budget was groaning!
tom and i are a good team, as he deals with the technical side of things while i’m more interiors-focused. But we both agree on major points and we like the retro look we’ve achieved. i love that everything has been carefully sought out and is individual – i never wanted an off-the-shelf home!’ See inspiring house tour videos and ideas at housetohome.co.uk/ styleathome