Why se­cur­ing a pe­riod fam­ily house in Sur­rey was a race against time

25 Beautiful Homes - - CONTENTS - Fea­ture Cassie Pryce | pho­tog­ra­phy DAVID GILES

When Cara Mills and her hus­band, Alex, found out they were ex­pect­ing twins, the clock started tick­ing to find the char­ac­ter­ful home they wanted. ‘We had our hearts set on Sur­biton,’ says Cara. ‘Alex grew up here and it has a fast com­muter train into Lon­don, yet plenty of green space for fam­ily liv­ing. We’d al­ready ren­o­vated a maisonette so were keen to take on a project.’

Hav­ing not been up­dated in more than 18 years, a project was cer­tainly what this house pre­sented. Ev­ery­thing needed gut­ting and the cou­ple had to make sev­eral struc­tural changes. ‘We did the work in three stages over four-and-a-half years, sav­ing up in be­tween,’ says Cara. ‘ We bought the house just two weeks be­fore the twins were due, so we fran­ti­cally called in dec­o­ra­tors.’

Three months later, phase two of the project be­gan, which in­volved re­mov­ing a chim­ney stack that was po­si­tioned through

the mid­dle of the house, open­ing up the now kitchen-diner into one large room and adding a cloak­room un­der the staircase.

Fast-forward three years and Cara and Alex were ready to tackle the fi­nal part of the ren­o­va­tion. Ex­tend­ing into the loft cre­ated two more good-sized bed­rooms, as well as a bath­room, util­ity room and at­tic stor­age space. ‘The plan is that the loft will even­tu­ally be­come bed­rooms for our girls, Bella and Mya, now four, when they’re older,’ says Cara. ‘But for now, we’re us­ing the space as a guest bed­room and a cosy snug.’

The cou­ple have also re­stored plenty of pe­riod features to pre­serve the char­ac­ter of the build­ing. Fire­places, cov­ing and pic­ture rails have been worked into the decor and ceil­ing roses have been re­in­stated. ‘Alex and I sanded and var­nished the wooden floors through­out, and painted the up­stairs floors white,’ says Cara. ‘It was back-break­ing work but there’s a lot of sat­is­fac­tion to be had from tak­ing on parts of a project your­self.’

When it came to de­sign­ing the in­te­ri­ors, Cara, an art di­rec­tor and graphic de­signer, had a clear vi­sion. ‘I like to mix old and new pieces but cu­rate them to work to­gether,’ she ex­plains. ‘I’ve found that hunt­ing in an­tiques shops is a great way to pick up un­usual finds at bar­gain prices.’ Cara used mood boards for each room to en­sure that she and Alex were on the same page. ‘I took in­spi­ra­tion from all kinds of places, in­clud­ing in­te­ri­ors mag­a­zines and In­sta­gram.’

With the ren­o­va­tion be­hind them, and the fam­ily set­tled in their new home, Cara is fi­nally able to re­flect on their hard work. ‘It’s amaz­ing to think how far we’ve come,’ she says. ‘The house we now call home is cer­tainly a far cry from the ne­glected and dated shell we took on five years ago.’

GUEST BED­ROOM In this light-filled loft space, the dress­ing ta­ble is placed in front of the win­dow to make the most of the view. Ch­ester­field tufted linen bed, from £ 425.50; Ali­ette fir wood con­sole, £115, both Maisons du Monde. Kartell Vic­to­ria ghost chair, £190, Amara. the tikamoon bam­boo linen rack, £39, is sim­i­lar

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