Se­rial thrillers

Bishop’s Stort­ford se­rial ren­o­va­tors breath­ing life into tired homes

Hertfordshire Life - - CONTENTS - WORDS: Pat Bram­ley

A ready-to-move-in house is the last thing this Bishop’s Stort­ford cou­ple want. Se­rial ren­o­va­tors, they’ve had the vi­sion to take on three tired homes, in­clud­ing this lat­est project, and make them into some­thing re­mark­able

Ben and Mairead Wright are an odd cou­ple. They love liv­ing with builders. Both be­ing cre­ative – he runs a brand­ing and de­sign com­pany, she’s an in­te­rior de­signer – they get huge sat­is­fac­tion from do­ing up houses. Their cur­rent house is the third they’ve done. The main ob­jec­tive is not to make a quick buck. For these two it’s all about spot­ting po­ten­tial that will en­able them to cre­ate a lovely place where they and their four young chil­dren will en­joy fam­ily life to­gether. That is, un­til Mairead comes across the next prop­erty need­ing TLC that says ‘buy me’.

Mairead was a HR man­ager for a com­pany in the City, liv­ing in a flat she’d bought in Snares­brook in north-east Lon­don with the help of the bank of mum and dad when she met her fu­ture hus­band. The first house they did up to­gether was a Vic­to­rian semi in the cap­i­tal.

‘I think do­ing up houses is in my genes,’ she laughs. ‘When I was a baby my par­ents bought an old house in Ep­ping that was a wreck. They did it up them­selves. They still live in that house. I prob­a­bly in­her­ited my love of creat­ing some­thing new from some­thing old from them.’

It started early, as a child, she re­mem­bers, she was al­ways re­ar­rang­ing her bed­room.

‘I love the whole process of redec­o­rat­ing. I love the process so much we keep do­ing it. As soon as one project is fin­ished I can’t wait to find a new one.’

Wil­low Springs is the sec­ond house in Had­ham Road in Bishop’s Stort­ford that they’ve vir­tu­ally re­built.

‘This is num­ber 131. The first was 124a,’ Mairead ex­plains.

‘It was part of a big red brick Vic­to­rian house that had been cut in half. The red brick part faces the road. Be­hind that was the cot­tage which was a to­tal wreck when we bought it – you could see the sky through the roof. What

‘I love the whole process. So much so, we keep do­ing it’

at­tracted us was that it came with a gar­den that was a third of an acre be­cause by then we had two chil­dren. I wanted our kids to have the same free­dom as my sis­ter and I had. We had a won­der­ful child­hood.’

Work on the cot­tage took about a year to com­plete but the fam­ily moved in af­ter nine months when it was hab­it­able. But it wasn’t long be­fore Mairead was back to check­ing Right­move al­most on a daily ba­sis on the off-chance of find­ing the next place with unspot­ted po­ten­tial. By then, she’d given up her job in the City and re­trained as an in­te­rior de­signer.

‘Strangely enough, I hadn’t been on Right­move when I heard this house was for sale. I didn’t know it was here. It’s down this tiny lane off Had­ham Road. It’s a lovely quiet spot yet it’s near the cen­tre of town – a won­der­ful po­si­tion.’

A close neigh­bour told her it was on the mar­ket. ‘We were hav­ing lunch to­gether one day when she men­tioned this house was for sale. She knew I was preg­nant with num­ber three. When I came to see it, it was one of those mo­ments when I knew I’d found a place that was ab­so­lutely per­fect for us.’

Archie was three months old when they moved to Wil­low Springs in 2013. Mairead re­mem­bers the re­moval men wheel­ing the chil­dren’s tram­po­line along the road be­cause it was too large to fit in the van.

The house was built in 1952. ‘The pre­vi­ous two we had done up had been old houses. Restor­ing and en­larg­ing a com­par­a­tively mod­ern house was some­thing to­tally new for us. We wanted to keep the original struc­ture but bolt on a dou­ble-storey ex­ten­sion with a flat roof cov­ered in se­dum – wild flow­ers – but the coun­cil plan­ners said no to a flat roof. They were adamant about it. In the end the house be­came much big­ger than we in­tended. Orig­i­nally it was four bed­rooms but be­cause they wouldn’t let us build an ex­ten­sion with a flat roof, it had to be a pitched roof like the original and there was no point hav­ing a loft with noth­ing in it so we ended up build­ing an­other four bed­rooms on the third level.’

Mairead says it has al­ways been a pri­or­ity that the whole fam­ily sleep on the same floor, es­pe­cially

BOT­TOM RIGHT: Wil­low Springs has been ex­tended to now in­clude eight bed­rooms

Colour­ful chaise longue gives a fun edge to one of the en-suite bath­rooms

‘Restor­ing and en­larg­ing a com­par­a­tively new house was to­tally new for us’

while the chil­dren are young. Con­se­quently, since they added the side ex­ten­sion there are now five bed­rooms on the first floor.

She and Ben share the master suite and the four chil­dren each have their own room – that’s el­dest son Finn (10), Archie (five) and daugh­ters Is­abel (seven) and Lola (three). Ev­ery bed­room has a bank of built-in wardrobes. There are also three bath­rooms on the first floor – one in the master suite and a fur­ther bath­room and shower room for the kids to share.

‘By the time we got around to plan­ning the layout of the rooms in the at­tic I was preg­nant again,’ Mairead re­ports mer­rily. The news led to a break with fam­ily tra­di­tion: ‘I’d never wanted to know the sex of the other three be­fore they were born but this time I did be­cause if it was a boy the new bath­room in the at­tic would have been an en-suite but when we found out the baby was a girl we made it a fam­ily bath­room. All the fit­tings for the new bath­rooms came from the Bath Store. They were ex­cel­lent. I made sure I got one of the largest baths ever made. It takes all four kids.’

She adds that although they don’t need eight bed­rooms, the at­tic rooms are ‘won­der­ful’ when they have the whole fam­ily to stay at Christ­mas – ‘They love it up there’ – and she uses one of the rooms as a study when she’s work­ing from home. Mairead and her sis­ter Emily, a mum of two, have gone into busi­ness to­gether. They’ve launched a de­sign com­pany geared to bright ideas for chil­dren’s rooms. It’s called Wild Hearts Won­der. Their on­line bou­tique spe­cialises in own-de­sign hand painted fur­ni­ture, fab­rics, fash­ion,

wall­pa­pers, ac­ces­sories: any­thing and ev­ery­thing to make the world a brighter place for kids.

Mairead adds that in the fu­ture the top floor could be­come a granny an­nexe or a teenagers’ den. ‘For this rea­son we de­cided to di­vide up the at­tic with stud walls that can eas­ily be taken down and the space rear­ranged.’

Hav­ing now re­mod­elled three homes, the cou­ple have gath­ered to­gether a group of tried and trusted crafts­men and sup­pli­ers. And while the pair know how they want to re­alise po­ten­tial, they com­mis­sion an ar­chi­tec­tural tech­ni­cian to draw up the plans to sub­mit to the coun­cil for plan­ning con­sent.

The pri­or­ity for the ground floor of their present home was an open-plan kitchen at the heart of the house con­nect­ing with a play­room in one di­rec­tion and flow­ing into a fam­ily room-cum-din­ing room in the sin­gle-storey ex­ten­sion at the back.

‘I wanted the din­ing room to have a cosy feel, that’s why it’s partly en­closed by a wall,’ Mairead ex­plains. As well as the open plan area there’s a sep­a­rate draw­ing room, a walk-in pantry (Mairead is a keen cook) and an over­sized cup­board with a sep­a­rate sec­tion for each mem­ber of the fam­ily to hang up their coats and stuff, ‘so ev­ery­thing gets put away’.

Per­fect for this big fam­ily, Wil­low Springs may be, but an itch needs to be scratched. Mairead has seen an­other prop­erty in the same road. She be­lieves the next one has the po­ten­tial ‘to be our for­ever house’. Well, that will be a first for the cou­ple. In the mean­time, their home in grounds of al­most half an acre is for sale through Sav­ills in Bishop’s Stort­ford for £1.85m.

BE­LOW:The chil­dren’s rooms ben­e­fit from their mother’s kids’ de­sign com­pany

RIGHT:Dark tones give a lux­u­ri­ous feel to the master suite

Dif­fer­ent floor­ing and zoned light­ing helps em­pha­sise the dif­fer­ent ar­eas in the open plan kitchen-din­ing-fam­ily room

The glass side ex­ten­sion opens to an out­side en­ter­tain­ing area and the ma­ture gar­dens be­yond

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