Renovating a London House: A Case Study
A London family talks about how they renovated a large run-down Victorian house over three years, turning it into a classic-contemporary style home.
“I still can’t quite believe the transformation,” says Claire Mansfield-Jones, as she recalls what her family’s now lovely classic-contemporary south London house was like when they bought it.
It hadn’t been touched since the 1980s and was very tired and run down – with decidedly peculiar décor, she recalls: “Gosh, it was a mish-mash of design horrors, with ‘80s paint effects like rag-rolling in some rooms, while others were very chintzy. And the bathrooms were rather 1970s soft porn, with sunken baths and floor-to-ceiling mirrored tiles over the walls.”
Neutral Colour Palette
Fast forward, and this large, light-filled house; which overlooks a small park close to the Thames; has been restored to a relaxed elegance. Walls are painted in taupes and creams, with pale oak boards on the ground floor, while the staircase and landings have a smart striped runner.
This was a first renovation project for Claire and her husband Jim, who have four children, and while it won’t be their last, they say it is not an experience they want to repeat just yet. “Don’t get us wrong, we love the results, and it’s all been worth it. But the problem was we lived here during the building work, which went on for over a year, and that was a huge mistake. The noise and the dust almost drove us mad,” says Claire.
The couple has lived in their house for five years, but they didn’t do anything to it for the first 18 months. “We wanted to get a feel for the house and work out what style we wanted to achieve, which is why we didn’t start renovating straight away and had to find storage units for our possessions,” says Claire.
Use an Interior Designer
Once they were ready to start, Claire says they swiftly realized they did not know where or how to start with such a big project. So a friend suggested they hire an interior designer, advice they leapt at. “I’m so glad we did, because I know we would not have achieved this house without the help of the professionals,” says Claire.
The couple worked first with a designer who devised the overall scheme, with an emphasis on natural materials and rich textured fabrics. She also sorted out builders and decorators to strip back the house to its bones, room by room, and then re-plaster, re-wire, lay new floors, and paint. “That heavy building work was hard-going because it meant weeks of dust and noise and men tramping all over the house!”
The second, more recent phase of the project has been to source quality modern furniture and lighting, and Claire have been working with London designer Paul Warren. “I’m really enjoying this phase,” she says. “Designers have great contacts in their little black books and I like learning where to source interesting pieces.”
Buy the Best Kitchen You Can Afford
The heart of the home, and Claire’s favourite room, is the sleek cream lacquer Nicholas Anthony kitchen, which leads into an informal dining/sitting room. “The previous owner had the kitchen in the back of the house, but we moved it to the front because it means we can look out onto the park in front of the house. I like to be able to watch the world go by when I’m cooking,” says Claire. The kitchen has a big island unit and the cupboards are handleless, which makes them unobtrusive.
The kitchen/diner was the only area where Claire felt the urge to introduce “a bit of pink and a bit of pattern.” The curtains have a vibrant pink flower motif (fabric by Manuel Canovas), which she finds cheering and feminine. The pink is picked up in the glass lamps on the console table, and in some of the Arne Jacobsen dining chairs. The glass splashback in the kitchen is also raspberry pink.
Invest in a Few Design Classics
Otherwise the neutral colour palette allows the couple’s collection of colourful paintings to stand out, as well key pieces of furniture and lighting, such as the Artichoke lamp in the hall and the Saarinen Tulip table in the dining area. “We have taken a less-is-more approach with furniture: We haven’t crowded the house, but we have invested in some classic pieces that will last us forever,” says Claire.
Top Tips for Novice Renovators
Take your time: Live in your property for a while to get a feel for it and decide what style of decoration you want.
If you’re having builders in to knock down walls and do major work; move out while they’re there if you can, as the dust is a nightmare.
Take professional advice: If you know nothing about interior decoration, you’ll end up ordering things that don’t fit and that don’t work together.
Invest as much as possible in your kitchen/dining area, because that’s where the family ends up spending the most time.
Don’t feel you have to do it all at once: It’s better to save up for some really nice dining chairs, then wait a year until you’ve saved up enough for a good table to go with it. Good furniture is expensive and you can’t pay for it all at once.