A period house renovation with a retro interior

Adding character to an extended Victorian home with a retro scheme and salvaged interiors

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High on the list of priorities for their new home, Rachel and Max McDonald-Taylor were looking for a property with a sunny garden and an extra bedroom, so friends could have their own space when they stayed over.

Although the couple scoured property websites and viewed countless houses, the sunny outdoor space in Hove proved elusive. The couple widened their search area as a result, deciding to consider properties in nearby Brighton, too.

‘Brighton was a new area for us but there was certainly more choice, and when we viewed this place we knew more or less that it ticked all the right boxes – especially thanks to the clear view at the back and lots of natural light,’ she adds.

Fact file

The owners: Max and Rachel McDonald-Taylor are both teachers who work with pupils with severe needs..

Their initial impression inside, though, was of a rather conservative house, but it had the all-important potential to be turned into a special home. ‘It was light, airy, and I remember noticing its floorboards oozing with character – imagine the stories they could tell,’ laughs Rachel. ‘It also had a south-facing garden, though it was a bit of a jungle.’

Although the interior was quite plain, Rachel and Max liked the fact that it offered a blank canvas to work with. One of the biggest selling points of the house, however, was its proximity to the beach. ‘On one of our viewings we timed how long it took to walk there, and at only 20 minutes that sealed the deal for us,’ says Rachel.

The plans

Both Rachel and Max were keen to get started on their plans to transform the property, ‘the kitchen needed an overhaul, and there was also an outdoor WC and utility room beyond it that needed to be sorted out,’ explains Rachel. ‘The garden, of course, needed a total makeover and the bathroom didn’t work for us either. We wanted to redesign the bathroom so that we could incorporate a shower cubicle, as well as a bath.’

‘The builders werevery professional and gave us a competitive price,’ says Rachel. ‘In terms of planning and building regulations, the Brighton & Hove local government website gave us all the information we needed and, if we had to call them for advice, the staff were very helpful. Our friend and next-door neighbour is an architect, so when we had any questions he helped us navigate our way through them. We planned everything ourselves and gave the builders detailed plans to work from.’

Adding space

The old outdoor WC behind the kitchen had been used as a shed and there was a small utility room beside it. The plan was to knock them through and build a link to incorporate them into the kitchen space to create a larger room. ‘As we were only extending within the existing footprint we didn’t need planning permission, and everything went fairly smoothly.

However, Building Control insisted we build the new part of the kitchen wall joining the old WC and utility to the back of the house with very deep foundations, despite the rest of the property having hardly any,’ explains Rachel. ‘That set us back a week or so, but apart from that, it was fine. We then had bi-fold doors fitted on the back wall of our newly extended kitchen so that we could see the garden. This made a huge difference as we now have so much more light and a lovely view outside.’


Mindful of their budget, the couple sourced many of the materials by researching prices online. ‘We did the same when it came to updating the bathroom, doing all our own planning, research and ordering, or making things ourselves,’ explains Rachel. ‘The previous bathroom layout didn’t make the best use of the space available, so with a bit of re-jigging we were able to fit in both a shower cubicle and a bath, as we’d hoped.’

Room schemes

With the building work complete, they were able to start styling their home with their own unique twist. ‘We like vintage pieces teamed with contemporary art, plus uncluttered rooms and beautiful secondhand items with a function,’ says Rachel. ‘We love picking up things for free or next to nothing and deciding what to do with them – whether to restore them to their former glory, change them or simply leave them as they are. It’s a treat to find something in a fleamarket or auction that looks as though it has a story to tell.’

Rachel and Max can now enjoy their renovated home. ‘It was a learning curve,’ says Rachel. ‘We’re delighted at how it’s all worked out, but if we were doing it again we might budget for a hotel stay for three weeks. Having no wall at the back of the house in February while the work on the kitchen was being carried out wasn’t much fun. Luckily, we’d installed a wood-burning stove by that stage, which generated enough heat to keep us going.’

Rachel says the work has certainly given them the building bug. ‘We sometimes look at other properties and dream of turning one into a bed and breakfast, but, for now, we’re transforming a van into a camper van,’ she says. ‘When it comes to this house, I wouldn’t ever want to say we’ve “finished” as we’re always spotting new items that are just perfect for this corner or that shelf. ‘For me, a home should grow with the people who live there and reflect the various, and changing, facets of their lives,’ says Rachel. ‘That’s why I like to think our home will always be a work in progress.

The costs

Kitchen building work£8,000
Bathroom building work£5,000
Accessories (shelving, radiators and soft furnishings)£3,950
Kitchen cabinetry£1,100
Doors and windows£800
Wall tiles£400