After viewing more than 30 properties, Wesley O’Brien and his partner Patricia Coleman had almost given up hope of finding a new house, but their luck was about to change. ‘We had viewed so many properties, prices were rising at the time, and most houses were sold at auction and far exceeded the reserve price,’ remembers Wesley.
After several disappointments with sales falling through before completion, the couple decided to take a more direct approach to finding a new home, by explaining to homeowners via a leaflet drop that they were interested in buying their property. Focusing on houses in their chosen area that had original sash windows, pretty exterior features and interesting gardens, the idea soon paid off.
The owners: Wesley O’Brien, an interior designer, lives here with his partner Patricia Coleman, a civil servant, and their daughters Katie, 20, and Julie, 17
‘The owner of one house replied to us, and we were invited to view the property,’ Wesley recalls. ‘When we turned up, we were instantly smitten by it.’ Wesley and Patricia had included information on the leaflet about the amount they were prepared to pay for the house, and luckily for them, the owner was happy to agree a sale at their price.
The house was full of character, with a beautiful front door featuring a leaded-glass design, plus unusual stained-glass dividing doors in the main reception room. It also had huge sash windows and a full set of matching ebony door handles and fingerplates. Despite all this, however, the property required a huge amount of work: there was rising damp and most of the walls were covered in woodchip wallpaper, while the kitchen was badly laid out and very dark, with small windows that let in only a tiny amount of natural light.
Before moving into their new home, the couple lived with family for three weeks so that they could make some essential changes to the property, which included damp-proofing, rewiring, and upgrading the existing heating system. With only a limited budget available, the existing kitchen was given an inexpensive update, with new rooflights and French doors fitted to let in more light.
Shortly after moving into their new home, Wesley was unfortunately made redundant. Money was tight, so he realised that he would have to do most of the additional renovation work himself, and threw himself into the project, stripping off all the woodchip wallpaper, plus sanding, painting and varnishing all the floors. He also stripped down the stairs and added an interesting design feature by painting them to look as though they’re covered by a striped stair runner. To update all the doors and sash windows, they were first stripped bare by hand, and then all the necessary repairs were made before they were eventually re-painted.
As the work on the house progressed, some of the neighbours began to take an interest in what Wesley was doing. ‘They seemed to like my ideas and a few of them asked for my advice on how to update their own houses, which I realised presented a possible business opportunity,’ he recalls. ‘With this in mind, I decided to set up my own decorating and design business, which really took off.’
After 10 years of living in their home, and with Wesley’s design business going well, the couple were ready to make more major improvements to the house. First on the list was the large loft area, which had fantastic potential to be converted into a useable living space. ‘We decided we didn’t want a fifth bedroom, but a private space for ourselves instead, so we positioned the stairs to the room from the master bedroom, which spans the whole width of the house,’ explains Wesley.
‘This meant that there was plenty of room for an extra bathroom and a large home office,’ adds Patricia. ‘We now have a huge amount of storage to hold all of Wesley’s decorating books, magazines and business papers.’ Although the couple didn’t require planning permission to convert the loft, in order to receive the certifi cate of compliance signing off the work done by the builder, they had to fit a sophisticated fire alarm system.
The next home-improvement project that the couple undertook in 2009 was the kitchen. Determined to change the layout to improve the space, Wesley decided to demolish the west-facing lean-to at the rear of the kitchen and put in a new fullwidth extension with a south-facing roof, complete with rooflights and high glass walls. ‘I actually drew up this design for a friend, but the girls and Patricia loved it so much that I adapted it to use it for our own home,’ he explains. ‘This extension was all about creating light and space, plus it gave us the opportunity to increase the kitchen’s storage capacity.’
The couple had to submit plans to the local council for a certificate stating that the extension was exempt from planning permission, which was granted within eight weeks. During the fi ve-month extension project, the family rented a house across the street so that they could be nearby to deal with any potential issues.
The house is L-shaped, so although the extension runs the full width of the rear of the house, part of the side return behind the extension has been left as outdoor space, which can be accessed from both the new kitchen and the rear living room. This was crucial to the success of the new extension as it allows light to fl ow through from all directions and also stops the rear living room from feeling dark and enclosed. The outdoor space has two distinct areas – the main garden to the rear of the house, and this smaller courtyard tucked away between the original house and the new extension, featuring a decked area perfect for a café table and chairs.
Just as with the other projects on the house, the couple had a tight budget for the extension, and admit that they ended up spending more than expected. ‘As the plan for the extension developed, we discovered that the engineering work, such as the steel support structure and the extensive underpinning that was necessary, would add to the budget significantly,’ admits Wesley. ‘We also looked at a number of different window systems, but were so impressed by our eventual choice that we couldn’t consider any alternative.’
To save money, the couple decided to re-use the old kitchen units, which were still in good shape. Wesley then designed and commissioned some simple Shaker-style doors for the units, plus the original beech worktops were combined with a new granite one. ‘Recycling our old kitchen and upcycling pieces of furniture that we already owned was a great help in cutting our costs,’ recalls Patricia. ‘With our small reserve funds, we just about managed to get all the work completed.’
When it came to finalising the décor for the house, the couple opted to keep the colours as neutral as possible. In the living room, for example, walls are painted in a soft taupe tone, and the space is furnished with a selection of antique chairs and a new sofa, all re-upholstered for an updated look. The blinds were specially made to fit the large sash windows, and the couple chose a rug to add texture and warmth. The large stained glass doors open on to a second reception room, which looks on to the small courtyard space. Upstairs, the couple have continued the neutral palette, with varnished or painted floorboards giving each of the rooms a traditional feel.
Wesley and Patricia’s house is the result of a huge amount of hard work, and the result is a stylish and eclectic mix of old and new. ‘We’re thrilled with the changes we’ve made to the house and it’s turned out much better than planned,’ says Wesley. ‘We’ve turned what was a dark house into a really light, welcoming space.’
|Carlson alu-clad window||£10,000|
|Roof including 500mm rigid insulation||£9,000|
|Pointing and brickwork repairs||£5,000|
|Refurbishing existing windows||£4,000|
|Garden including plastering walls and granite paving, decking and brick walls||£3,500|
|Kitchen including appliances and granite worktop||£2,500|
|Kitchen floor tiling||£1,500|
|Fire alarm system||£1,000|