Before & after: A stunning country cottage makeover with a budget-friendly secret

Budget-smart Alexandra and Toby Hull used stylish finds that others had thrown out to furnish their spacious renovated house

open plan living and dining area
(Image credit: David Woolley)

Shop your local tip, yes, that's right, the tip, and you could find unexpected gems and fill your home with character pieces. That's the advice of Alexandra and Toby Hull, who made their new kitchen extension look cosy yet unique with items found where other people went to throw out their unwanted clutter and old furniture.

Coupled with their determination to do as much work as they could themselves, they were able to save themselves a packet as they gave their ex-local authority house in Alton, Hampshire, a country cottage makeover for £80,000.

For practical advice on how to renovate a house, read our essential guide.

Alexandra and Toby Hull renovated their home to create a spacious living area filled with stylish finds

(Image credit: Alexandra and Toby Hull)

Bright open plan dining area with wooden table and plants

(Image credit: David Woolley)

The before

'The house had everything we wanted including a large garden with views out over fields, yet it was close to London so Toby could still commute,’ says Alexandra. But while the location was perfect for Alexandra, managing director of architectural remodelling company Back To Front Exterior Design, and environmental charity project manager Toby, the inside of the 70-year-old-semi was looking its age. 

Built in 1948 for the local authority, downstairs was divided into lots of smaller rooms, with a narrow galley kitchen, an outside toilet and a uPVC conservatory that had seen better days. Upstairs wasn’t much better, with a dark and narrow landing.

The couple planned a major renovation, moving the bathroom into the smallest bedroom and converting the loft to create a larger third bedroom. On the ground floor, a new utility replaced the conservatory, while existing rooms were combined to create an open-plan kitchen-living-diner.

Alexandra and Toby Hull renovated their home to create a spacious living area filled with stylish finds

(Image credit: Alexandra and Toby Hull)

front of ex-local authority house

(Image credit: David Woolley)

The process

Alexandra used her professional skills to take charge of designing and managing the six-month renovation project. ‘I did the maths and budgeted about £80,000, which relied on Toby and I doing the bulk of the work at weekends and evenings,’ she recalls.  

All their spare time and holidays were spent tackling the structure of the house. ‘We knew that we had to take everything apart,’ she says. ‘It was just Toby and a carpenter doing the work, but within two weeks they’d ripped out the pipework, ceilings, kitchen and bathroom.’

After four months, the house was completely stripped out and they could start the mammoth task of putting their home back together. ‘We moved pretty fast as we wanted to get the job done. We even built the side extension for the utility room in a just a week.’ The couple moved back in eight months after work started, with just the decorating to do.

Alexandra and Toby Hull renovated their home to create a spacious living area filled with stylish finds

(Image credit: Alexandra and Toby Hull)

white sleek modern kitchen

(Image credit: David Woolley)

The details

In the new open-plan kitchen-living-diner, they were keen to make the kitchen ‘disappear.’ ‘It was a big space so we went for white matt units and a stainless-steel worktop,’ says Alexandra. 

They furnished with homewares they’ve collected from car boot sales and antique markets over the years. ‘Our local tip sells furniture that other people throw out, which is where we got a lot of pieces,’ she adds. And they recycled and repurposed for a one-of-a-kind look, with a linen cupboard created out of a pair of antique salvaged doors and bookshelves made from scaffolding planks.

Even their colour palette was a cost-conscious choice – they painted it all white, with oak flooring and grey-blue woodwork. ‘It meant we could buy a job lot of paint rather than different colours for each room, which saved money,’ explains Alexandra. 

Savvy shoppers, we salute you!

Maxine Brady
Maxine is a freelance interior stylist and writer. She can be found blogging on her site We Love Home, where she covers the latest trends and her own projects in her Victorian terrace in Brighton where she lives with her dog Teddy.