Converting a period property

Jill and Nigel Brown have extended into the basement of their 19th century property and redecorated with bright shades to create a modern, cosy home. The Victorian house has also been restored on the outside, with repointing on the chimneys, restored sash windows and a new roof

When Jill Brown spotted a beautiful Victorian house for sale in her local newspaper, she was puzzled that she didn’t recognise it. ‘My husband Nigel and I must have driven and walked past the property many times, as we lived nearby, but we never noticed it because it was set back from the road and shielded from view,’ she recalls.

‘From the moment we stood outside, we thought it was beautiful; we could see that it was a real hidden gem.’ The interior was in reasonable order, though not to the couple’s taste, and Nigel saw an opportunity to create an extra room by converting the basement. ‘It was a scary-looking space, which was damp and full of cobwebs. I couldn’t envisage ever spending time down there,’ Jill remembers. ‘Nigel was keen to create a TV/games room with a wine cellar – I call it the boys’ den.’

With their conversion plans in mind, the couple made an offer on the house. When it was accepted, they proceeded with a survey. ‘The report was lengthy and we knew there were problems that had to be dealt with – particularly the roof, which leaked quite badly,’ says Jill. ‘We bought the house in October and made the decision to complete the sale of our old home in December that year, giving us three months to carry out the major building work.’

Fact file

  • The owners: Jill Brown, a housewife, lives here with her husband Nigel, who is chief executive officer of an electronics company
  • The property: A five-bedroom detached Victorian house, built in 1860
  • The location: Farnham, Surrey
  • What they spent: The couple bought the house for £1.15million in 2009 and have spent around £110,000 on refurbishments. The property has recently been valued at £1.4million

Work begins

The builders moved in and, working to the 12-week deadline, began the basement conversion by lowering the floor to give the room more head height. ‘All the rubble that had been dug out from the floor had to be removed through a coal hole using buckets. It was a very laborious and messy job,’ Jill explains. ‘The old basement stairs were ripped out to make way for a new staircase and the walls had to be tanked in order to make the room watertight.’ In addition, a Velux window was fitted where the coal hole used to be and the room was plastered, transforming the basement into a liveable space.

Although the Browns didn’t work to a strict budget, they kept an eye on the costs. ‘All the sash windows were extremely draughty, but replacing them would have been very expensive, so we decided to have them restored,’ says Jill. ‘This was all done on site, window by window, with sashes and pulley systems replaced and draughtproofing fitted to each frame. We only had to replace two windows in the kitchen, which were too rotten to restore. I would definitely recommend restoring windows as it saves a huge amount of money.’

The leaking roof also demanded attention, so a roofing company was employed to replace the entire structure with new slate tiles. ‘We couldn’t have chosen a worse time to do it, as we experienced snow, storms and torrential rain,’ recalls Jill. ‘But the roofers were marvellous and carried on so that the roof was completely retiled in eight weeks.’ The existing chimney stacks were re-pointed at the same time, and one was rebuilt.


The kitchen

In December 2009, the couple moved into their new home as planned, although the contractors had not quite finished the work. ‘It wasn’t a problem as we could retreat to the kitchen. We just manoeuvred around each other for a short while,’ says Jill. ‘I used the time to start planning colour schemes for all the rooms and preparing for Christmas, as two of our children were still living with us.’ Taking a few weeks off from the renovation project over Christmas and the New Year helped the Browns to recover from the previous building work.

Soon, however, it was time for the next stage of the project to begin. In the kitchen, which remains unchanged, an ineffective electric heater was removed and a previously capped chimney was reinstated to accommodate a new wood-burning stove. ‘The kitchen was very cold and as the survey had reported that the chimney stack was in a dangerous condition, we decided to rebuild it,’ says Jill. ‘This was our best investment as the wood-burner keeps the room really warm in winter and we now spend most of our time in the kitchen.’

The bathroom

Upstairs, the existing family bathroom was updated and a new shower was installed, along with a modern basin unit. ‘I don’t believe in changing things if they are still in working order, so we kept the bath, along with the existing tongue-andgroove panelling,’ says Jill.

Although there were two bathrooms in the house, the Browns decided to convert a small bedroom into a wetroom by removing existing built-in cupboards, installing utilities and tanking the walls in order to create a watertight environment. ‘We also took the opportunity to install underfloor heating beneath the floor tiles, so as to keep the room warm,’ Jill explains.


Interior design

With the structural work finished, Jill turned her attention to repainting the interior with the help of a decorator. ‘The house was quite beige in appearance and I was keen to inject colour into each room, though I didn’t want the overall look to be too outrageous,’ she says. ‘I chose to use bold shades sparingly, rather than painting entire rooms in one tone.’

Featuring a combination of colours and fabrics, the interior has a relaxed, country house feel, with an eclectic mix of different furnishing styles. ‘It’s a real mish-mash, and I suppose that describes my decorating style to a tee,’ admits Jill. ‘I love to look in secondhand shops and market stalls; they really inspire me. I discovered some of the artwork in charity shops. It’s so satisfying to find lovely items that cost very little.’

Forever home

Now that all three of the couple’s children have left home, Jill has considered the future and is adamant that she and Nigel will never consider moving house again. ‘This is our forever home and we will live out our days here,’ she says. ‘I especially love coming back to our house at the end of a day when I have taken the dogs for a walk and I can sit down in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea.

‘This is a real family home. It’s so cosy that it feels as though it’s giving you a hug,’ Jill smiles. ‘I’m looking forward to having family get-togethers here in the future, and there is plenty of room for grandchildren to stay when they start to arrive.’

The costs

New slate roof£36,000
Basement conversion£24,000
Window restoration£15,000
Chimney and wood-burning stove£8,000