Real Home: 6 cost-cutting tips to learn from this budget-friendly period makeover

Emma and Adam transformed their entire Edwardian home for less than £15k – here's what we've learned from chatting to them.

Burgundy living room with blue velvet sofa, pink marble fireplace with ornate gold mirror, gold and walnut coffee table and cream oversized rug
(Image credit: Katie Lee)

We're always looking for tips on saving a bit of cash when it comes to a house renovation. From reusing to shopping second hand, there's plenty of ideas out there to help you get more out of your money – and the best way to learn the tricks is to speak to those who've done it before, like Emma and Adam Carr. 

The couple bought their detached Edwardian home in Cleethorpes after spending five years working in Dubai. ‘We knew we wouldn’t be staying forever so all the improvements were done on a bit of a budget,’ says Emma. ‘I had lots of extravagant ideas, like wallpapering ceilings and using even more colour, but always had to rein myself in knowing we’d eventually sell.’

Spending just £14,700 on their home makeover, Emma and Adam are pros at finding money-saving solutions to every room. And now, we're sharing their top tips with you – so get your notebook at the ready, because there's loads to learn…

1. It's all about reusing and recycling

White Shaker-style kitchen with blue island, black pendant lights and pink and brass bar stools

Island unit and work surfaces, Smart Kitchens & Bedrooms. Stools, Dunelm. Pendant lights, Made. Tiles, Tile Giant. Belling has similar black range cookers 

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

The owners Emma Carr (@ahomeinthetropics), a primary school teacher, her husband Adam, an IT director, and their children Daisy, five and Henry, two
The property A four-bedroom detached Edwardian house in Cleethorpes, built in 1911
Project cost £13,700

Using the existing kitchen units saved Emma and Adam thousands on this space – and they ended up spending just £3,000 on the room. 'The only thing we did straight away in here was to remove the old brown tiles in the kitchen and put up pure white ones – they gave an instant lift,' Emma says. 'We removed a dilapidated dresser to make way for a new island with modern pendant lighting above, and I was also happy to paint over the chunky black stripes on the walls, which just seemed far too modern for the house.’

As part of the kitchen revamp, an extractor was installed and boxed in to blend with the white wall. ‘The old extractor was useless as it didn’t even go outside,’ says Emma. ‘It’s not an expensive job as it’s only MDF but it makes an attractive,  characterful feature.’

2. Consider reclaimed for period pieces

Burgundy living room with blue velvet sofa, pink marble fireplace with ornate gold mirror, gold and walnut coffee table and cream oversized rug

Walls painted in Adventurer, Little Greene. Sofa, coffee table and stool, West Elm. Cushions and ceiling light, Made. Artwork, We Are Dorothy

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

From fireplaces to ceiling roses, you can find almost anything you need to restore period features on second-hand sites, reclamation yards and in junk shops. Expecting to pay around £1,500, Emma and Adam were delighted to find this reclaimed rouge marble fire surround in the living room for just £400 on Ebay. ‘It provided the starting point for the colour scheme,’ says Emma.

Colour-wise, she's made some bold choices: burgundy and navy enhance the  fireplace. ‘I normally paint the skirting boards the same colour as the walls as it enhances the character and ceiling height,’ she adds.

3. Don't be afraid to mix and match your pieces – and your sources

Dining room with dark wood floors, mid century dining chairs, blue paisley pattern tablecloth and blue panelled walls

Dining table, West Elm. Chairs, rug and ceiling light, Made. Tablecloth, La Redoute

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

The savviest shoppers see furniture buying as a marathon, not a sprint – and Emma is no exception. 'High-end modern furniture sits happily alongside vintage pieces in here,' she says. ‘We’ve gradually replaced our first home furniture with better quality pieces as we went along. I’ve strived to be quite sustainable by using reclaimed and salvaged items, with vintage décor accents like mirrors, plant pots and vases. I’ve also painted most of the art.’ 

Due to the lockdown, the dining table and elegant mid-century-style chairs haven’t
been used as much as was hoped. ‘I’d imagined hosting dinner parties for family and friends, but that didn’t happen!’ says Emma. 

4. Think outside the box for your bathroom

Bathroom with light grey panelling and white walls, wood floor, grey roll top bath, white Edwardian-style sink and gold ornate mirror

Taps and sink, Burlington. Flooring, Tile Giant. Wall lights, Amazon. Bath mat, John Lewis & Partners. Walls painted in Dulux's Pure Brilliant White and Farrow & Ball’s Peignoir

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Reinstating a period feel in your bathroom doesn't have to cost the earth, as Emma and Adam have shown – theirs cost around £3,000 to completely redo. ‘Apart from the shower area, we took out everything,’ she says. ‘The modern, fully-tiled space-age-style bathroom didn’t really suit a period house, so we went for a classic, traditional look instead.’ The roll-top bath was another Ebay bargain at £100. ‘It didn’t need enamelling, just a really good clean and a fresh coat of paint,’ says Emma. ‘The wood-effect ceramic floor tiles are really practical and easy to clean.’ 

5. Choose your 'splurge' items wisely

Pink bedroom with wall panelling, blue patterned feature wallpaper, black metal bed and light blue bed linen

Walls painted in China Clay Deep, Little Greene. Bed, DFS. Bedlinen, La Redoute. Pendant light, Home Lights Direct. Pimpernel wallpaper in Charcoal, Wallpaper Direct

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Kitchen island Smart Kitchens & Bedrooms
Woodburner Direct Stoves

In the master bedroom, William Morris wallpaper highlights the fireplace, acting as a feature and allowing Emma to use more wallet-friendly paint elsewhere in the room. She was mindful of honouring the house’s Edwardian past in this space. ‘It was plain grey with two modern ceiling lights on either side of the bed,’ she says. ‘But we added period-style coving, panelling and a big ceiling rose for an oversized central pendant.'

6. Get creative with your textiles

Child's bedroom with blue and white pinstripe wallpaper, white cot bed with terracotta bed canopy, rattan toy storage baskets and bunting

Estelle wallpaper, Sandberg. Country Collection cot, Boori. Canopy, The Modern Nursery. Bunting, Nobodinoz. Rug, Bloomingville. Baskets, Dunelm

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Keen to transform her kids' rooms on a budget, Emma took the decor into her own hands by dying their old bed canopies to match the new scheme. 'In Henry's room I didn’t really want a single theme, so there’s a mixture of his favourite things – space, dinosaurs and pirates,’ she says. ’There are lots of baskets for storage as they look much nicer than plastic ones'

Child's room with beige walls, burgundy bed canopy and blue and pink floral pattern bed linen

Bed, vintage. Canopy, The Modern Nursery. Bunting and cushions, handmade. Star bunting and bedding, H&M Home. Bedside table, La Redoute

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

A warm neutral grey beige shade was chosen for Daisy’s bedroom. ‘At the time I was so sleep deprived with both children,’ says Emma. ‘Creating a calm space to help her sleep without too many distractions was important. She loves purple, so I dyed the bed canopy for her and added mixed floral soft furnishings.’

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