Real home: this DIY-savvy family makes the case for open-plan living

And with a huge renovation done for just over £70k, they've got some cost-cutting tips to share, too

Kitchen-diner with blue Shaker-style island, black and wood dining table and chairs, rattan pendant lights and wooden floor
(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Given the choice of keeping four poky rooms or having one huge open-plan space, Emma and Graeme didn’t have to think twice when renovating their four-bedroom character cottage in the Nottinghamshire village of Hucknall. With ample space to play with, they were able to turn a warren of dark and dated rooms into a light, bright Scandi-inspired kitchen-diner and living space.

Below, they've shared their house renovation story – plus some tips on how to save money with a bit of DIY savvy.

Before pic of kitchen with dark wood units, wooden dining table and chairs, and tiled floor

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

It was the potential for space that drew the couple to the property. ‘Having lived in our 300-year-old Grade II-listed cottage for eight years, Graeme and I wanted to start a family and move up the property ladder,’ says Emma. ‘Within days we noticed a detached house for sale a stone’s throw away with almost half an acre of land.’

Before shot of dining room with dark wood table and chairs, patterned beige carpet and dark wood staircase

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

The house had been well looked after by an older couple but was dated, with dusky pink carpets, patterned curtains and a dark pine kitchen. ‘Despite there being lots of poky rooms, the footprint was large and the location was perfect.’ 

Before pic of bathroom with striped peach and white wallpaper, white sanitaryware and white floor

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

The owners Emma Roberts, an interior stylist and blogger at Homebirds Styling, her husband Graeme, a sales manager, and children Arla, two, and Elvi, one
The property A four-bedroom detached cottage, built in 1780, in Hucknall, Nottingham
Project cost £72,000

With Emma being pregnant at the time, the couple’s aim was to knock together four rooms to create an open-plan kitchen, diner and living room before they moved in, as well as revamping the bathroom and master bedroom. ‘It would’ve been too stressful doing everything with a new baby, so my due date was our deadline,’ Emma adds.

Kitchen-diner with blue Shaker-style island, black and wood dining table and chairs, rattan pendant lights and wooden floor

Kitchen, Inspirational Interiors. Dining table and bench, Made in the Cellar. Classic Danish wishbone-style chairs, Only Home. Pendant lights, Vaunt Design

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

With interior stylist Emma as the creative powerhouse and taskmaster, and Graeme being a dab hand at DIY, the couple were able to save a fortune. Graeme spent the first eight weeks working on the house while Emma lived with her mum. ‘He used the Room Sketcher app to draw the layout and a builder friend, Dennis, knocked down the walls and installed a steel beam,’ says Emma. ‘I moved back in just two days before Arla was born!’ 

Kitchen with white Shaker-style units, blue island, black metal bar stools and glass pendant lights

Pendant lights, Vaunt Design. Metro tiles, Tons of Tiles. Artwork, Desenio

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Having seen an image of a Humphrey Munson kitchen with denim blue island and neutral units around the edge, Emma tried to recreate the look on a budget. 

‘I visited a few showrooms for layout ideas before finding a local company called Inspirational Interiors, who were brilliant,’ she says. ‘We’d planned to box in the boiler in the corner but our kitchen fitter said he could build us a double larder there instead. I’m so glad he did as we use it every day. Graeme’s obsessed with freeing up worktop space, so we opted for a wall-mounted cooker hood with corbels to conceal the extractor instead of a full surround, and a built-in microwave hidden in the island.’

Kitchen-diner-living room with black and wood industrial-style dining set, rattan pendant lights, blue sofa and white walls

Flooring, Polyflor Camaro LVT. Basket tray, Ikea. Pink crockery, Dunelm. Artwork, Desenio

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

‘The centrepiece in here is our bespoke reclaimed wood dining table,’ says Emma. ‘I got a furniture maker from Sheffield to replicate a design I loved on Pinterest. The rope on the glass pendants over the island echoes the rattan cage lights over the dining table. Sam at Inspirational Interiors suggested the Camaro LVT flooring as its wood finish and grey/blue tint complement the island.’

Living area of an open-plan space with blue sofa, wood flooring, black and white rug and blue metal locker

Corner sofa, John Lewis & Partners. Cushions, H&M Home and Next. Rug, Dunelm. ‘Eat’ letters, Matalan. Side table, Next. Tall cabinet (upcycled), Ebay

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

‘The staircase in the middle was a bit of a DIY job,’ says Emma. ‘Having knocked the wall out, we couldn’t have a normal bannister and spindles. We considered glass but with kids it would’ve meant dirty hand prints. In the end, Graeme spent £50 on timber and made and painted the simple spindles.’

Blue painted living room with brick fireplace, bench seating and monochrome rug

Fire, Stovax. Typography print, Abbie & Rattie. Basket, TKMaxx. Animal head, Wayfair. Star, The Range 

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

'In the living room I really wanted to go dark to create a more formal luxurious evening room as everywhere else was so light,’ says Emma. Graeme updated the dated gas fire with a 1970s brick surround, creating a new fireplace with reclaimed brick, a wood mantle made by an Ebay seller and York stone from a reclamation yard. ‘It looks much more expensive than it is,’ Emma adds.

Dark grey living room with grey velvet sofa, black and white boho rug, white studded ottoman and white mirror

Walls painted in Down Pipe, Farrow & Ball. Sofa, Loaf. Cushions, H&M Home and Home of Boho. Mirror, Maisons du Monde. Footstool and side tables, Wayfair. Rug, I Am Fy. Lamp and wall lights, Iconic Lights

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

‘The plan was to panel this room but we didn’t get round to it,’ says Emma. ‘Gloss paint gives the illusion of wood instead. Painting the dark wood window frames white made a huge difference, too. Graeme watches sport in here.’

Bedroom with blue panelled walls, beige upholstered bed, blue and white striped bedding and brass wall light

Panelling painted in Inchyra Blue, Farrow & Ball. Bed, Happy Beds. Duvet cover, Wallace Cotton. Wall lights, House Doctor. Bedside tables and white vase, Ikea

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

In the bedroom, Graeme panelled the back wall by attaching timber to batons. ‘We didn’t paint the wall behind and you could see plaster, so the decorator filled in the spaces with a small artist’s brush.’

Cream bathroom with panelled walls, monochrome patterned floor tiles, blue roll top bath and Shaker-style grey vanity unit

Bath and taps, Ripples. Vanity unit, Made in the Cellar. Flooring, Tons of Tiles. Wall painted in Cornforth White, Farrow & Ball. Light, Industville. Mat, Urban Outfitters

(Image credit: Katie Lee)
Costs & contacts

Building work £20,000
Kitchen and appliances £20,000
Furniture and décor £15,000
Windows £6,000
Bathrooms £6,000
Heating and electrics £5,000

Kitchen Inspirational Interiors 
Bathroom Ripples

The bathroom, with its dated corner bath, was also due an upgrade. Emma’s starting point was a striking image of a navy blue bath. ‘Having seen lots of expensive vanity units, we saved money by having one made by the same furniture maker who created our dining table,’ she adds. ‘Graeme sent him the sink in the post and he made it to fit for £400.’ The patterned floor tiles make a statement, so Emma kept the rest of the space simple.

Nursery with blue painted walls, monochrome rug, white and oak cot and white canopy

Walls painted in Oval Room Blue, Farrow & Ball. Canopy, Cam Cam Copenhagen. Cot, Snuz. ‘Arla’ letters, Jojo Maman Bébé. Rug, Dunelm. Bunting, Crafty Little Pickle. Print, Pretty In Print Art

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Most rooms received the DIY treatment, including Arla’s. ‘I was obsessed with having a wooden painted floor in there, which was the bane of Graeme’s life!’ adds Emma. ‘He spent about four days sanding it and adding rope between the gaps as the floorboards weren’t really good enough. It’s since got scratched to hell, so in hindsight, I’d advise going for a carpet as it’s more practical when babies start to crawl.’ 

The couple’s next project is to make the higgledy piggledy rear garden feel more open and modern. ‘Graeme also fancies turning an outbuilding into an office and gym before eventually converting the double garage into a guest annexe,’ says Emma. ‘The property is big enough to be our forever house – though Graeme has different ideas and would one day love to build an American-style oak-framed house.’

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