DIY transforms 1930s house into dream home

With several renovations behind them, Mary and Paul had creative expertise to draw on when it came to transforming their 1930s house Real home: Couple's DIY skills helped them to create their dream home

Mary and Paul used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home
(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

Renovating a home is not for the fainthearted. It takes a certain gritty determination, patience and a lot of imagination to see it through, and even emerge with the enthusiasm to do it all over again.

Mary and Paul Walker-Harrod have the true grit of the born renovators. They’d already tackled their own home makeovers when they met, and after they married, they moved to Epping where they found a house to do up together. Four years later, in 2006, they moved back to the town where Mary grew up.

Mary and Paul used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

‘The kitchen area is really open and light. We had such a small, dark and cramped kitchen before, we wanted completely the opposite,’ says Mary. Brooklyn pendant lights,  Industville (opens in new tab). Rattan bar stools, Dunelm (opens in new tab). Engineered oak wood floor, Boen (opens in new tab). Floor tiles, MGA Tiles (opens in new tab). Underfloor heating, ThermoSphere (opens in new tab). Wall plant holders, Umbra at Trouva (opens in new tab). Units and Quartz worktops in Capri, Wren (opens in new tab). Handles, Plank Hardware (opens in new tab). Ovens, cooker hood and hob, Neff (opens in new tab) Rooflights, VELUX (opens in new tab).

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

‘The main reason was so the children could go to the school that I went to as it’s a really good school and my mum taught there. And I wanted us to be nearer my family; my brother lives just down the road,’  says Mary.

Profile

The owners Mary Walker-Harrod (@my_renovating_diary (opens in new tab)), a business manager for a media company, and her husband, Paul, a project manager for a law firm, their daughters, Matilda and Emma, show cocker spaniel Stanley and rescue cats Willow and Bluebell
The property A 1930s four-bedroom extended semi in Woodford Green, London
Project cost Around £180,000

Inevitably, the home they bought there was livable in, but packed with the potential for improvement in the future: ‘The couple who owned it had done it up quite nicely, extending out to the side. They had permission to extend out the back but hadn’t – so it had a tiny kitchen with a double-sized living room,’ Mary recalls. ‘We really loved the garden, which had been professionally landscaped.’

Mary and Paul used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

‘Paul made the table from scaffold boards,’  says Mary. ‘We found the machine legs from New York and bought them on Ebay – the whole table only cost £50.’ Hamilton dining chairs, Next (opens in new tab). Bench   Masterplank (opens in new tab). Rug, French Connection (opens in new tab). Throw, Next (opens in new tab). Jug, Habitat (opens in new tab). Floor uplight, Iconic Lights (opens in new tab). Clock, John Lewis & Partners (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

Rather than starting work immediately, Mary and Paul waited for 16 years before beginning a top-to-bottom transformation. ‘We didn’t have the money to do it before,’ she says.  ‘And I don’t think we could have done what we did with little children.’ Finally, in 2019, they consulted an architect and drew up plans for a loft conversion to create a new master bedroom, and a three-metre rear extension for a large open-plan kitchen-dining-snug room. They also raised the garage floor to make a suitable space for a downstairs toilet and utility.

Mary and Paul used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

Instant boiling water tap, Fohen (opens in new tab). Samos sink, Wren (opens in new tab). Porcelain brick backsplash tiles, Mandarin Stone (opens in new tab) Walls painted Brilliant White matt, Dulux (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

Their application for a hip-to-gable loft extension was rejected as not being in keeping with the rest of the estate; they compromised with a dormer and Mary regretfully lost her dream dressing area in the master suite. ’The builder did the loft first – it took about two to three months. We were able to live up there while the rest of the work went on.’ 

Mary and Paul used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

Cushions and throw, French Connection (opens in new tab) and H&M (opens in new tab). Corner sofa, Sofa.com (opens in new tab). Pouffe,  John Lewis & Partners (opens in new tab). Mural,  Jungle Land by Rebel Walls (opens in new tab). Floor lamp, vintage. Mirror, vintage. G Plan Fresco sideboard, vintage. Lamp, Next (opens in new tab). Flooring, Boen (opens in new tab). Wall painted in Plover, Graham & Brown (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

The builders were with them from April to October, but Mary and Paul realised the contractor was a little out of his depth with the complexities of a large project. ‘He was okay, but he quoted too low. He hadn’t included splitting a bathroom into two, so our daughters had one each. And he made mistakes we had to correct, like getting the floor height right.’

Mary and Paul used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

‘We have a grapevine we’re looking forward to growing over the pergola to offer even more privacy,’ says Mary. Pergola, made by Paul and Mary. Rug, Next (opens in new tab). Sofa and footstool, Wayfair (opens in new tab). Cushions, Ikea (opens in new tab). Lights and lamps, Festive Lights. Baskets, Bakker.com (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

Fortunately, Paul’s DIY skills came to the fore, and when the builders left, the couple were able to complete a lot of the renovation work themselves.  ‘We got the finish we wanted through our own efforts,’ says Mary. ‘We kind of preferred that. I’ve always had that passion for home styling, and when we decided to do this, all the things I’d been dreaming and thinking about came to the forefront.’

Mary and Paul used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

‘The washer and dryer used to be in a kind of basement off the garage. It was just bare walls and stone floors. It was horrible,’ says Mary. Walls painted in Sundance, Graham & Brown (opens in new tab), and Brilliant White, Dulux (opens in new tab). De-Segni floor tiles, Minoli (opens in new tab). Step stool, Ikea (opens in new tab). White stool, John Lewis & Partners (opens in new tab). Clothes airer, Ebay (opens in new tab). Doris Day print, Poster Lounge (opens in new tab). Hooks, H&M (opens in new tab). Washer and dryer, Samsung (opens in new tab) and Indesit (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

The project took two years to complete, with 2021 dedicated to installing the kitchen, doing the garden and decorating. ‘It was an organic process, and because it’s been a big investment financially and in our lives, it took time for us to make the right decisions,’ says Mary.

Mary and Paul used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

‘One of the things we were always obsessed about was having a downstairs toilet.’ Bitton basin and toilet, Sanctuary Bathrooms (opens in new tab). ‘The Great Show’ wallpaper, Limited Abode (opens in new tab). Panelling, Wickes (opens in new tab), painted in Stone Blue, Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab). Mirror, vintage. Towel hook, H&M (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

One of the great successes of the build has been the increased connection with the garden from the kitchen, with slide and pivot windows opening up completely to the outside. Inspired by images she’d seen on instagram, Mary designed a pergola for Paul to build to cover their outdoor lounge area. ‘We have flats at the back and it was about trying to create privacy in that section. People ask if it takes away light from the kitchen, but it teems in through the rooflights.

Mary and Paul Walker-Harrod used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

‘When styling, I like personal things that mean a lot to me. That’s why I like having vintage things around me, or from my travels and countries I’ve been to. Things that remind me of people.’ Panelling painted in Down Pipe, Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab). Korlok Baltic Washed Oak flooring, Karndean (opens in new tab). Wreath, PutawreathonitUK (opens in new tab) on Etsy. Bedding/throw, bedside tables and chair, all H&M (opens in new tab). Girl With a Pearl Earring picture, John Lewis & Partners (opens in new tab). Bedside lights, Creative Cables (opens in new tab). Rug, La Redoute (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

It is a renovation cliche, but the new open-plan kitchen space, and particularly the island, has helped to bring them all together as a family. ‘As teenagers, the girls lived very much in their rooms,’ says Mary. ‘Since we’ve had the kitchen, they’ve come out and it’s very much more sociable and easier to get that family time.’

Contacts

Architect Paul Duffy at BetterPAD (opens in new tab)
Structural engineers Simple Works, (opens in new tab) 

Mary and Paul Walker-Harrod used creative expertise and DIY skills to finish their dream family home

The one thing I wanted in the bathroom was a bidet, which people always laugh at. But I love it! I lived in France and it was something I really liked in French bathrooms,’ says Mary. De-Segni flooring, Minoli (opens in new tab). Wall tiles, MGA Tiles (opens in new tab). Sanitaryware, Sanctuary Bathrooms (opens in new tab). RAK shower, Bathroom Planet (opens in new tab). Panel, Soak.com. Crosswater shower valve, Tap Warehouse (opens in new tab). White metro tiles, Topp Tiles (opens in new tab). Wooden stool, The Handcrafted Furniture Co (opens in new tab).

(Image credit: Megan Taylor)

All their hard work and financial sacrifice has been worth it to create a home they love and which works for how they live now. However, Mary admits she’d like to do it again! ‘When the girls are at uni it might be too big for us. Doing houses brings Paul and I together; we work well as a team. I said “are we getting too old for this?”, because things do start to hurt. But he said “I think we’ve got another one in us.”.‘

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Alison Jones
Assistant Editor

Alison is Assistant Editor on Real Homes magazine. She previously worked on national newspapers, in later years as a film critic and has also written on property, fashion and lifestyle. Having recently purchased a Victorian property in severe need of some updating, much of her time is spent solving the usual issues renovators encounter.

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