Esther Bauer and her husband Mark decided nine years ago that the time was right to move from their south London home to the countryside. They wanted to give their growing family more space and a rural upbringing, and put together a list of essential requirements.
‘We wanted a home with plenty of character, a big garden and enough room for us as well as any visiting friends and family,’ recalls Dutch-born Esther. ‘It also needed to be near decent schools, part of a community, and within easy access of both London and the Eurotunnel for trips back to Holland.’
Having decided to settle in Kent, they also checked the logistics of commuting to London, and chose to focus their search within a specific area – with Sevenoaks as its boundary line – so that Mark’s daily journey to work would be convenient.
This meant that when the couple first came across a large five-bedroom Victorian villa in the village of Staplehurst, which was further afield than Sevenoaks, they reluctantly dismissed it, despite it ticking all their other boxes.
- The owners: Esther Bauer, an interior designer, and her husband Mark, who works for a media agency, live here with their three children, Max, 12, Jaap, 10, and Fleur, eight
- The property: A five-bedroom detached Victorian house, built in 1892
- The location: Staplehurst, Kent
- What they spent: The couple bought the property in 2003 for £450,000 and have spent around £80,000 on renovating it. It is now valued at around £750,000
First, though, the family had to take up residence. Esther was expecting their third child, Fleur, at the time and knew they wouldn’t have much time or opportunity to make the house clean, fresh and family-friendly. ‘By coincidence, a few days after we moved in, we were going on a longarranged holiday in Spain with my parents,’ she says. ‘We decided to get started straight away and employ a team of decorators to give the whole place an overhaul from top to toe while we were away.’
The effort proved worthwhile. When the family returned, the walls and woodwork had been re-painted in soft, subtle colours, and the carpets had been removed so that there was a blank canvas to work with. ‘Suddenly, we had a home that felt more like ours,’ Esther recalls. ‘It was just the beginning, but this fresh start meant we could live in our new home comfortably while we planned what to do next – and save up the money we needed for it.’ Shortly afterwards, other major changes added to the house’s transformation, including a new family bathroom. The original floorboards downstairs were sanded and varnished, and the lino in the kitchen was replaced with terracotta tiles.
In addition, there were key structural changes to the downstairs layout: ‘The kitchen originally led to the dining room, through a small living room we intended to make the children’s playroom,’ explains Esther. ‘We decided to remove a wall and fitted cupboards on one side of the dining room’s fireplace, then took away part of the far wall leading to the playroom so that the rooms flowed from one to another. Apart from emphasising the overall space, it meant I could see the children when I was in the kitchen.’
Updating the kitchen was one of the Bauers’ key projects. The room didn’t have the light-filled wow-factor Esther was hoping for, so a couple of years later – when finances allowed – the couple decided to go ahead with redecorating the kitchen and extending it with a glass structure featuring French doors that open out on to their garden.
‘This was where the project came a bit unstuck,’ admits Esther. ‘I knew I wanted lots of glass, but couldn’t find a design that seemed right, even though we looked for one for ages. I eventually contacted a large national company that I thought would provide us with the service we were looking for, and we decided to go ahead.’
Although the builder contracted to the company was good, the work was fraught with problems in other respects – from lost paperwork to a schedule that didn’t get met. ‘In retrospect, I wish we’d shopped around more and got personal references – we were too impulsive,’ says Esther. ‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing.’
Once the extension was finally in place, Esther faced another problem. ‘I wanted to use the same floor tiles in the extension as we had in the kitchen, but to my horror, I discovered the company we’d got them from was no longer in existence, and I couldn’t find the same tiles anywhere else. In desperation, I searched the internet and eventually tracked them down from a company in Spain. Fortunately, when the tiles arrived, they were the right ones.’
While all this was going on, the kitchen also received a much-needed redesign. ‘We chose to install a big range oven, but although the Smallbone of Devizes units already in situ were at least 25 years old, they were in excellent condition, so we just gave them a simple update,’ says Esther. This was achieved by painting the pine units mid-grey, changing the knobs and handles, and tackling the original terracotta-tiled worktops. ‘I was really worried about taking these off though, because I thought it might damage the units,’ she explains. To overcome the problem, she found a local carpenter and asked him to create the look of a chunky oak worktop by making a new top to place over the original work surface, with a lip edging to cover the tiles underneath.
As the house evolved, Esther found she was enjoying taking on the decorating projects, whether re-painting a room or renovating an old piece of furniture, and it confirmed to her that she wanted to take a different direction when it came to resuming a career. ‘I worked in investment banking before I had our children,’ she explains, ‘but with a family, it wasn’t something I wanted to continue. I’ve always loved interior design – and frequently helped friends with their own decorating schemes – so I decided to take a course and see where it led me.’
Esther has now developed a signature decorating style of soft muted colour schemes that hint at her Dutch roots and have a distinctive Scandinavian feel, too. ‘It’s a look that works beautifully, whatever the age or style of a property,’ she says. ‘My aim is to make a home feel calm, relaxed and comfortable. It’s what we wanted when we moved here, and this house has allowed us to do just that.’
|Initial decorating, renovating and building work||£10,000|
|Glass extension and kitchen improvements||£50,000|