Before and after: this interior stylist's period family home oozes cool character

And it's full of apartment renovation inspiration

Black Shaker-style kitchen with oak topped kitchen table and cane chairs
(Image credit: Julia Currie)

During the 26 years they’ve lived here, Karen and Kevin have seen significant changes to their two-bedroom maisonette. After buying the ground floor of the beautiful Victorian building in 1996, the couple set about creating a home for the two of them until their son, Monty, came along. In need of more space – they’d sacrificed a second bedroom to create a larger kitchen – they bought the basement, then a communal area for the five apartments in the building, from their neighbours, and began a renovation.

Restoring this part of the building to its former glory – the couple found the original, blocked-off entrance to the basement in their own apartment – was the start of an ongoing journey to add charm and personality to their family home, from paneling their bedroom to restoring character to the living room with coving.

It’s clear that Karen's merchandising background and foray into styling have played a huge part in how the home looks today. She’s carefully crafted a beautiful and cohesive scheme across two floors, contrasting strong color palettes with natural textures that soften each room. We asked Karen to talk us through the space.

The kitchen

Before pic of kitchen with cream units

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

The owners Karen McBain (opens in new tab), an interior stylist, her husband, Kevin Steer, who renovates houses, their son, Monty, and cat Freddie
The property A two-bed maisonette in a property dating from 1895 in Guildford, Surrey
Project cost £30,000

'We bought the property as a ground floor flat within this Victorian building and, 10 years later, purchased the basement, so it now feels more like a house,' says Karen. 

'We’ve knocked down walls (the kitchen was originally two rooms), ripped out the kitchen and bathroom to put in new ones; it’s seen a fair few changes. Whenever we start thinking about moving, we just end up redecorating again instead.

'The kitchen was neutral with a dark wood worktop, and we decided we wanted more contrast, so we sprayed the units just as the first lockdown came into force. Everything suddenly looked very black – we questioned what we’d done for a minute!'

Black Shaker-style kitchen with oak topped kitchen table and cane chairs

Kitchen units spray painted in Pitch Black, Caperol via Paintshack (opens in new tab). Dining table, Neptune (opens in new tab), also painted in Pitch Black. Dining chairs, Cox & Cox (opens in new tab). Pendant lights, Ardingly Antiques Market (opens in new tab), with fittings and cord from Lamps & Lights (opens in new tab). Rug, Anthropologie (opens in new tab). Panelling paint color matched to Wevet (opens in new tab), Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

'We did the color first to try and draw the eye up from the units, and it works: it makes you more aware of the height of the room. The glazed wall units are a great frame for our collection of ceramics – I love artisan pottery so wanted to draw attention to them here. I love Wattle & Daub for vases, cushions, and vintage finds, and Design Vintage for plates and bowls. 

'I find it really interesting to look back and see how we moved forward with the color – something got our gut and we decided to go very black and white. We also painted the table legs and looked for some cane furniture to add textural interest.'

The living room

Before pic of living room with grey walls and patterned curtains and rug

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

Originally, the living room was painted grey with white skirting, but Karen repainted everything in the same color for added elegance. 

'In the lounge, we wanted something more breathable, and have added a couple of new pieces of furniture to give it a new lease of life,' says Karen. 'All of the period features were removed in the 1980s, so we made it a priority to reinstate what we could.'

Neutral living room with white painted walls, beige sofa, marble coffee table

Lounge sprayed with Caperol Amphibolin paint, color-matched to Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab). Beige sofa, (opens in new tab). Coffee table, Modern Twentieth Century Marks (opens in new tab) in Westerham. Pots, vases and cushions, Wattle & Daub (opens in new tab) in Godalming

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

'We added the coving in the living room to complement the fireplace, which was already here – it’s one of my favorite things about the whole house. That room, in particular, felt much more period in style until the recent update, actually; we got rid of the curtains and some of the more floral accents.'

Living room with white walls, ornate fireplace, beige carpet and natural accessories

Striped sofa, Kempton Market, upholstered in Ian Mankin (opens in new tab) fabric

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

The space is clutter-free, but Karen admits objects find their way into her home. ‘I see so many lovely things every day and I want all of them,’ she says. ‘I’m always trying to be more minimal but things keep creeping back in! Some people are eclectic and some minimal; I’m in between.’

The bedroom

Bedroom with blue panelled walls, leather headboard and red patterned rug

Walls painted in Notting Hill Slate from Designers Guild (opens in new tab). Bed, Sofas & Stuff (opens in new tab). Wall lights, Ikea (opens in new tab). Wreath, Wattle & Daub (opens in new tab). Bedside tables, Anthropologie (opens in new tab). Cushions, Day Birger Et Mikkelsen (opens in new tab) and Projektityyny (opens in new tab). Throw, Kempton Antique Market

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

Warm rugs and a wooden floor offset the cool grey paneling in the bedroom. Set in the basement, it fits with the downstairs scheme of dark grey, ash blue, and rust. 

'We’ve always gone very light in the bedroom, but as soon as we painted it darker, the transformation was amazing – it felt restful, more cocooning. The same thing happened with the small bathroom. Whenever we paint it light, it doesn’t seem to expand it – so we’ve embraced the darkness in there, too.'

Home office nook with wall-hung desk, wooden chair, rooflight overhead and natural accessories

Desk and flower print, both made by Karen. Chair, inherited

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

A light well in the bedroom makes for the perfect home office design. ‘I’ve always had a love of putting things on display,’ Karen says of the curios on open shelving. 

‘I remember putting things out in my bedroom when I was about four years old – and later on, I had a career in merchandising.’

The bathroom

Bathroom with blue painted panelling, patterned tile flooring and traditional fittings

Flooring, Dar Interiors (opens in new tab). Walls painted in Notting Hill Slate from Designers Guild (opens in new tab). Round mirror, Ikea (opens in new tab). Wall light, Lamps & Lights (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

'We decided we wanted the same color in the bedroom and bathroom for continuity,' says Karen. 

'We had paneling in the bathroom before but we took it a lot higher this time, which gives more of a feeling of space. We traced the flooring supplier after we spotted it in Cote in Guildford.'

The teen's room

Teenager's bedroom with green panelled walls, dark painted bed frame and geometric patterned rug

Bed, antique. Walls painted in Blue Gray from Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab). Rug, Ikea (opens in new tab). ‘Hello’ sign, gift. Curtains, Ian Mankin (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

Quartz worktop Alan Marble Stone (opens in new tab)
Caperol kitchen paint Paintshack (opens in new tab)
Cornicing Guildford Plasterworks (opens in new tab)
Kitchen Neptune (opens in new tab)

The couple's teenage son, Monty, had a hand in styling his room. ‘He chose the wall color – guided by me,’ Karen laughs. 

The herringbone wood floor is from a Harvey Nichols room set. 'Monty’s room is due an update imminently, so I think that will be my next project.'

The garden

Garden with white metal table and chairs

Table and chairs set, Ardingly Antiques Market (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Julia Currie)

A vintage table and chair set make the perfect spot for enjoying the spring sun in the garden. Karen has a hand from her husband when it comes to DIY. 'Kevin was an aircraft engineer until about eight years ago, but he’s always been handy – and now he’s a brilliant carpenter and can do everything.'

'Plumbing, plastering, decorating: the works. I love looking for ideas, which isn’t his thing – but he’s the doer, and I help him do. He definitely has his own opinions but luckily he always seems to like my ideas. He also relishes the challenge of figuring out how to do things, which is very handy.'

Of the house, Karen isn't finished yet. 'We’re always making little tweaks. Plus, once we think we’re done, we end up going back around all of the rooms again – it’s a never-ending project!'

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Ellen Finch
Deputy editor

Joining as features editor in 2017, Ellen now looks after the day-to-day running of Real Homes magazine as deputy editor. She also commissions and writes many of the real case studies you'll see on the site, and loves speaking to people about their homes and get the details on the hacks they've tried and loved. She's currently gearing up to buy a home of her own in 2023 – hopefully with a garden to plant veg and wildflowers – and has a special interest in sustainable living, clever book storage, and cats.