Lucy Alston’s career as a fashion stylist and lifestyle blogger is all about having vision and celebrating beautiful-looking things. So it comes as a shock to learn that she just couldn’t see the charms of this 1930s semi at first. ‘For me, this kind of house had too many granny-in-suburbia connotations,’ she admits. It was her partner, David, who convinced her to take it seriously, pointing out the beautifully proportioned
rooms and sense of space. ‘David has been the driving force in this project from
the start,’ Lucy adds. ‘It could never have happened without him.’
The couple and their then baby daughter, Clemence, now seven, moved here
in 2013 and began work straight away, starting at the front of the house before moving on to the rear extension. They camped in different rooms and rigged up an improvised kitchen in the garage.
‘The dust and upheaval was terrible for all of us – especially Clemence – but would we do it the same way again? Probably,’ Lucy says. ‘We saved a lot of money that we could spend on things like a beautiful sofa.’ David scoured the country to find materials at the best price – even bringing timber down from Scotland – and drafted in builders from his home town in the West Midlands.
The owners Lucy Alston, a fashion stylist and lifestyle blogger (@thestylesponge_ (opens in new tab)) and partner David Sutton, who works in insurance, and their daughter, Clemence, seven
The property A four-bedroom semi-detached 1930s house in Beckenham, south London
Project cost £180,000
The team took the place back to bare brick, replumbing and rewiring. Their builder came on board as a plasterer, but ended up doing most of the work himself. His father, another builder, drew up the plans to save on architect’s fees, while David devoted a lot of time to taking every measurement with perfect precision. ‘He’s got the right sort of brain for that work, but it was very stressful,’ Lucy says.
David was hands-on with the building work, too. ‘He was so keen to learn and acquire new skills,’ Lucy adds, ‘even though he nearly lost a finger fitting the floor!’
The two of them make a good team, with David handling the practicalities while Lucy deals with the creative side. Despite her initial hang-ups about houses of this era, she has tried to retain the period feel of the rooms while giving the space a refresh. The sitting room, master bedroom and hall all have original doors, fireplaces and stair spindles, many of which had been boarded over during the Sixties craze for streamlining interiors.
At the rear, the couple have incorporated a modern ‘glass box’ extension onto what was once the original kitchen, dining room and pantry. This has given them a vast kitchen-dining-living space as well as a generous utility room, a downstairs WC and shower room. ‘It works so well for family life and for entertaining friends,’ says Lucy.
For the kitchen itself, Lucy wanted a warm look ‘with a seamless, unfussy feel’. She combined a faux wood, chosen for its hardwearing properties, with matt-white worktops and splashbacks. ‘We wanted marble but everyone warned us off it because staining is such an issue. They were right – we used it on the bathroom floor and it’s incredibly porous.’
A lifelong colour obsessive, Lucy swears by the transformative power of paint. ‘When you’re spending thousands on a sofa, you need to play it safe, but paint is an area where you can have fun and experiment.’ She likes to layer on colour and texture with cushions and throws. Lucy has long been influenced by modern Scandinavian style but is now adding touches of glamorous Italian maximalism. ‘It’s inspired our round mirrors. In a square room, curves bring softness to the space.’
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The family couldn’t be happier with the end results. ‘This house lifts our mood when we come home,’ Lucy says. ‘It’s lovely living with all this light. It’s given us all a happier state of mind.’ Lucy advises keeping the end goal in sight when in the middle of a makeover. ‘It can be relentless, so try and accept the here and now, hang onto your vision and remember what you’re in it for.’ Wise words indeed.