Real home: a modern monochrome 1940s home in Devon

With a tight budget and a pot of black paint, Ellie and Adam Tildesley have enlarged and transformed their 1940s house

Monochrome kitchen with wooden floors, wooden worktops and a breakfast bar island
(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

After stepping off a flight from Spain, Ellie and Adam received a voicemail message from an estate agent that instantly banished their post-holiday blues. The house they’d missed out on after a bidding war was unexpectedly back on the market.

‘We’d sold our house and were planning to move in with my mother-in-law as we hadn’t found another place yet,’ says Ellie. ‘So I phoned the agent straight away.’

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The owners Ellie Tildesley, a visual merchandiser, and her husband, Adam, a water quality scientist, live here with their children, Arlo, six, and Murray, four, and cat Mindy.
The property A four-bedroom, early 1940s detached house in Bradninch, near Exeter, Devon.
Project cost £45,000 for building work and interior fit out.

The detached 1940s house in the Devonshire village of Brandninch had originally been £75,000 over their £350,000 budget, but it came on their radar when the price was slashed. 

‘It was a rough diamond – a solid house constructed by local builders with bay windows at the back and potential to extend,’ says Ellie. ‘For most people, the dated carpets, pink Artex and woodchip would have made their toes curl, but it got me massively excited.’ 

Looking for more inspiration? Browse our real home transformations. Read our guide on renovating a house, too, for more guidance.

Black matt kitchen interior with wooden surfaces and houseplants on the shelf

The high scaffold board shelf was designed for displaying plants. ‘I wanted to make sure the kitchen had that punch of green,’ says Ellie. ‘And the chopping boards and wooden bowls keep it looking warm and not too sterile.’ Brackets, Ikea. Black sink, Homebase. Chopping boards, H&M, Ikea and TK Maxx. Try Etsy for similar wooden bowls

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

After completing the sale in August 2016, the family stayed with Adam’s mum for several weeks while the house was rewired and the Artex checked for asbestos. Starting on the first floor, they began ripping out carpets and fireplaces, sanding floors, replacing radiators and having walls re-skimmed room by room.

Central breakfast bar with wooden surface, wooden floor and bar stools

Although Ellie’s idea for a planed square edge timber floor was met with bemusement by her builder, she knew it would look great stained to match the original floorboards, and it only cost around £400. Choosing wood worktops over concrete or stone also saved them money. ‘It gives the room a warmer edge and ties in with the flooring,’ she says. Kungsbacka matt black kitchen units, Ikea. Stools, B&Q. Worktops, The Chippy Shop on Ebay. ElectriQ dual-fuel double oven, Appliances Direct

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

With a tight budget, it was Ikea all the way in the redesigned kitchen. ‘Luckily they had a simple, matt black finish that I really liked. We only spent £2,000 on the kitchen, island and utility, and I fitted it all myself,’ says Ellie.  The nifty island is made from two 80cm drawer units, MDF panels, and a wood worktop. ‘It has plenty of storage, which means we don’t need wall cupboards,’ says Ellie. ‘I prefer the space to look open and streamlined.’

Light dining room in monochrome style with black dining table and chairs with a wooden sofa and guitar

The Ercol loveseat was a gift from a friend who inherited it from her dad. ‘I’d wanted one for ages so it was a lovely gesture,’ she says. Ellie brought the large pendant lights from her previous home. ‘I couldn’t decide what shape I preferred – I bought two of each from Aldi, intending to hang two and take the others back, but all four looked nice,’ she says. ’They were white but I spray painted them.’  For similar black pendant lights, try Biard Pegau, Beam LED, and Nordlux Kingston, Lighting Direct. Try Sklum for similar Tolix-style chairs. Calendar, Stendig. Cushions, B&Q. For a similar rug, try City Cows

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

Her favourite aspect is the cleverly customised breakfast cupboard next to the fridge-freezer which keeps small appliances off the worktops. ‘The 80cm wide cabinet wasn’t deep enough. Instead we used two 40cm by 60cm cabinets side by side and cut through the dividing panel to fit the width of the microwave,’ she explains.

Monochrome living room with large wooden coffee table, cow hide rug and leather sofa

This is the only room that features an entirely black wall. ‘It’s one of the sunniest rooms, so I felt it could take it,’ says Ellie, who created the artwork herself. ‘I’ve seen beautiful rooms with every wall dark, but I wouldn’t want that in my living room as it wouldn’t flow with the rest of the house.’ Coffee table, Dunelm. Art print, @ellietildesleyprints on Instagram. Sanela green velvet cushion, Ikea. For a similar sofa and rug, try the Spencer black leather sofa, Habitat, and a cowhide rug from City Cows.
 

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

A game changer has been adding French doors to both reception rooms, as there was previously no direct access to the garden, and extending the kitchen by a couple of metres at the side. 

‘My mum suggested it,’ laughs Ellie. ‘The extension has almost doubled the size of the kitchen and given us a utility room, all within permitted development limits.’

black painted wooden staircase in a white hallway with black picture frames and plants

It took Ellie about a week to strip the stairs with an edge sander. For a similar cabinet, try the Masha cabinet from Tikamoon. For a similar seagrass belly basket, try Ikea.

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

Although the spacious landing was a big selling point, Ellie felt an en suite was more important, so they transformed a small toilet into a shower room by stealing space from the landing and master bedroom. 

Wooden double bed with monochrome sheets, dangling bedside lamps and house plant decoration

The old bed with head and footboards made the master bedroom feel cramped, so the couple made a plywood headboard and got a divan base instead. Ellie created the artwork above the bed herself.

Geometric blanket, HomeSense. Ceiling cage light, Ikea. For a similar geometric cushion, try the Damiansville cover by Charlton Home, Wayfair. Vases, B&Q. Bedside lights made from Ikea bulbs with fitment and flex from Clas Ohlson

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

Since the main bathroom was stripped back to an empty shell during the first fix, the en suite proved invaluable in the meantime. ‘The bath was removed to install a waste pipe for our future toilet, and the water tank was taken out in readiness for a new boiler,’ says Ellie. ‘So it made sense to just rip everything out until we have more money to redo it.’

A peep into the en suite bathroom, monochrome decoration, sink and large bathroom mirror

Everyone has been using the en suite until they can afford to revamp the family bathroom. ‘A large landing was a luxury but an en suite is a necessity,’ says Ellie. Vanity unit and basin, Ikea. Radiator, Screwfix. Zazzle has similar chevron towels

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)
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Throughout the project, the couple relentlessly tried to keep down costs. They reused the old kitchen door in the new utility room, put down a planed square edge (PSE) timber floor in the kitchen instead of engineered oak, and bought ex-display white goods. ‘With integrated kit such as fridge-freezers and dishwashers, as long as they are in good working order, it doesn’t matter if they’re aesthetically damaged,’ says Adam. 

Ellie’s even utilised her degree in Fine Art to create her own abstract artwork and has made a dining table from a plywood sheet and two Ikea tressel legs.

Surprisingly, the stylish monochrome look wasn’t entirely planned, and is a major departure from the couple’s previous home, which had a softer, feminine feel with a sage green painted kitchen and putty walls. 

‘It started after I tried grey woodwork in our bedroom and it didn’t look punchy enough with the black fireplace,’ says Ellie. ‘Now I’ve always got a black paint brush or spray can in my hand.’

monochrome boys bedroom with animals decor and painted panelling

The monochrome scheme makes it easy to switch things around. For a similar bed, try the Minnen bed from Ikea. Garland, Talking Tables. Stay Wild print, @ellietildesleyprints on Instagram. For similar star cushion, try Dunelm

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

While there’s still work to complete, including turning a cupboard into a proper larder, decorating the ground floor bedroom and adding a P-shaped shower bath to the bathroom, the pair are enjoying a breather before the final push. 

A wooden wardrobe with a customised black painted on design

It took just five minutes for Ellie to transform this £15 charity shop wardrobe in Arlo’s bedroom, using masking tape and black paint. Belly basket, Ikea. For a similar stool try Garden Trading 

(Image credit: Kasia Fiszer)

‘I love how Ellie’s vision has paid off,’ says Adam. ‘It looks contemporary, unique and homely. It feels like it’s been a long journey, and there’s still more to go, but at least we aren’t living on a building site now.’

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