With the constantly changing needs of their young family in mind, Brenda and Jason Shankey were concerned about the close proximity of their house to a busy main road, so they put it up for sale. ‘The stream of traffi c was always a worry for us, especially when our children started running around,’ recalls Brenda. ‘As luck would have it, a property set in a quiet cul-de-sac came up for sale around the corner from where we were living at the time, so I decided to arrange a viewing.’
Although the property was quite new, it was built in an Edwardian style with feature sash windows, but it was the grounds and its private location that sold it to Brenda. ‘I could visualise our children running happily around the garden, and as the landscaping was so lovely, it felt as though we were in the countryside and not in the middle of Belfast,’ she says. ‘The interior layout was fantastic, with good room sizes, although the décor was not to my taste. The previous owners had included a lot of dark wood features and painted the walls canary yellow, tangerine orange and bright green.’
The owners: Brenda Shankey and her husband Jason, who own a male grooming company, live here with their children Lauren, 11 and Will, nine
Brenda could see past all the negatives, however, and once Jason had viewed the house too, the couple made an offer to secure the purchase. ‘The vendors were relocating to Australia and were on a tight deadline, so we were surprised that they drove a hard bargain when it came to negotiating for all the fi xtures and fi ttings,’ Brenda recalls. ‘We were at the point of walking away when the sellers relented at the last minute and, having ironed out the fi nal details, the sale went through.’
The Shankeys moved into the house in September 2007. As there was no structural work required, Brenda immediately took charge of a top-to-toe redecoration project, which lasted two weeks and transformed the property. ‘I simply couldn’t live with the existing scheme, so toning down the colour was my priority,’ says Brenda. ‘We called in Lou Canning, who is a specialist in painting and decorating. We’ve known him for more than 15 years and I knew we were able to trust him to deliver a high-quality fi nish in our rooms.’
Following the redecoration elsewhere in the house, Brenda turned her attention to the kitchen and adjacent sun room. Decaying wooden sash windows were restored by the specialist and are now maintained regularly to keep them in top condition. An old-fashioned tiled floor was dug up in both rooms and replaced with large porcelain tiles over the existing underfloor heating. ‘Although the work was disruptive, it had an immediate impact, and I love the way the tiles link the kitchen and sun room. The underfloor heating makes all the difference in winter,’ says Brenda. ‘We decided to retain the existing kitchen because it still had years of life in it and would have been too costly to change.’
A door leads from the kitchen into the sun room, which is often used by the children as a TV den and a place to hang out with their school friends. ‘The ceiling used to be a yellow-coloured pine and the walls were painted green, but a coat of white paint has made the room feel more spacious and light,’ Brenda continues.
As the couple combine running their successful business with a busy family life, Brenda looked for any design updates that might help make housework easier. She decided to include a central vacuum system in the property, which involved the installation of a power unit and a number of vacuum inlets. ‘Now, whenever we want to hoover around the house, we simply plug the long hose into one of the wall inlets and get started,’ she says. ‘It’s silent and quick. I’d never go back to using a conventional upright vacuum cleaner.’
Although the couple worked to a budget for each area of the refurbishment, they exceeded their overall budget as they included a cinema room. ‘This was Jason’s must-have. He persuaded me by arguing that as we both work hard and never have time to go to the cinema, we could create one at home instead,’ laughs Brenda. ‘I went along with it for a quiet life, on the condition that there couldn’t be any exposed wires. I’m very happy with the way the room looks now. The screen is hidden from view when not in use, so it appears to be another reception area when no one’s using the room.’
Creating a modern style was at the heart of Brenda’s plans for updating the whole interior, and the staircase and walls were also transformed. ‘The dark mahogany wood of the stairwell dominated the space, so I had the spindles painted white to give it a modern twist,’ Brenda explains. ‘It was important to keep the hallway free from clutter, but I wanted to include key pieces of furniture and artwork to add impact.’
Upstairs, arranged over two floors, the bedrooms and bathrooms including the master en suite, were refurbished and brought up-to-date. ‘A cast-iron roll-top bath painted in pale blue and a traditional WC with a pull chain had to go because I wanted a modern, linear bathroom,’ says Brenda. ‘We replaced it with a gorgeous new suite, and I was insistent about having twin basins, which I think look fantastic.’
Negotiating with suppliers was central to the success of the project and Brenda was never afraid to haggle. ‘I have a three-quote rule and would never simply go with the fi rst price a retailer offered. I shopped around, on the basis that a company would be receiving orders for three bathroom projects as well as a cloakroom from me, so I expected a good deal from them, and I would urge everyone to have a go at haggling for the best deals,’ Brenda advises. ‘Be honest and tell the designer what your budget is and say that you will be considering other quotes too.’
The children were encouraged to get involved with creating their own colour schemes to make their bedrooms unique, choosing bold furniture and bright wall coverings. In complete contrast, Brenda wanted a relaxed style for the master bedroom, preferring a simple and calming colour palette. ‘I lead a busy life and work hard, so it’s important to me to have a tranquil place where I can retreat from the madness,’ she smiles.
With her home redecorated and styled with a mixture of both traditional and contemporary furnishings, Brenda is happy with the results. ‘There are always possible changes, and I have it in mind to paint the kitchen units dark charcoal, with white walls, but that will be a project for us to do in the future,’ she says. ‘I love the sense of space and calmness in our home. I could never see us moving, because this house would be too hard to replace.’