Remodelling a Victorian flat

Emma Dixon has used the skills she gained from working on a previous renovation project to transform a dated flat into a contemporary home

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Less than two years after finishing work on a barn conversion in a south Devon hamlet, Emma Dixon was looking for her next project. ‘The barn was a little too isolated for me. I wanted to be able to walk to local amenities, instead of having to use the car,’ she explains, adding, ‘I was also ready for another challenge.’

This time, Emma was searching for a period property with generous living space and plenty of renovation potential. After viewing various houses, she settled on a Victorian cottage which offered the opportunity for an extension and loft conversion. However, the deal collapsed and she found herself on the lookout for another property in the same area.

Fact file

The owner: Emma Dixon, owns an interior project management company, Blue Sea,, lives here with her pet dog

‘My sister Julie runs a local estate agency and she mentioned that there was a flat for sale in Dartmouth,’ Emma remembers. ‘I really wanted a house, but she persuaded me to view it – and when I did, I fell in love with it instantly.’

With a comfortable-sized kitchen, three bedrooms and a large sitting room, the flat offered all the space Emma craved, while the potential for improvement was obvious.

‘The flat had been rented out for some time – it was damp and dated and it was clear that little work had been done on it,’ she explains. ‘It needed to be rewired, re-plumbed and redecorated throughout. I realised immediately that renovating the flat would be a huge undertaking, but its location and views of the River Dart were so spectacular that it clinched it for me.’

Emma sold her barn and moved in with her sister Julie. After the experience of renovating her previous home, she felt confident enough to project manage the work on the flat herself. She started by listing what needed to be done in each of the rooms so she could draw up a budget and a work schedule, then she asked three local builders for quotes.

‘I couldn’t employ the builder who had worked on the barn as he was busy,’ she says.

Emma decided to leave the layout of the flat mainly unchanged – apart from one area. She was concerned that the bathroom, which contained the only WC in the flat, was insufficient for a three-bedroom property. Her friends and family often came to visit to her, so she knew that she needed to create more bathroom facilities.

Finding the space for a new cloakroom was straightforward enough, as the existing bathroom had a large alcove backing on to the kitchen. The separate room was created by blocking up this alcove and taking a modest amount of space from the kitchen. Emma then created a doorway to the new room from the entrance hall and installed a WC. She also divided a small storeroom next to the kitchen, forming a utility room for her washing machine, with a small shower room in the other half.

Once the layout had been reconfigured for Emma’s needs, the entire flat was rewired and re-plumbed in readiness for a new bath suite and kitchen-diner.

There were other improvements in the rest of the flat. The kitchen windows were replaced as the wood had rotted, while the walls had to be tanked in the smallest bedroom as they were suffering from damp. Worn carpets were ripped out, along with dated built-in cupboards and a stone fireplace in the sitting room. The original floorboards were restored now that they had been exposed, while the textured Artex ceilings were skimmed smooth.

Work progressed steadily, although Emma felt frustrated at the time it was taking, as she was very aware of the increasing pressure on her budget.

‘With hindsight, I shouldn’t have agreed to pay for time spent fetching equipment or supplies. If I’d realised, I could have picked up items myself while the builder worked on the flat,’ says Emma. ‘Everything took a little longer than he’d estimated, so I did slightly overspend. I ended up doing some of the painting and finishing off myself.’

Despite those problems, the flat was transformed in just under six months, which was helped by Emma’s meticulous organisation. Design ideas such as door handles, light switches, curtain fabrics and wallpaper were carefully logged in a folder, along with price lists, samples, invoices and guarantees so all she had to do was refer to it when she wanted to buy something. As she had sold the barn with all of its contents, she designed and furnished the flat from scratch, which she really enjoyed. As she explains: ‘I love seeing the potential in a room and then using my creativity to build on it. I am also an avid online shopper and I’ll happily spend ages browsing for the best deals.’

To complement the high ceilings and bright, spacious rooms, Emma chose contemporary design with a feminine style. Patterned wallpaper was chosen to create feature walls in the kitchen, main bedroom and sitting room. It was important to make the sitting room welcoming. She used an elegant fireplace as her starting point, adding a rug and large comfortable sofas. For a cosy, personal feel, one wall has been given over to a bookcase displaying her books, DVDs and photos.

‘I needed to make this room feel smaller and cosier, and I knew books and photos would help,’ says Emma. ‘It would have been expensive to get a big bookcase built for the space, so I shopped around for a flat-pack shelf system.’

She has also used bold statement pieces, including an oversized clock, stylish light fittings and a large mirror to balance out the proportions of the room.

With the hectic months of work on the flat behind her, Emma is now enjoying life in her new home, welcoming all her friends and family when they come to stay. She adores the picturesque setting and its more convenient location, although she can’t quite bring herself to rule out another move and a new challenge.

‘I love living here, but I would relish another renovation project,’ she says.


Building work£10,000
Rewiring, re-plumbing, tanking (in back bedroom) and new gas boiler£12,100
Flooring restoration£3,700
Kitchen (units, island and windows)£5,900
Fixtures and fittings£23,600