Renovating a period terraced house

Having always wanted to live in a historic property, Rachel and Jason Collis could not resist taking on a renovation project when the house of their dreams came up for sale

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Rachel and Jason Collis had no real intention of moving until Jason saw a for sale sign outside a Regency terrace in Cheltenham.

‘We had only just finished doing up a 1930s house and I was focusing on being a full-time mum to our two boys,’ says Rachel. However, as we’d always wanted to live in a period property, we just couldn’t resist having a look.’

The couple viewed the three-storey house and admired its original features. They loved all the period fireplaces, beautiful cornicing, deep skirting boards and – hidden under the old carpets – lovely pine floorboards.

‘The previous owner had let the house out to tenants and it was in a bit of a mess,’ says Rachel. Some of the fireplaces had been replaced with 1970s designs and the wallpaper in every room was very dated. When they later came to remove this, they found the plaster behind came straight off.

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The owners: Rachel Collis, who runs interior design company Collis & James, and her husband Jason, an operations director with a software business, live here with their sons, Sam, five, and three-year-old James

There was electrical wiring running along the walls, some of the windows were hanging off, the porch was coming away, there were antiquated radiators and the railings that once separated the front garden from the road had long since gone.

Such a long list of improvements would have put off most prospective buyers, but Rachel and Jason could see the potential to create the perfect home for their young family. So they put in an offer and had it accepted. Their plans were greatly helped by the fact that their 1930s house sold almost immediately. By the time they were ready to move in, the tenants in the new house had moved out.

With her design background, Rachel immediately started putting together her plans to transform the house. As well as the electrical work and general updating throughout, the couple wanted to make better use of two old lean-to extensions – one off the kitchen on the basement level, out to the garden, and the other on the first floor at the end of the hallway. They had plastic roofs and weren’t conducive to modern family living – so essentially, they were wasted space.

Rachel took on the role of project manager, hiring a local contractor and tradesmen as and when they were needed. Planning permission for the work wasn’t needed, because each lean-to was being replaced with new structures with the same footprint. Work began at basement level.

‘We wanted to turn the small patio outside into a large decked area and make the narrow garden steps more practical,’ explains Rachel. The first lean-to was demolished and the floor levelled. A glazed extension was then constructed in its place and the opening leading from the family room into the kitchen was enlarged, creating one big, open-plan space. Access to the garden is now via bi-folding glass doors and the whole extension has a glass roof to bring as much light as possible down into the basement level.

The other major structural work involved demolishing the second lean-to on the ground floor and, again, replacing this with a glazed extension to be used as a home office space.

On this floor, the dividing wall between the two reception rooms was removed, creating another large open-plan space. The original sash windows were still in place throughout the house, but most were in a state of disrepair. They had to be repaired and re-hung by a specialist.

As long as they could manage it, the family lived in the property during the renovation. They made a temporary kitchen in the ground-floor living room with the fridge, gas cooker, microwave and kettle. The washing-up was done in the sink tucked under the basement stairs and they kept off the worst of the dust using sheets of tarpaulin.

When the labour became really intensive, however, with work on the other floors being carried out at the same time, the family moved out for a month in the summer of 2008. Initially, they stayed locally with friends; then they moved in with Rachel’s family in the Cotswolds.

At this point, the plaster throughout the building was being stripped back to the brickwork, with new electrics and period-style radiators installed. ‘We also had to rip out a 1970s gas fire and an old, rather dangerous boiler,’ continues Rachel, ‘both in the family room. We had the new boiler re-sited in a cupboard in the main sitting room.’

As soon as the walls had been re-plastered, the old carpets were removed and dumped, and the original pine floorboards could be sanded and varnished. Rachel then turned her attention to planning the new interiors.

She chose to go to IKEA for the kitchen, mixing white base units with opaque wall cabinets. Two freestanding stainless-steel storage units, with one acting as an island, were bought from Habitat. A large stainless-steel range-style cooker has been recessed neatly in the chimney breast, with an extractor built-in above it. A light, polished porcelain floor was laid throughout the kitchen and dining areas – a stylish but practical option with the children running in and out of the garden.

Upstairs, the bathroom was stripped out and a white compact suite installed. White brickbond tiles run halfway up the walls and along the side of the bath. The bedrooms were redecorated, in neutral shades, mirroring the reception rooms downstairs.

‘We brought a lot of furniture from our previous home,’ says Rachel. ‘But I also love buying bargains at sales and online, and then refreshing them. For example, the chaise in our sitting room is from a house clearance; I re-covered it. I did the same with an old French chair that I found at a car-boot sale.’

Much as the couple love vintage finds, they choose many contemporary designs also. So, all the crystal door knobs are from Graham and Green, the bathroom tiles are from Topps Tiles and the wallpaper behind the splashbacks in the kitchen is by Cole & Son.

‘Our home is a mixture of old and new, contemporary and traditional,’ explains Rachel. ‘And I love to have daylight reaching into every room. The glass-framed office is a tranquil place for me to work; as I feel as though I am almost floating out onto the decked garden. But my favourite room is the living space in the basement.

‘The kitchen is a surprisingly light, open-plan space, which flows through to the garden when the bi-fold doors are open. In fact, every room overlooks or links into the garden. The living room on the ground floor is a great place to sit in the evening and the high ceilings and ornate cornicing are wonderful. The project took a year in total, which is what we predicted from the start. It came in only a little over what we had budgeted, as well’ says Rachel.

‘There were a few unforeseen hitches, such as wiring running under the garden leading to an old workshop at the end, which had to be removed. We also took down a big tree at the front of the house that was making the rooms on that side of the house very dark. We added new railings at the front and filled in a pond out the back.

‘We have redone every single bit of this house and put our blood, sweat and tears into it. And I just love it.’


Building work – two glazed extensions£15,000
Kitchen units & worktops£650
Sink & tap£650
Bathroom suite£2,000