Renovating a three storey house

Relocating from London to Bristol, Mirkku and Matthew Bishop renovated their three storey period house and restored many of the beautiful original features, both inside and out, as well as adding some contemporary touches to create an intriguing home.

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When Mirkku and Matthew Bishop went to view the Edwardian semi in Bristol that was to become their home, it was almost love at first sight. ‘It had belonged to a well-known local artist and we liked the fact that it still had so many of its original period features, right down to the original brass carpet rods on the stairs,’ says Mirkku. ‘However, it was also rather damp and run-down, with no central heating system, a tiny bathroom and a dated kitchen.

Despite this, the couple could see that it had the potential to become their perfect family home. They decided to put in an offer and this was duly accepted. ‘We had decided to move away from London to live in Bristol, because Matthew has family in Devon, which isn’t too far from here,’ explains Mirkku. ‘So we were delighted to find such a great family house – despite all the work it would need.’

Fact file

The owners: Mirkku Bishop, a graphic designer, and her husband Matthew, a copywriter, have lived here since 2007 with their children, Oskar, now six, and four-year-old Lili

Once the sale had gone through successfully, the Bishops decided to rent a house nearby while they planned and carried out the extensive renovation work. Apart from the much-needed modernisation of the interior, they also wanted to extend the rear of the house to create a big open-plan kitchen-diner, and so asked Bristol-based Dittrich Hudson Architects to come up with the design for this. There was an existing extension at the far end of the kitchen, housing a WC, larder and scullery; the architect suggested demolishing these and instead adding a single-storey, flatroofed extension with full-height glass doors leading out to the garden.

‘We didn’t want to lose any of our garden because we wanted plenty of space for the children to play,’ says Mirkku. ‘So the new extension was to be built pretty much in the footprint of the old one, taking up no more of the precious outside space.’

With the plans for the renovation finalised and planning permission granted, the couple appointed their building team, taking a neighbours’ recommendation, and the work began. The first thing to be tackled was the insulation throughout the house, because this hadn’t been upgraded for many years. The process involved lifting every floorboard and laying new insulation in the cavity. ‘As the carpets came up, we discovered newspapers from the 1940s underneath, obviously used in the past to prevent draughts,’ says Mirkku. ‘We also began removing the old wallpaper – in some rooms we found this was five layers thick, so it was really hard work.’

After all the initial preparation, the builders turned their attention to the kitchen extension. ‘It was assumed that the three small rooms being demolished to make way for the new extension would have existing foundations,’ says Mirkku. ‘But as they didn’t, new ones had to be dug. This meant that delays began to set in and costs to mount.’

Another big cost was rewiring and re-plumbing the whole house, and having gas central heating installed, with a new boiler and water tank, but this was all necessary work to bring the property up to date.

As the external walls of the extension finally took shape, the internal wall between the living and dining rooms was knocked down to create a large open-plan living space next to the kitchen. French doors were added at the side and matching full-height sliding doors at the rear. The Bishops chose a design with especially slim frames.

White IKEA units with American walnut worktops, from Norfolk Oak, were then fitted in the new kitchen. Mirkku chose a light-coloured rubber floor, from Dalsouple, because it was the most practical option. ‘With the white walls and units, and the two sets of large glass doors, the new kitchen-diner is now a lovely light room,’ says Mirkku. ‘However, I wish now that I’d had a bigger window put in over the sink, as it wouldn’t have been too much more expensive.’

Upstairs, the bathroom and separate toilet on the first floor were knocked into one, to create a good-sized family bathroom. Mirkku wanted new white sanitaryware, as it is contemporary but timeless. ‘I didn’t want anything to date quickly,’ she explains.

The second floor, with two equally proportioned bedrooms, was perfect for the children. Mirkku and Matthew also had a shower room installed where there had previously been storage space, with a new window to bring in plenty of light. ‘We also laid the same rubber floor as in the kitchen in the new shower room. It’s hardwearing and practical for wet areas,’ says Mirkku.

The couple decided to strip the original floorboards wherever possible, sanding and staining those in the living room and painting those in the bedrooms in a hardwearing white floor paint. They then painted the bedroom walls white, too, adding splashes of colour with rugs and accessories. The living room was also painted white and metal shelves were fitted the full height of one wall to house all the family’s books and music.

They did as much work as they could themselves to keep down the costs, including all this interior painting from top to bottom. ‘We had initially decided to re-plaster just three rooms, but then realised we should do the whole house for a better finish,’ says Mirkku. ‘However, this meant each wall had to be given three coats of paint, because the new plaster turned out to be very absorbent. So the redecorating developed into a major DIY project, given the height of the ceilings and the sheer scale of the house; it is three floors and five bedrooms.

‘We uncovered all sorts of treasures during the work,’ she adds. ‘The Edwardian tiles in the porch had been covered in pink paint and the marble fireplace in the sitting room had been painted over, too, in a thick white. Luckily, we were able to carefully remove all this and restore these features back to their former glory. We still have the original door handles and my neighbour tells me the stair rail is made of very rare wood. And we found the stained glass now in our front door panel just lying in the attic.’

The family was finally able to move into their new house in late summer 2008. ‘Overall, the work took twice as long as expected – from September 2007 to the following August,’ says Mirkku. ‘We also spent twice as much as we had planned, due to unforeseen costs such as creating the foundations before the new extension could be constructed and all that decorating. It was definitely worth it, though.’

Although the main project was complete, there was still more to do in the weeks after the family moved. ‘Some of the doors and windows needed an extra coat of paint, as did the front of the house,’ says Mirkku, ‘and we still need a new stair carpet. But, despite the hard work, blowing our budget so badly and it all taking twice as long as we had originally thought, we are just delighted with our home.’


Kitchen extension£20,000
Kitchen flooring, units and appliances£7,000
Re-plumbing and rewiring£30,000
Bathrooms, windows, structural work and finishes£27,000