Traditional house redesign

Using her interior design skills, Rebecca Tucker and partner John Hunt have transformed a run-down property into the perfect family home. Their three-bedroom semi-detached Victorian home now boasts and airy, contemporary kitchen and a lighter colour scheme to complement the high ceilings

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Rebecca Tucker and John Hunt decided to move from their north London home when Rebecca’s interior design business relocated to an area in the south of the capital.

‘John and I had always been flexible about where we lived,’ says Rebecca, ‘and we thought it was a good time for a change.’

The couple started looking in the suburbs of south London for properties offering renovation possibilities as they already had some project experience.

‘We spent numerous weekends looking at houses – sometimes we booked over 20 viewings, which was utterly exhausting,’ says Rebecca. ‘Despite seeing a couple of properties that we could have renovated, nothing was quite right for us.’

Fact file

The owners: Rebecca Tucker, who runs Suna Interior Design, and her partner John Hunt, a bathroom designer at West One Bathrooms, live here with their children, Max, four, and Hannah, two

They began to wonder if their ideal three-bedroom house was out of their price range and that perhaps they should look further afield. It was when they were viewing another property that they came across a ‘For Sale’ sign outside a Victorian semi-detached house in the same street.

Thinking that it was probably out of their price bracket, they decided to enquire about it, wondering if the owner would accept an offer below stamp duty – and were delighted to get a positive response.

‘The house had everything we were looking for, including a wide hallway, large bedrooms, a long garden, as well as plenty of DIY potential,’ Rebecca explains. ‘It also had its fair share of negative points – the downstairs space was a mish-mash, with its poorly designed layout, plus there was faux dark wood panelling, a run-down lean-to and a mint green bathroom, along with some garish décor such as an orange-painted sitting room.’

The couple could see past all the negatives though and put in an offer, which was accepted. With their experience of renovating two houses, they knew how they could reconfigure their new home.

‘We knew that we could open up the downstairs layout to create a large contemporary kitchen and redesign the rest of the space,’ says Rebecca.

Nevertheless, the couple brought in a structural engineer to advise them on the alterations they had in mind. They told him they planned to knock down two internal walls in the kitchen to make way for a bigger space and knock through the wall between the sitting room and dining room to create an open-plan living space. A double chimney breast that was taking up room in the kitchen and a bedroom above would also be demolished.

‘As all the changes were internal, we didn’t need to get planning permission or hire an architect,’ says Rebecca. The couple were working to a very tight budget, so they decided to do the renovation work in stages.

‘When we moved in, we lived with everything as it was,’ Rebecca remembers. ‘Not surprisingly, we tackled the most urgent jobs first, such as rewiring and re-plumbing the house and moving the hot water tank to the loft to create more space in the bathroom.’

They lived with the cramped kitchen for two years, with the washing machine and dishwasher outside in the lean-to and a hob and a microwave for cooking.

Rebecca gave the master bedroom and the sitting room a quick-fix interior update so that they were more liveable while the work was ongoing.

‘We actually started to notice the problems in the house when our son Max was born a year after we moved in,’ says Rebecca. ‘Trying to look after a baby in a house that still needed so much work was a nightmare. The kitchen was a no-go area with its bare floorboards and cupboards without any doors.’

When baby Max started crawling, the couple found it a particular problem as they worried about where he was playing.

‘It had been fine living like that as a couple, but as soon as we were a family we had to start the major work,’ says Rebecca.

Two years after moving in, they put their plans into action. They called in a structural engineer to remove the double chimney breast in the kitchen and bedroom and hired builders to knock down the two small internal kitchen walls, as well as the wall between the sitting room and dining room. They also demolished the lean-to at the back of the house.

‘We wanted a light, airy kitchen, but we were keen to keep the kitchen and living areas separate,’ says Rebecca. ‘After much discussion, John and I decided on a large kitchen with a small dining area, knowing that we’d have a larger living/dining area at the front of the house.’

They had a full span supporting lintel installed across the back of the property in case they decided to add an extension to create additional space in the future.

‘We know an extension will require planning permission, but at least that option will be available to us one day,’ Rebecca explains.

With the space ready for its new kitchen, the couple chose light grey oak units for the lower cabinetry, with a white gloss finish for the extra height wall units that go up to the ceiling creating contrast.

‘I wanted to make sure every inch of space was used here,’ says Rebecca. A grey tiled floor-laid brickcourse unifies the space, while integrated appliances create a clutter-free look.

‘As our kitchen isn’t entirely open-plan, I wanted it to feel as spacious as possible – hence the neutral scheme – but we have added some depth with a lovely peacock blue wall colour, which works well with the cabinets,’ Rebecca adds.

They also installed large double doors which span the kitchen area and provide great views of the garden. As Rebecca explains: ‘Now John can see out to his much-loved garden.’

As the perfect finishing touch, they decided to use an original Saarinen marble Tulip table as an alternative to a breakfast table, teaming it with vintage-style chairs.

‘The kitchen redesign has changed the way we live, as we spend most of our time in there,’ says Rebecca. ‘I love being able to cook dinner with Max playing around on the floor with his train set – there are no worries about him now.’

The couple have kept the living area separate from the kitchen by creating a cloakroom between the two rooms.

‘When we added the new double doors that lead out to the garden, we thought the existing external kitchen door was unnecessary, so we blocked it up and used the space we gained to incorporate the cloakroom,’ Rebecca explains.

They have also made their home feel much more spacious by moving the entrance to the kitchen from the hallway, creating a sightline from the front door straight through to the back of the house.

Rebecca admits that she found it difficult choosing colour schemes for the house, even though she is used to experimenting with different shades in her work as an interior designer.

‘Probably because I’m likely to change my mind two weeks later,’ she laughs.

Rebecca and John’s home has a neutral backdrop, teamed with strong, deep tones of chocolate brown and grey, with dark flooring and contrasting furniture.

‘Artwork, accessories, mirrors and furniture all add personality to our home,’ says Rebecca.

Lighting designed and produced by her grandfather’s company, Tucker and Edgar, during the 1950s and 1960s is a strong feature in the living area, while an imaginative display of antique soda siphon bottles and perfume bottles, plus wooden moulds runs along the side of the staircase.

On the first floor, the well-proportioned bedrooms have all been redecorated in Rebecca’s signature contemporary interior style, continuing the neutral colour scheme of the rest of the house.

In the master bedroom, she has displayed a group of reclaimed vintage mirrors, while son Max’s bedroom has a calming retro feel, with a 1960s leather armchair and furniture which have been stained to match it and are used for storage.

When they tackled the family bathroom, John drew on his bathroom design skills with Rebecca adding her creative input.

‘We didn’t want to be influenced too much by trends and we looked closely at how we would use the space,’ says Rebecca.

They installed new sanitaryware in the bathroom as well as in the upstairs cloakroom, keeping both rooms separate rather than turning them into one space.

‘We thought that was a more practical solution with morning routines for small children – it just suits the way we live,’ Rebecca explains.

In the bathroom, they incorporated mirrored storage cabinets into the walls above the wenge vanity unit.

‘Freestanding units make a room seem much more spacious,’ Rebecca explains, ‘and we chose natural tones so that our bathroom wouldn’t date – limestone tiling always looks great, plus we used a deeper, natural stone mosaic splashback to create depth behind the basin.’

The couple admit that finding a way to achieve their style within tight budget constraints has influenced their design decisions throughout the house and the way they approached the project.

‘When we started looking at properties, we allocated some money for renovations,’ says Rebecca. ‘We bought this house at the top end of our budget, so we then had to wait and save the necessary money before the work could begin.’

Although she and John had renovated other properties, they believe that they have created something very special.

‘We’ve made it a home to suit our needs – and we now have the perfect place to bring up our two children,’ says Rebecca. ‘I’d never lived anywhere for longer than two years since I left home at 18, so my wanderlust has been cured too.

‘We’re already planning a loft conversion, so the renovation process is about to start all over again,’ she adds.

Costs

Building and electrics£30,000
Plumbing£10,000
Kitchen£5,000
Flooring£4,000
Bathrooms£5,000
Garden/decking£4,000
Bi-folding doors£2,000
Radiators£800
TOTAL£60,800