Traditional townhouse redesign

Sarah Jarman and Paul Alexander transformed their period townhouse into a contemporary home with an eclectic mix of old and new. The four bedroom, four storey townhouse dates from the 19th century, and the couple have made some bold choices inside, mixing colours and styles to create a unique home

When Sarah Jarman and Paul Alexander decided to give a dated townhouse a stylish new update, it was a meeting of creative minds. ‘We wanted to produce something unusual with lots of colour,’ explains Sarah. ‘We’re both involved in design, so we know that some of the best ideas tend to evolve gradually. In many ways, that’s how this house developed.’

The couple had outgrown their former two-bedroom home and moved as Sarah needed somewhere big enough to house an office for her design business.

When they first viewed the property, the small kitchen had no work surfaces or storage space and the bathroom was accessed through a bedroom. They loved its light, square hallway and quiet location, though, thinking it offered great potential for turning into something special.

Fact file

The owners: Sarah Jarman, who runs her own graphic design business, and her partner Paul Alexander, a creative director, live here with their labrador

‘We weren’t bothered about the amount of work it would need,’ says Sarah. ‘We’d renovated our previous house and sold it just after we’d finished it, so there was only a short break before we started that process all over again. We’re both really passionate about creating the perfect home, so we couldn’t wait to start the project.’

The couple began stripping the wallpaper on the day they moved in. Sarah wanted the house ready before Christmas, which gave them five months to complete all the renovation, structural work, plumbing, plastering and decorating.

‘It was a serious challenge,’ she admits. ‘We drew up lots of plans, wondering at one point whether we should take out the chimney breast between the kitchen and dining room to create one large room, with an island unit in the middle to bring the two spaces together.’

Then they changed their minds and knocked out the walls on each side of the chimney to create open-link walkways both sides of the chimney, so they wouldn’t lose the identity of two separate living areas. They replaced the two windows at the far end of the dining area with two sets of double doors overlooking the garden to bring extra light into the space and connect the inside with the outside.

The original floorboards were damaged, so Sarah and Paul replaced them with new ones, which they aged and darkened with two coats of ebony outdoor wood stain and gloss varnish for a traditional look.

They then moved on to the kitchen, making the units from IKEA carcasses, which they fitted with gloss-painted MDF doors. They added a cantilevered shelf to the wall, resting it on steel supports inserted in the brickwork. ‘It’s so strong you could lie on it,’ says Sarah. ‘We didn’t fill the kitchen with units as we felt that would have been overwhelming, so we kept the look as simple and open as possible.’

The couple created much-needed workspace for the kitchen using a four-metre long bespoke iroko wood worktop. They then added a blackboard splashback by painting the wall with blackboard paint to create their own signature focal point.

A 1930s fireplace in the sitting room was replaced with a modern surround, then the couple moved on to redesign the first floor layout to make the space flow more efficiently. The two second floor rooms were left as a spare bedroom and an office for Sarah’s design work.

The original bathroom was very small and accessed through one of the bedrooms, so Sarah and Paul turned that bedroom into the main bathroom. The same chimney breast that divides the kitchen and dining area is a feature of the main bathroom, so Sarah put it to good use by creating an alcove for a washbasin. A mirror was cut to size to reflect light into the space, then the couple chose a large freestanding bath to be the focal point of the bathroom and made a feature wall from Cole and Son’s Flamingo wallpaper.

The original bathroom has become an en suite to the master bedroom. As it’s the smallest room in the house, they decided to tile it with vibrant green mosaic tiles from floor to ceiling. ‘They’re quite bright, I know, but we wanted to make a statement in such a small room,’ explains Sarah.

Once all the structural work was complete, they started decorating, working room by room to create a scheme of calm undertones teamed with bold wallpaper designs on feature walls.

‘I had to convince Paul that the Cole and Son Black Woods wallpaper in the sitting room would work on two walls, then he went on to choose the Flamingo wallpaper for the bathroom, so we were thinking along the same lines,’ says Sarah.

The couple had their share of challenges during the project. ‘At one point we had just a cooker and a water pipe working,’ Sarah remembers. ‘One job would lead to another and it often seemed never-ending. We decided to work on one room at a time and not start on another until we were completely finished, so we could see positive results as we went along. Luckily, we managed to do most of the work in time for our Christmas deadline.’

Sarah’s graphic design work is often inspired by styles from the past and this is reflected in their home. It’s furnished with a mix of old and new, with many pieces handed down through their families or picked up for just a few pounds in charity shops and at car boot sales. The dining room is a great example of this – a contemporary wallpaper and standard lamp are teamed with a 1960s dining table and chairs bought on eBay.

‘I don’t think there are any rules about what does, or doesn’t, work together,’ says Sarah. ‘If we like something we find a place and use for it. I like a home to have depth and character, even though the setting might be quite modern. We have suitcases that belonged to my grandfather, which are now used to store old toys and books.

‘This house is an eclectic mix of old and new which reflects our style and suits our needs perfectly. We’re thrilled with it.’


Floorboards and tiling£4,000
Kitchen carcasses and doors£1,500
Decorating and electrics£3,000
Bathroom and en suite fittings£3,000