Creating a stylish living space

'Hard work and determination have created a stylish living space' Jane Wallenstein and Alex Larkin have put their own style statement the dark, dated sitting room in their Victorian terraced house; adding a new fireplace and restoring the original wooden floorboards.

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Jane Wallenstein and Alex Larkin have put their own style statement on a dark, dated sitting room.

Fact file

The owners: Jane Wallenstein, a solicitor, and Alex Larkin, who is a graphic designer, live here
The property: A three-bedroom Victorian terrace house
The location: Bristol
What they spent: The sitting room makeover cost around £8,000

When we moved into our house, every room was crying out for an overhaul. The sitting room was especially in need of refurbishment with its ugly gas fire and back boiler, nicotine-yellowed Artex ceiling and dated carpets,’ says Jane.

‘The space wasn’t just dated, it was also poorly laid out,’ she adds. ‘For example, the tall bookcases opposite the fireplace took up too much space.’

When they had originally viewed the property, Jane and Alex thought the house needed nothing more than a cosmetic makeover. The only structural work they could foresee was in the kitchen-breakfast room, which they intended to incorporate with a storeroom to make the entire space bigger, but they were wrong…

‘We thought we would tackle the sitting room first, decorating it in our spare time,’ Jane remembers. ‘When we pulled up the carpets, we were shocked at what we found – the original floorboards had big gaps between them and the dust from old rubble beneath was blowing upwards into the room. It was like being in a quarry pit.’

The gaps in the floorboards didn’t just create clouds of dust, they produced draughts now that there was no carpet to stop them – the entire space felt chilly.

‘As if that wasn’t enough, we found we couldn’t remove the gas fire without the back boiler coming away with it,’ says Jane. ‘The boiler was in perfect working order, but the old fire had to go, so we arranged to have a new boiler installed out of sight in the loft.’

As the couple had already dispensed with their working fireplace, they created a new one with a reproduction pine surround that they’d spotted in a reclamation yard. ‘Alex, who is very much a DIY man, added architraving, making sure that it fitted flush to the back wall, then we painted the surround in Farrow & Ball’s Pointing, which we also used on the woodwork and ceilings throughout the house,’ says Jane.

Alex added a stainless steel insert that he designed himself and was made by a local steel fabricator. ‘We completed the look by replacing the hearth, which was originally two raised paving slabs, with black tiles to resemble slate,’ Jane adds.

To ensure the hearth lay flush to the floor, Alex had to dig down beneath the floorboards. He then created a frame using one of the original floorboards to surround the hearth for a neat design touch.

The couple then discovered a problem with the original cornicing, which they wanted to keep but it was badly damaged. When they tried to remove it for repairs, it simply crumbled away – it seemed only paint was holding it together.

‘The cornicing was beyond repair so we had to rip it all out, but we kept the picture rail, which we took down, stripped and repainted,’ says Jane.

Next they called in a plasterer to tackle the Artexed ceiling, which had turned yellow from years of cigarette smoke. He boarded it over, then skimmed it ready for repainting. With the ceiling completed, Alex turned his attention to the elm floorboards, replacing the broken and split boards with reclaimed boards. He filled the gaps in the floorboards with wooden V-shaped wedges, then he sanded and stained them with an antique pine shade.

However, Alex soon discovered he had applied the stain too thickly, so he had to sand the floor again and re-stain it.

‘That was his lowest point,’ Jane remembers. ‘To save money he didn’t hire a professional floor sander again but used a cheaper belt sander, though it took up to six hours a night for a whole week to remove all the stain. It took another four hours to reapply it – properly. Alex then added beading to the original skirting boards to give them more height in keeping with the high ceiling.’

The couple replaced all the plug sockets and light switches with modern brushed steel ones. ‘In the process, though, Alex accidentally hammered through a wall into the hallway as the mortar had deteriorated so much,’ Jane admits.

Once all the structural work was out of the way, they started decorating, choosing a traditional dark colour for the walls. ‘We chose a grey/green shade for the walls but added bright coloured accessories as a contrast,’ says Jane.

That just left new furniture. ‘We didn’t have a plan, except to spend money on a few designer pieces, such as our Charles Eames fibreglass dining chairs,’ says Jane. They also factored an antique desk into the design to create a home office.

The couple remained within budget by bargain hunting on the internet. ‘We did it over time, just buying what we liked – and it all seems to work together,’ says Jane. ‘Now we have a perfect multi-functional room, which includes space for Alex’s computer for his graphic design work.’


Fixtures and fittings£295
Walls and flooring£273
Furniture and accessories£5,347