Owners Helen Shaw, owner of Blue Ticking (opens in new tab), lives here
with her husband John, a master carpenter and builder, and their daughters, Edith, seven, and Maggie, five
Property A three-bedroom, 1920s semi-detached house on the edge of a village in the Surrey Hills
What they did Helen and John have redecorated throughout, installed a wood- burner, put shutters in the front bay windows and built a window seat in the living room
She may be the owner of a family home where colours sing from every corner, but when it comes to decorating, Helen Shaw’s favourite colour is grey. ‘It’s true,’ she says, laughing. ‘I love colour, yet whenever I choose paint for walls it’s a case of working out how the light falls in the room to decide which particular shade of grey to use.’
Luckily for Helen, grey is the perfect backdrop for a rainbow – which is the most accurate way to describe her home. ‘It wasn’t until I saw these photographs of our house that I realised just how colourful it is,’ she says. ‘John doesn’t like anything that matches and I think that’s rubbed off on me.’
Explore their home, then browse more real home transformations.
Helen happily experiments with colour. Just after moving in, she painted a feature wall in the master bedroom. ‘I hated it instantly!’ she recalls.
Out came the paint pots and as if by magic the room had a new look. ‘It made me realise that you can be brave with paint, which gave me more confidence in my decorating and colour choices.’
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It also helps that John is a skilled carpenter. So, with the exception of the wooden shutters that frame the bay windows at the front of the house, when the couple want to add something to their home – like the window seat in the living room’s generous bay window, which doubles as storage – John just makes it. The couple have a solid frame to build their ideas on.
The three-bedroom house, which they bought in 2011 when Helen was pregnant with their eldest daughter, Edith, did not need major refurbishment.
The roof and all external walls were sound and the original layout still worked. Plus, a rear extension, added by the previous owners, features period details like exposed brick walls, wooden floors and reproduction 1920s casement windows that match the originals at the front of the house.
These period features and neutral walls provide an elegant backdrop for the couple’s collection of modern art and vintage pieces. ‘I can add absolutely anything to this background,’ says Helen. ‘And I can always move around things like pictures and cushions when I get bored of them.’
To avoid the sea of pink plastic that floods many children’s bedrooms and play areas, Helen sources recycled, restored or repurposed industrial storage or sources modern pieces that have a vintage quality. So, in their first-floor bedrooms, Edith and her younger sister Maggie have sock drawers that once served as a Post Office sorting unit, apple crate shelving, and fashion boutique-style clothes rails. ‘It’s not a big house, and it has no built-in storage,’ Helen explains.
This William Morris approach to décor, where everything needs to be useful and beautiful, means that the spacious open-plan playroom, kitchen and dining room housed in the rear extension, work as a hub for family life and a great place to entertain. ‘We spend most of our time in that part of the house, especially in the summer when we can open the dining room French doors onto the garden,’ says Helen. ‘We love having people round for lunch or dinner. Even when it’s just us I can be working or in the kitchen while the girls play.’
Before moving to Surrey, the couple lived in an Edwardian flat in London and Helen worked as a fundraiser for charities such as UNICEF. But interiors were her first love – in particular sourcing vintage pieces.
The move to the country and her first pregnancy, during which Helen struggled to find the vintage children’s furniture and accessories she wanted, made her wonder whether there was a way to upcycle her hobby into a business. ‘I started in 2014 with an Etsy shop, then we launched the website in January 2015.’
They may have a full family life and a fledgling business that fills their working days, but this couple are always planning future house projects. ‘Next on the list is a loft conversion,’ says Helen. ‘We have been granted planning permission to put in a master bedroom and en suite bathroom.’
Then the couple are going to build a home office cabin in their garden. ‘We had talked about moving in order to get the extra space that a loft conversion and home office will give us,’ says Helen. ‘But we love this village and, more importantly, we love this house. It’s a perfect family home.’