Abi Campbell’s modest home is a world away from the luxury five-bedroom house she once had in London – but she couldn’t be happier. The Victorian cottage is half the size but has twice the punch now she has put her own stamp on it with her ‘blue period’.
Read on to find out how she transformed it into the perfect family house, giving it a fresh new look, then browse the rest of our real home transformations. Read our guide on renovating a house, too, for more guidance.
Abi has completely transformed the property with her Amercian-inspired design ideas, antique furniture and French-style panelling. It took just three months to modernise the dated interior in a whirlwind renovation project, which involved stripping her new home back to a shell and redesigning every room.
Owner Abi Campbell is a photographer and travel writer. She lives here with daughter Jemima and son Ellis, and their Russian Blue cat, Luna.
Property A three-bedroom Victorian worker’s cottage in Cobham, Kent.
What she did Abi updated the plumbing, electrics, kitchen, bathroom and floors, decorated throughout and added wall panelling.
‘The house really had been well loved by the previous owners, but the décor was dated, the rooms were used very differently to the way they are now, and it felt generally dark and cramped,’ says Abi. ‘I was on a mission to maximise the space.’
The property had already been extended, so the first thing Abi did was work out how she could use the space more efficiently for her own needs. By removing doors, moving the dining room from the front of the house to the back – next to the kitchen – and redesigning the kitchen and bathroom layouts, she quickly created a better flow.
‘I wanted the house to draw you in and have a sense of purpose,’ she says. ‘Although it’s small I wanted it to feel light and spacious, without losing its relaxed sense of homeliness and comfort.’
She began by stripping out all the interior fixtures and fittings and taking it back to a shell. Having renovated houses before, she knew it made practical and financial sense to do everything in one go, and get it finished before moving in, so she set herself a strict timescale and managed everything, from the sourcing of building materials to the commissioning of tradespeople and interior design.
‘I threw myself into it and became obsessive about detail, spending hours researching everything to get exactly what I wanted,’ says Abi.
‘As I’m a photographer, I understand the importance of light, so I am particularly passionate about getting the lighting right in my home. I sourced most of my fittings through Etsy and drew up a lighting plan very early on, because I believe it is the most important part of the house. Lighting creates atmosphere, so I don’t give up until I find what I’m looking for, and if I can’t find what I’m looking for I have it made.’
The house was rewired and new floors laid, including aged-style floorboards throughout. The kitchen is small and had been full of cupboards on all sides, including the walls, which made it ‘look like a cupboard’, so Abi gave Charlie Kingham of Marylebone carte blanche to create a kitchen that would open up the small space.
Choosing paint colours was a challenge, and it took 82 samples to find the right shade of blue, inspired by a house she had stayed at in Iceland. ‘I call it my blue period,’ she laughs.
‘Even my cat is a Russian Blue. Every room has a shade of it somewhere, but all the woodwork is white to create contrast. Blue is difficult to get right so I painted samples onto paper plates and stuck them on the walls to see how the shades worked in various lights and in different rooms.’
To keep the ceilings looking as high as possible, Abi removed the coving and had panelling made out of MDF, which, when painted, creates a lovely period feature. She likes to mix and match furniture and accessories from all periods, including lots of modern art, which adorns the walls in every room, as well as antiques, upcycled furniture and contemporary design ideas.
‘I put all the experience and ideas I’ve gathered from previous projects into this, to create something that is very mixed, but mainly Scandi or New England style,’ explains Abi. ‘A lot of my inspiration came from the late designer Annabel Evans – including the painted panelling and well-worn furniture. I really admired her so this is my take on her style.’
It took Abi just three months to get the house renovated and decorated ready to move in, always with the aim of moving again before long.‘I moved out of the city to be closer to the children’s school,’ she says.
‘The location of the cottage was ideal, but it was only ever meant to be a stopgap until I found something bigger – I hadn’t bargained on falling in love with it. A big house with all its trappings doesn’t make you happy. Less space means less cleaning and less responsibility. It also brings the family together. Unlike other houses I’ve lived in, I feel completely at home in this cottage – I can actually see myself being here for ever.’