How to use colour in a London home:couple shuns neutral white and goes bold with lime green floors and bright red staircase

Zingy orange, lime green, bright red, sky blue — designer shades of white have no place in this dazzling family home. 

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Julia and Andy Bell were untroubled by the familiar Londoner’s problem of which Farrow & Ball shade of white to use for their new home improvements. They solved the debate by going bold. Really bold.

Think lime green living room floor, deep red staircase, with bedroom floors ranging from zingy orange to sky blue. And kooky colours for the bedrooms of their daughters Harper, six, and Juno, three, which the girls chose.

“It all started with the kitchen,” explains Julia, standing at the polished concrete worktop. “I was definite that I didn’t want a white kitchen. You can get a white kitchen from Ikea. If we spent a bit more we could have something different. We have stepped outside the safe zone, and we really like it.”

By the time Julia, 40, and Andy, 42, were ready to start work on extending and renovating the run-down semi in Kennington, their shared thinking was to turn the three-bedroom house into a modern, joyful family home with five bedrooms. The colour scheme was all part of the grand plan, which took seven months to complete.

A DUMP WITH POTENTIAL

The family previously lived in a Bermondsey townhouse which they sold for £670,000. Andy, who works in software development, and Julia, who runs a business software company, rented in Herne Hill, where Harper went to school, while they searched for a new home.

An estate agent mentioned that a house was about to come up close to Kennington Tube. It was a probate sale. “It was an absolute dump,” says Julia. Nonetheless it was a dump with potential. “It was a good location, and we knew we could make the house work.”

Probate sales are notoriously slow, and by the time the Bells paid £775,000 for the 1,345sq ft house in May 2015, they’d already hired Frederik Rissom, founder of R2 Studio Architects, and begun the redesign of the place.

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“It all started with the kitchen”: Julia didn’t want white cabinetry “so we stepped outside the safe zone and we really love it” (Andy Stagg)

They turned to the internet to find their architect, asking for recommendations on the London SE1 forum. They chose Rissom because they liked his attitude. “I felt the project mattered to him as much as it did to me,” says Julia.

They wanted a loft extension to add two spare rooms and a second bathroom, extending the property to 1,775sq ft. They also wanted to open up the ground floor, and as Julia works from home, she wanted a “practical and comfortable” office.

Because they were not altering the footprint they did not need planning permission, and used permitted development rights. Visit the Government Planning Portal to find out what works are covered under permitted development. They did, however, need detailed plans so that builders could tender for the project.

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Fit for family life: the Kennington “dump with potential” is now a joyful, well-located five-bedroom home (Andy Stagg)

Even with an architect’s help, deciding the fine details of the design of every room is very time consuming. “I was very, very organised and spent a lot of time pre-planning exactly what every room needed, right down to plugs and where the sockets should be,” says Julia.

A BESPOKE WELLIE CUPBOARD

She carefully assessed the number of kitchen cupboards and drawers she needed, and went through the same process with storage for clothes, toiletries, books and toys.

She even measured the height of the children’s wellies and then designed the entrance hall cupboard with a shelf to store them. It also has a sunglasses drawer, measured in advance.

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Views over the rooftops: the loft extension added two spare rooms and a second bathroom (Andy Stagg)

“I spent a lot of time making sure it was right but if you put in 80 per cent of the effort, you get 80 per cent of the result.”

The couple included tech methods for turning on the lights and entry cameras from their phones. Harper and Juno particularly delight in an app which lets them change the colour of the lights remotely.

The smart heating system responds to weather conditions, automatically adjusting the heat, making this highly insulated house very energy efficient. Fire alarms link to Andy and Julia’s phones, broadcasting a warning if smoke is detected.

Their builder was recommended by Rissom, who acted as project manager. His quote was also the most competitive. “We asked several builders for detailed quotes, with costings for every item. Although his fixed fee was the most competitive overall we went through all the quotes, and where an individual item was more expensive than the others we negotiated it down,” explains Julia.

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Careful planning: Julia and Andy, with daughters Harper and Juno, put time and effort into their wacky decor, but it’s practical as well as eye-catching, with rubber flooring and exactly measured storage (David Butler)

FINAL DECISIONS

When the work began the couple were well prepared and they essentially paid weekly visits from their rented flat, making final decisions on things such as the right shade for the colour scheme according to the light.

They wanted practical rubber flooring, and chose lime green for the kitchen and living room. The cabinetry was built from a laminate made by Polyrey. They selected a deep olive green for built-in cupboards in the living room, and petrol blue for the master bedroom wardrobes.

Julia and Andy had originally planned to spend between £100,000 and £150,000 on upgrading the house, but the final bill was closer to £250,000 which included £50,000-worth of fitted furniture, landscaping for the back garden, and hiring a street artist to create a mural for the living room.

When the family moved into their completed home in July last year they were delighted with their colour scheme. Harper chose for her bedroom orange floor, pink walls, eau de Nil wardrobes, and yellow shelves. It’s a jolly and memorable childhood room.

Julia now works from one of the new loft rooms with views over the rooftops of south London, at a desk that is a vibrant shade of acid green. “It is such a nice change from office grey.”


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