Renovating a south London home: white, bright and full of light

He had clever architectural ideas, she knew all about styling on a budget — they made the perfect couple
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Stylist Catherine Woram admits to being a die-hard forager. "I have an eye for the upmarket, but it's all the sweeter if it's cut-price," she said. "My natural hunting grounds are the 99p Store — forget £1 shops — and Primark and TK Maxx, but that means I give myself permission to splash out occasionally on investment buys, such as design-classic furniture or acres of parquet flooring. It's a hi-low approach that works for us."

Catherine and her husband Michael Bains, an architectural designer, have learned several very valuable DIY lessons from renovating a string of houses, so they saved not just money, but time when they moved to their turn-of-the-century home in south London with their daughters Jessica, 15, and Anna 14, plus pets Bobby, a Spanish water dog and Toby, a Maltipoo.

White house
© All pictures by James Merrell, styling by Mary Weaver
Living room: "We rebuilt the existing kitchen extension with skylights, big windows and glass doors leading through to the front of the house for maximum light," said Michael.

Get the look: the coffee table and Bestå wall shelf are from Ikea. For a sofa like this, see the Indivi 2 range at BoConcept. The walls are painted in Soft Fauna 5 matt emulsion by Dulux. Find a painted chandelier at Ebury Trading

The property is a double-fronted, four-storey house built in 1901 with a sitting room, dining room, kitchen/living room and WC on the ground floor. On the first floor there's a master bedroom with en suite bathroom, a further bedroom, a shower room and a dressing room. On the top floor are four more bedrooms and a bathroom. The basement is office and storage space.

So what was their trick number one? If you're painting woodwork white, use water-based gloss paint — it doesn't yellow over time. Trick number two? Mix expensive white composite worktops with inexpensive Ikea kitchen units. Trick number three: snap up secondhand glass and white ceramics — they are inexpensive, extremely decorative and blend into any room.

Catherine's nose for a bargain recently paid off at her local 99p Store: "I spotted a stack of beautiful ceramic plates by a top American designer selling at three for 99p. I took the chance and snapped up every one they had on the shelves. When I got home, I Googled the design and there it was: $17 for a single plate. That was a 'Whoo-hoo!' moment."

White kitchen diner
(Above left) Dining room: "inspired by Paris apartments, hence the parquet flooring and the big doorway with glass-panelled doors", explained Catherine

Get the look: the mirror is from Ann May & Daughter. The fireplace is from Chesney's. Buy oak parquet flooring from The Natural Wood Floor Company, and a white linen table cloth at John Lewis. The balloon-back chairs are from eBay — the Saturnia chair by Porada is a similar shape

(Above right) The kitchen: Kitchen: "We used a five metre-long island, designer bar stools and Ikea white gloss kitchen units with white composite granite work surfaces to create a wow factor on a budget," explained Michael.

Get the look: Worktops London has granite worktops. The ceramic floor tiles are from H&R Johnson. Find Pantone mugs by Whitbread Wilkinson at Heal's

But when it came to the edgy kitchen bar stools, made by award-winning Italian design company Kristalia, Catherine paid up. "They were just irresistibly 'now' and we couldn't wait for them to come down in a sale."

They fell for the generously wide proportions of the house, built in what was called at the time "the most beautiful estate in London" in 2006. And while Catherine was on a mission to hunt down every bargain in south London, Michael set himself the task of upgrading the layout of their new red-brick family home.

"When we bought the house it was structurally sound but had been renovated to look like a Beefeater pub," he said. "No disrespect to Beefeaters, but the timber mouldings everywhere and exposed brick hid the natural elegance of the building. It sucked the light and air out of the space."

(Above left) Anna's bedroom: "I made the headboard from MDF and foam and covered it with pale grey velvet from John Lewis," said Catherine. "The wardrobe was bought from a junk shop and painted in French Grey eggshell by Little Greene. The chandelier was £30 at a car boot sale and painted in French Gray estate eggshell by Farrow & Ball."

Get the look: The Mull headboard from The Headboard Workshop is similar to this one. For a throw like this, see The Vermont Cream throw from Feather & Black. For a similar chandelier, try The French Bedroom Company

(Above right) Master en suite: "I liked the idea of a French-chic bathroom with a carved mirror, parquet floor and mirrored doors, with the practicality of a modern his'n'hers basin."

Get the look: buy a double-ended, freestanding Trend bath at Bathstore. The basin is from Twyford Bathrooms. The walls are painted in Dulux matt emulsion in Dove White. The parquet flooring is from The Natural Wood Floor Company

The kitchen extension, for example, had a low ceiling and country-style units. By raising the roof and adding concertina doors on one side and a large picture window on the other, Michael and Catherine tripled the light pouring in. "We threw in several skylights and a garden full of lush plants to give a light, deeply relaxing, green outlook all year round."

Inspired by the light, airy Parisian interiors they had seen on holiday, they laid parquet flooring in the living areas. The segments have been tumbled so they have a vintage look. They decided to throw out the existing doors leading from the hallway, and to widen the openings and double their height.

"A local carpenter made the new doors for us fitted with custom-cut glass," said Michael. The result is cool and elegant.

In the master bedroom and en suite, they added tall, mirrored-glass cupboard doors, antique mirrors, a freestanding bath and luxe double sinks. The transformation was instant elegance.

All pictures by James Merrell, styling by Mary Weaver

See architectural designer Michael Bains's work at

The full version of this article appears in the June issue of Livingetc — out now

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