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.
© All pictures by James Merrell, styling by Mary Weaver
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."
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."
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 whitearchitecture.co.uk.
The full version of this article appears in the June issue of Livingetc — out now