Renovating a Victorian house: creating light and space

To create a perfect family home, co-founder of Holly Tucker learned to wait, plan and save - none of which was in her nature
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Holly Tucker
"The shelf that runs along the length of the units is made of one piece of 100-year-old tropical wood - it must have been some tree!" says Holly
Holly Tucker makes decisions quickly. "'Really well-considered' isn't me at all," she insists. So it is a surprise to find her home very well-considered indeed.

Every detail of its elegant twist-on-rustic scheme has clearly been pinned, edited and mood boarded in Holly's mind for years.

Boss and co-founder of successful shopping website, she shares the detached Victorian house in south London with husband Frank Symington, a security consultant, and their seven-year-old son, Harry.

The ground floor has an open-plan kitchen-diner and two connecting living rooms. On the first floor are three bedrooms, a bathroom and a dressing room/office. The master bedroom with en suite shower room is in the converted attic space.

For six years, from when Harry was a baby, Holly was first creating, then nurturing her fledgling business while she and Frank were also renovating another property.

Yet, in the midst of all this, she was amassing a library of pages torn from magazines, images snapped in restaurants and bars, and fabric swatches — all of which were forming a picture of the next move, into what they wanted to be their perfect family home.

Find more design inspiration on our Pinterest page

Holly Tucker
Holly's dining table is from Top Banana Antiques Mall (left); The crystal chandelier is Holly's favourite centrepiece (right)

So three years ago when they saw this house and its dark warren of rooms, Holly says: "I could see exactly what I wanted it to be like. I knew it could be this bright, open-plan space, and I wanted it to happen immediately. In September we moved in, and I was aiming to finish by Christmas.

"Everyone who advised me to slow down was absolutely right. We had to live in the house for a while to understand what our priorities were. It wasn't just about us; it was about creating a home that our friends and family would feel happy and relaxed in."

Holly Tucker bedrooms
Holly's bedroom is decorated with neutral tones (left); the spare bedroom is a restful and elegant room with soothing shades of grey. "I would never want a room to feel too serious," says Holly. "Especially one where we'd like our friends and family to be relaxed."

A year after moving in — planning sorted, money saved — the sledgehammers started swinging as the transformation began. "The hard part was leaving in the morning and letting all those decisions happen without me," says Holly. "But the builders grew to understand my vision of warmth and texture rather than immaculate finishes. I kept telling them, 'Rough is good!'"

On the ground floor, walls were knocked down to create the huge kitchen-diner and the living rooms. "While it is a big space, it has definite zones. I work from home a lot, so I wanted to be able to be on my laptop at the dining table while Harry played with Lego and Frank might be in the kitchen. We feel close, but don't get in each other's way."

The house was renovated in an impressive eight months. As the building work was drawing to a close, Holly's mind map and file of clippings were transferred on to a giant mood board on one wall of the house. The couple then drew a floor plan in chalk and pinned each item to the appropriate place. Then, finally, the fun part began — the buying and finalising of ideas.

Holly Tucker
Holly loves independent design-makers and her home is full of pieces by different designers (left); The office is designed around the family's love of travel.

While the key pieces had been chosen long before the dust from the building work had settled, Holly's work means temptation is never far away. "I think the look of the house, with its natural materials and artisan craftsmanship, is me getting to the root of what is about. I am passionate about supporting independent designer-makers, so I see things every day I want to buy."

Holly's talent for visualisation and future planning does have one drawback — she says she isn't the best at living in the moment. "At work I'm already thinking of next year as last year. But I'm definitely getting better at stopping to smell these roses."

Living Etc
Build a Business from your Kitchen Table, by Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish (Simon & Schuster, £14.99), is available through Amazon. Visit

To read this feature in full, see Livingetc's February issue, out now.

Photograhs by Paul Massey
Styling by Mary Weaver

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