Style Council: see how a 'brick-and-concrete box' was transformed into a stylish home

A mum who fell for the price and practicality of a former council house found it was the perfect backdrop for a stylish makeover....
Single mother-of-two Sarah Thompson decided to buy a former council house in Bridport, Dorset, when she realised that was the only way she could afford a three-bedroom place with a decent-size garden.
 
The 1953 brick-and-concrete box cost £200,000 in 2007, of which 25 per cent was covered by a loan through the Help To Buy scheme.
 
“All the other houses we were looking at had inflated prices, partly because of all the second homers,” she says.
 
“This house looked pretty brutal from the outside but as soon as we walked through the front door — I had small children and buggies — I realised here was a house with a wide hallway where I could park my sleeping child, the rooms were all a good size and it felt solid.”

 
The 39-year-old journalist and copywriter spent another £25,000 on modest cosmetic improvements. “We took out the door from the kitchen into the sitting room and put in big folding doors leading to the garden,” she adds.
 
“We ripped out the existing kitchen with all its cupboards and put in white lacquered units from Howdens Joinery. We got a local builder to make the birch and formica work surfaces.”
 
Thompson had customised shelves built in the cupboard under the stairs for her spice rack and dry groceries. She covered its door in blackboard paint and put up a large sheet of metal on the wall to act as a magnet board for shopping lists and her children’s drawings.
 
Walls are painted in shades of Farrow & Ball — Thompson says she once made the mistake of using cheaper paints. “I chose F&B’s mid-century palette to be in sync with the period of the house. These are the best. And I got a professional decorator to do it properly. That was money well spent.”
 
The sitting room has a wood burning stove and a huge, deep-seated sofa from Loaf, which Thompson says is essential for cosy nights in with the family.
 
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Cosy: a large sofa in the sitting room is a family essential
 
Upstairs are three bedrooms for her, eight-year-old Stanley, and Betty, who is six, with the staircase cutting through the middle. Ingeniously, the architects designed cupboards into the cavity walls to utilise all that empty space.
 
Thompson and her children share the compact bathroom and, if she could add just one thing, it would be another bathroom, but she is wary of spending more money that she probably won’t get back for a long time. The house is still only worth £215,000.
 
“There’s a stigma attached to living in an ex-council house. I’ve found myself feeling funny about it with certain friends,” she says.
 
“We grew up with the idea that these houses weren’t what aspiring people lived in, and that we should live in period homes, Victorian or Edwardian. But now many of us are driven by the cost of property and, of course, the way we think about 20th-century design has changed as it is now very fashionable.”
 
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Mix and match: the kitchen has smart white lacquered units and space for the children's drawings and reminder lists
 
Some of Thompson’s middle-class friends have even bought a council house themselves and become neighbours. However, the trend of buying up ex-council homes is still more prevalent in London than in Bridport. In the capital, open days at former council house sales can be a bit of a bunfight.
 
Thompson has come to admire the spirit of her “no-frills” house — she loves the concrete posts for the washing line, and oodles of storage space.
 
“The lines are all square, there are bigger windows and a lot more natural light — it’s made for modern life,” she says. “There’s a thoughtfulness too, and I’ve felt very comforted by my home in the wake of my separation. I feel that it looks after me and the family.”

 
Sarah’s style tips
  • Invest in good-quality paint and use a professional decorator. It will be money well spent.
  • Assess exactly how much storage space you will need in the kitchen before putting in too many cupboards.
  • Install a big shoe rack by the front door for muddy shoes and trainers.
  • Accessorise with lovely cushions for an instant colour and style impact.
  • There is often hidden space (under stairs for example) that can be turned into extra storage.
  • Glazed doors will let in the light between rooms.
  • Use full-length mirrors in hallways or get glass cut for tight corners and areas where you can increase the sense of space and reflect the light.
  • Look out for sales, especially for bigger items, such as fitted kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Invest in a new and modern front door and give it a coat of fresh paint to transform the appearance of your house.
  • If you have a garden, consider putting in a shed as a home office or extra play space for children.
 
Style Council by Sarah Thompson (Square Peg, £20, photography by Sarah Cuttle) features 14 ex-council homes, including the author’s own.
The book looks at the local authority architecture styles that emerged in the post-war council house building boom, including work by some of the most celebrated architects of the day, such as Denys Lasdun, Ernö Goldfinger, Neave Brown and Jack Lynn.
 
Photographs: Sarah Cuttle

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