Renovating on a budget: this couple added £845k to the value of their Victorian cottage in Nunhead by cleverly remodelling their home

Interior designer Natalya Nesterova spends millions on clients’ behalf but transformed her Nunhead terrace on a budget of just £150k.

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Four years working as an interior designer for super-rich Russians living in London has given Natalya Nesterova strong champagne tastes — but, sadly, still only a prosecco budget.

By day she helps clients spend seven-figure sums upgrading homes in Chelsea, Belgravia and the Surrey countryside. The largest interiors budget she has had to play with was £3 million, though this, she explains, had to include a new swimming pool and staff quarters. By night she returns to her family home in Nunhead, south-east London.

Nesterova, 41, and husband Alessandro Mangiavacchi, 42, bought the three-bedroom Victorian terrace house, their first property together, in 2011, paying £405,000. Since then, as well as having a son, Dante, now four, and setting up Nesterova’s company, Nesterova Interiors, they have extended and remodelled their house with a budget of £150,000.

“Pocket money to an oligarch but a substantial sum for most of us,” she says. A tight hold on the purse strings meant this paid for extending the kitchen and converting the loft, adding underfloor heating and installing new sash windows, putting in a new kitchen and two new bathrooms and furnishing the house from top to bottom.

Nesterova’s day job has left her with an enduring respect for quality and luxe finishes. From the limestone tiles on the hall floor to silk wallpapers and dramatic lighting, this is a refurbishment which looks — and feels — very expensive.

“I wanted to create a beautiful home for us to live in,” she says. “I also wanted it to have personality. Alessandro of course likes grey and white and black, he is an architect. But I like colour — and he has come to like it.”

Born and brought up in Uzbekistan, Nesterova’s training as an interior designer sent her first to New York, then Istanbul and finally London. After graduating from the University of Bedfordshire she got a job as an interior designer with a firm of architects, where she met Mangiavacchi.


The couple rented a flat in Manor House, north London, where they saved hard to put together the deposit and bought their house shortly before Dante was born. The place was “a bit of a wreck” when they moved in and the reason renovations have taken so long is that they had to do the work piecemeal.

“We put all our savings into buying the property,” explains Nesterova. With cashflow constrained she turned to eBay to furnish the house. Her favourite purchase was a classic G Plan dining table and chairs, plus two armchairs, which together cost £60. To make them look expensive she had them stained almost black and reupholstered. “They look brand new,” she says.

In 2013 the couple had saved enough to have their loft converted, a project which typically costs £40,000. They managed it on just £24,000, even though it was not a straightforward job. In order to create enough ceiling height in the new master bedroom they had to lower the ceilings on the first floor.

“Instead of getting the loft company to do everything we only got them to do the structure, and then we hired a builder to finish it,” explains Nesterova. “It was much cheaper that way.”

The following year they had saved up again, and were able to extend their kitchen into the side return, add skylights, and install bifold doors to the garden. They also took down the wall between the dining and living rooms to make a single generous space and added a window to give a view of the garden.

The hallway is decorated with a montage of family photographs taken from the couple’s Instagram feed, professionally framed to give them a slick look. “I am obsessed by square pictures,” laughs Nesterova.

Her husband, a keen cook, designed the kitchen, choosing stainless steel work surfaces and cabinets in a mix of grey laminate and dark-stained oak. Nesterova chose a deep shade of plum for the glass splashback, and got her joiner to build a timber cover for the extractor and spray it with gloss paint to match. At the same time she had timber panelling made and sprayed the same glossy colour to cover the cupboard housing the boiler and water tank. “It is not,” she says with admirable understatement, “a neutral house.”


A good joiner was a crucial part of this project. The same company also built the bespoke, grey-painted bookshelves which sit either side of the original Victorian fireplace in the living room, along with the built-in desk and plywood shelves in the study, and the walk-in wardrobe in the loft.

Upstairs, the deep plum theme continues. For the master bedroom Nesterova bought a battered French wardrobe and a nearly matching chest of drawers for £120 each, and painted them in Pelt by Farrow & Ball — the same shade that she so loves in her kitchen.

In the en suite bathroom, even the second-hand free-standing bath has been painted in the same shade. “You can paint almost anything,” she insists.

Further eBay finds include the gilded wood mirror that hangs above the fireplace and cost around £180. And so keen was Nesterova to be faithful to the house’s Victorian roots, she also bid for a fireplace for the guest bedroom, where the original had been ripped out. She had her auction find sandblasted, and then spray-painted it white.

While it is safe to assume that none of her customers spend their free time lugging rusty old fireplaces to sandblasting workshops, or rolling up their sleeves and stripping wallpaper, only four years after they joined the property ladder, this house has lifted Nesterova and her husband into the millionaire bracket, on paper at least.

The property has been valued at £1.25 million — not a bad return for their initial outlay and the money spent on renovations. And, with its heady mix of rich colours, luxurious fabrics and bespoke furnishings, their simple Nunhead terrace house now looks a million dollars, too.



Nesterova says a house with high ceilings needs large artwork and light fittings. Her sculptural white pendant living room lights from Danish firm Normann Copenhagen cost less than £70 through Super-size artworks are from a range at John Richard.

When buying second hand, Nesterova seeks out brands and favours Italian design for its quality. She buys B&B Italia, Minotti and Poltrona Frau, and reupholsters as necessary. Expect to pay about £250 to £300 to reupholster a chair — bought new the same piece could easily cost 10 times as much.

Rich colours require a calm backdrop, says Nesterova. She chose three Farrow & Ball shades for her backdrop — Pavilion Gray on the ground floor, Dove Tale on the first floor and Elephant’s Breath in the loft. She avoided bright white for the ceilings, opting for an extra-pale grey instead.

Vinyl wallpaper has a subtle but luxurious-looking sheen and is hardwearing and washable, so it’s ideal in hallways and in homes with young families. Nesterova bought her hall wallpaper from Altfield.

Her husband wanted a super-size chopping board for the kitchen, so he got the kitchen fitters to cut him a metre square slab of wooden worktop.


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