‘While house-hunting for my next project, I was determined not to compromise,’ says the homeowner, who’s a self-confessed serial renovator. ‘I knew that I wanted an older, detached property, with a garage and garden, and it had to be a doer-upper.’
The four-bedroom detached 1920s house resides in Bedfordshire. ‘We looked for ages before we found this house. It had been extended over time from a two-up, two-down to a four-bedroom house, but inside, it hadn’t been touched for decades – so there were 1950s, ’60s and ’70s wallpapers everywhere.’
‘The carpets were completely worn out and the kitchen had polystyrene ceiling tiles, and a damp, makeshift extension at the back. I think the amount of work might have put some people off, but we knew from experience what we were getting into, and for us it was perfect’.
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When the family moved in the house was damp and decrepit. There were mid-century wallpapers, a rickety extension and worn-out carpets everywhere, even in the kitchen.
‘The children were quite little at the time, so we started with redecorating, which we could tackle quickly and easily.’ Vintage style is a huge passion’ explains the homeowner. ‘So we knew we wanted to keep some of the amazing old wallpapers. I loved that they were original, but they were everywhere, and just a bit too much. Also, our stuff, such as lighting, ceramics, glassware and fabrics, is all quite colourful, so I needed to tone the background down a bit to make it work.;
‘There was mustard-yellow wallpaper all through the hall, stairs and landing. We painted it all white, apart from one section on the landing. It’s more subtle now, and works really well.’
‘We lived with the existing kitchen for quite a while, but we always knew we’d change it. The whole room was cold and damp, the flat-roof extension was flimsy, and the office-type ceiling tiles were awful. My husband works in construction, so he and a builder friend did everything, and although it was disruptive, we’d done similar projects before – so we just worked through it.’
‘We extended out a little way, and built a new, pitched roof with three large Velux windows. Making the whole space lighter and more airy. He really wanted a completely open-plan room with a big island, but for practicality, I insisted on a separate utility room.’
The old kitchen has been transformed into a big, bright family hub, and we’ve incorporated the old wallpapers to make each room a backdrop for our vintage accessories.
‘We chose a new Shaker-style kitchen, but the cabinets have rounded edges, which feels a bit retro, and echoes the curves of our ’50s and ’60s wooden Ercol table and chairs. The kitchen itself, from Howdens, is quite understated. It was a good choice, as the room is open-plan and there’s so much else going on’
‘I’d have loved coloured kitchen units, but plain white made the best backdrop for all the orange-y tones in our 1960s cookware’ explains the homeowner.
”I’m very into Catherine Holm’s bright, mid-century kitchenware, which all gets used as I don’t see the point of having something lovely and keeping it in a cupboard. We don’t tend to buy so much these days as we don’t really need it, but I keep my eyes open and I’ll snap up anything especially collectable.’
Open-plan dining area
‘The kitchen-dining-living room has become the absolute heart of our home. It’s got bifold doors out to the garden and we can happily spend all day there. ‘
‘One of my favourite items is the kitchenette, a 1930s freestanding kitchen unit, where I keep all the baking kit. It makes a great linking piece between the kitchen and dining areas. We’ve sourced most things second-hand, from car boot sales, auctions, house clearances or eBay.’
‘My glassware cabinet was a skip find. I painted it and added the mirror at the back and it’s such a useful piece. We’ve got some lovely 1930s panelled internal doors that I spotted, stacked outside a house, ready for the dump. I knocked and asked if we could take them. They’re beautiful, solid and a real feature of the house. I’ve learned that you don’t always need to spend a lot of money on new things.’
‘A lot of the furniture was originally my husband’s. When we met, I was amazed that he shared my love of all things vintage. He had lots of ’60s and ’70s items like the dark leather sofa and swivel chairs, which belonged to his grandmother.’
‘My things were more 1940s and ’50s, and over time we’ve incorporated other bits like a lovely starburst clock and a retro wall light, left behind by the previous owners. We don’t worry too much about mixing up different eras and it all works well together. That’s one of the best things about this house – it truly reflects us.’
‘The kitchen-diner-living room is the main family space, so my husband and I liked the idea of making the lounge more of an adult room and we decided on calm whites and teal blues. We painted the floor cream, which fits in with the different blue tones, and there’s artwork, ceramics, glassware and fabrics as well as one blue feature wall.’
‘Our big fluffy 1970s rug insulates against draughts. The 1960s G Plan coffee table is very collectable’
‘One of our treasures is the white Tulip dining table and chairs, which gets used for more formal occasions, but also for homework’.
‘For the wall colour I made my own mid-tone teal blue, adding white to a darker shade’ says the homeowner enthusiastically.
‘The wallpaper in our bedroom is a modern reproduction of a 1950s design rather than an original, but it sparked the idea of the green and purple tones in the room.’
Mixing old with new, ‘The headboard is a 1970s G Plan vinyl one, but the cabinets came from Ikea. I like their rounded, ’60s-style corners’ says the owner.
Fashion forward thinking for displays. ‘I’ve been into vintage fashion since my teens and collected handbags for years. Displaying a collection of favourite pieces on the wall not only makes a great style statement, it’s then super-easy to select an item to use’
‘With so many accessories on display, I find having a colour theme for each room is a good way to keep things organised.’
‘To refresh the room, I painted white everywhere except for one wall and the chimney breast, and her duck-egg blue and lilac colour scheme grew from there’ explains the owner.
This bedroom is all duck-egg blues and lilacs, inspired by the wallpaper found when they first moved in. ‘In Kitty’s room, there was a very pretty blue-green 1960s paper that I loved.’
Tips for buying vintage furniture
‘Vintage’ usually means items between 30 and 100 years old. Vintage pieces have unique character and it’s an eco-friendly way to furnish your home. There are masses of online specialists as well as sites like eBay offering second-hand furniture.
Be careful buying online as you can’t inspect the item, and delivery may add to the costs.
If you source from auctions, charity shops, antiques fairs and house-clearance sales, you can check the size and condition, and make sure the item will suit your space.
Don’t expect perfection. You’re sure to find scratches, marks or damage. Some problems can be fixed with a little TLC, so you’ll need to decide how much wear and tear you can live with.
Original feature appeared in Style at Home February 2021.