All the Best Bits

23rd August 2019

QUICK CHECK

The Property:
A three-bed 1950s semi in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, bought in 2016.

Who Lives Here Now:
Alex Reid, who owns a nursery interiors company (missingcargo.co.uk), plus her carpenter husband, Sam,
and two-year-old daughter, Camilla.

What They Did:
Turned the ground floor into a bright open-plan space: added a kitchen extension, turned the existing kitchen into a utility room, converted the old pantry into a downstairs loo and created a larger family bathroom.

words: natalie flaum | photography: darren chung

“Our previous house was a two-up-two-down that we did up ourselves with absolutely no prior experience,” says Alex. “Although the location was beautiful, in a tiny Buckinghamshire village, it was remote, and I learned that the convenience of being near shops and towns is really important to me.”

Six months after the couple got married, they were ready to start their next property challenge. One day in to their home search, they found this 1950s home and even though it hadn’t been updated in over a decade, were excited by its potential. Then, when Alex found out she was pregnant, all of a sudden the couple had a deadline to work to.

“We wanted the majority of work finished by the time the baby arrived,” says Alex. “While I was on maternity leave, I began an interiors blog (@reid.renovation.house) so that I could chart our progress and inspire others with ideas for their own homes. However, I wouldn’t recommend living on a renovation site when you have a strong urge to start nesting!”

The house had been rented for years and was in a bit of a state, with grubby lino floors and brown floral carpets. The couple planned an extension for a new kitchen and open-plan snug, and converted the existing kitchen into a utility room, transforming the old pantry into a downstairs loo. Upstairs, they also knocked through the adjoining bathroom and separate WC wall in favour of having a larger family bathroom with space for a walk-in shower.

“We lived upstairs for nine months, using our spare bedroom as a temporary living room and progressed to spending many nights dining on a picnic table in a dusty, half-finished downstairs!” says Alex. “Luckily as Sam is a skilled carpenter, he managed 95 per cent of the work himself in his spare time.”

For the new kitchen, the couple sourced quartz marble worktops from a local stone specialist. “Although pricey, quartz lasts forever and cleans up really well,” says Alex. “Sam built the worktops in the utility from scaffold boards and fitted the cabinets single-handedly. I still feel so lucky and grateful every time I walk into our kitchen.”

As the original pulley rails were still in place in the utility room ceiling, above what would have been the original kitchen window, Sam made his own pulley maid using dowel rods and brackets.

One of Sam and Alex’s top priorities was to create space for a dining table large enough to seat ten guests. Inspired by an expensive designer piece, Sam made his own version for a fraction of the price using lengths of treated timber that he stained antique oak. To help guide him through construction, he and Alex watched YouTube tutorials. The dining chairs came from Alex’s parents’ home.

Sam also created a whisky bar by fixing some vintage crates to the wall – perfect for storing favourite tipples as well as glasses and bar accessories. He also built the window seat in the living room, as well as shelves made from reclaimed scaffolding boards. The coffee table began life as a desk in Alex’s childhood bedroom; Sam adapted it, cutting the legs down to make it coffee-table height. Alex upholstered the window seat pad in fabric she bought from eBay, and this is the spot where Camilla loves to sit and play with her toys.

“I was born in Lyon in France and I lived there until I was 17. We also travelled with my dad’s job to North Carolina and Canada. After more than thirty years living abroad, when my parent’s third grandchild was on the way, they downsized and moved back to England. I’ve inherited my parents’ passion for antiques and we have acquired some lovely pieces. There are so many things I love about France: the warm climate, skiing, the incredible flea markets, the cuisine and of course the wine! It has definitely influenced and shaped me in terms of the way I dress, my work ethic, views on education and parenthood. I think the huge benefit of having lived in different countries is that you can select the best bits from each.”

With an eye for a bargain Alex loves sourcing vintage pieces and developing design ideas that, luckily, Sam has the skills to be able to interpret. “My mum taught me how to sew, which is so handy for budget renovations, and I’m constantly refreshing our look by making cushions, table runners and wall hangings for my home,” she adds. “I like to collect things and enjoy mixing antiques with contemporary paint colours and rustic wood. I love teaming modern accessories with old books, antique furniture and vintage-style prints. I found a collection of old fashion patterns in a charity shop and framed them for a vintage touch. You can’t beat a good book collection and I love my Penguin and Observer books. My favourite art pieces include a Chanel perfume bottle that Sam painted as a Christmas gift and the stylish Garance Doré fashion print, a gift from my sister.”

Upstairs in the bathroom, inspired by an idea on Pinterest, Sam and Alex made a ladder using thin pieces of sawn timber, stained and fixed together with screws. Sam also made the bath panel using more treated sawn timber and created the bath shelf from an offcut of wood. All the fixtures and fittings the couple sourced on eBay to keep costs down.

Their bedroom is an oasis of calm with natural colours, plain bedding and accessories. She has furnished the space with pine bedside tables from a French flea market and the chest of drawers was an eBay find that she then painted to match the bed frame.

Camilla’s nursery is full of hand-crafted items. “I’m a big fan of supporting small businesses,” says Alex. “I love sewing and made the yarn wall hanging myself by using wooden dowel rods and balls of yarn. It’s very simple to make by cutting lengths of wool to the desired length and clumping a bunch together and looping them around the dowel.”

The guest bedroom features bamboo shelving units, which were Facebook purchases and the recycled scaffold shelves made by Sam, who also created the pendant using cable wire and industrial bulb fittings.

The last DIY task the couple completed, just before Camilla was born, was the music corner in the hall. “We had always liked the idea of having an ‘On Air’ light there, with all our vinyl records stacked on homemade scaffolding board shelves,” says Alex. “We bought the record player more than a year ago and it’s lovely to be able to listen to vinyl records. We found some of the records in charity shops and also bought some new. It’s one of my favourite features in the house and always makes me smile. I love going on walks with Camilla to our local canals to pick Pampas grass,” she adds. “I’m hugely passionate about interiors and love to make my home feel like my favourite place on earth.”

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