When you invest a lot of time, money and emotions in a house it can become a home that you will be content to live in for many years to come.
A long-term renovation project will not only reward you with a beautifully restored property, but a place filled with lasting memories and love.
After nearly a quarter of a century in their three-bedroom Edwardian semi, Helen and Martin Ephgrave are more than happy they decided to buy a period house in need of some work; they’re still making improvements today, and they’ll probably just carry on.
Helen says: ‘We moved from our previous house, in 1986, because it was a new build and didn’t feel like a home to us as it lacked character. We also needed more space as our family started growing: Cherie and Andrew were both at school, Alex was a toddler, and Martin’s teenage son Nicolas often came to visit. But we didn’t want to move out of the area as we have a beautiful beach and harbour just on our doorstep.
‘I’d always admired the houses on this road,’ she says, ‘so when I saw this one for sale we jumped at the chance to buy it. It only took one week to sell our previous home so things moved very quickly.’
Period: Built c1905
Size: Three bedrooms
Owners: Helen and Martin Ephgrave are both retired. Helen has three grown-up children: Cherie, Andrew and Alex; Martin has one grown-up son, Nicolas
The family couldn’t move in to their new home straightaway, however: a few major repairs needed to be done before the place became habitable. Helen explains: ‘Unfortunately, the chimney at the front of the house had to be removed because of damp. Also, the floor from the hall at the front of the house right through to the rear had to be pulled up and relaid because of rising damp; but I was so happy that the wooden floors everywhere else could be saved. The kitchen and the bathroom needed upgrading, too. These jobs had to be done immediately otherwise the mortgage lender wouldn’t release the full amount. We couldn’t live in the house during the renovation, though, so we moved in with my mother for the two months it took to complete the work.’
Although the entire house needed replastering and redecorating, with the major repairs completed, the Ephgraves could move in and the rest of the work could be done gradually over the years. The beautifully restored house is now a calm, soothing space, thanks to a soft palette of colours on the walls – from fresh whites and light greys to mellow creams and sandy tones – with a simple Shaker style throughout.
In the front sitting room the floorboards were stained with a walnut satin varnish. The walls are painted in Dulux’s Egyptian Cotton, with woodwork in Aged White by Crown. The sofa and chair were from Sofa Sofa. The lamps and throws were bought from TK Maxx; the Welsh blanket belonged to Helen’s grandmother, and the rug was bought locally from Burry Port. All the doors, picture rails and skirting boards throughout the house are original and have been carefully restored
Along the way, Helen and Martin have discovered some hidden features that have been revealed to bring back the period character of the house. Helen recalls: ‘When the builders started work on the sitting room and began taking the rotten plaster off the chimney breast, they discovered that the alcoves had been bricked up by the previous owners. They removed the bricks before replastering the room; this made it feel a lot bigger and helped get rid of all the damp, too. At the same time, we also took out a 1960s fireplace and had a new one made for us that’s more in keeping with the house. We had another lucky find in the hallway: we pulled off boarding from the stairs and discovered that the original spindles were all intact.’
Helen opted for a wood-burning stove in the dining room. She says: ‘My son Alex made the fire surround and my friend’s partner, who is a carpenter, made the shutters.’ The picture on the wall next to the fireplace is from Shaker Shack
As the redecorating has been done in stages, so has the furnishing of the house. Helen explains: ‘We left most of the furniture we’d already acquired over the years in the previous house as it was modern and didn’t suit our new home; this was an older and larger house, so we needed furniture in keeping.
‘Because of all the costly repairs, money was tight, though,’ she says, ‘so we only had a small budget for furniture. But I didn’t mind because I enjoy going to junk shops and car boot sales looking for bargains. I bought wardrobes, chairs and tables that I sanded down and repainted. My family and friends never throw anything away until I’ve seen it first, and nine times out of ten I’ll take it; but after making over a piece they often pay me the compliment of wanting to take it back. I’ve managed to keep a few things, though: in the front sitting room there’s a chest of drawers that was given to me by my best friend; and in the back sitting room we have a leather sofa and chair given to us by a relative. But when we have the money, I do buy the odd new piece, which I don’t mind mixing in with the old.’
The master bedroom has a seaside scheme inspired by the local beach and harbour
After 24 years, the children have long since grown up and left home, but this house is not about to be put on the market and certainly isn’t complete, according to Helen. She says: ‘In the future I’d like to remove the laminate flooring in the dining room, which we put down as a temporary measure, and replace it with flagstones; and we’d love to rip up the carpet in the hallway and lay tiles to match the original ones in the porch – hopefully I’ll find the same design or something similar in our local reclamation yard.
‘We’re more than happy with our home,’ she says. ‘Some of the rooms are quite small, but they’re big enough for Martin and me now that the children have moved out. Anyway, I think that during the summer it’s nice to have a break from the renovations and get out into the garden; this often relaxes me and clears my mind ready for the next challenge in the house.’
Helen shares her advice…
‘Do try to start and finish one room at a time before moving on to the next; you can keep a much closer eye on your budget that way.
‘Don’t worry about making mistakes as this is how you learn. I’m not afraid of following my instincts now, regardless of trends and fashions; by doing it all my own way I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself.’