Achieving an affordable ‘forever home’ in the right location seemed an impossible dream for a Berkshire family, but Laura Hardie-Gleed and husband Ian succeeded against all the odds by transforming a run-down 1960s property
TEXT ROSEANNE FIELD IMAGES LAURA HARDIE-GLEED
Laura Hardie-Gleed, a Berkshire hair and make up artist, enjoys being creative, and when she and her furniture painter husband Ian were looking for a new home, they definitely wanted a ‘project,’ they could put their stamp on. However, as she explains, the pair “didn’t know that we were looking for quite as much as we found!”
It was important that the house was in the right location – within the school catchment area they wanted for their three children in Twyford. The 1960s house they found was, but in Laura’s words, was also “awful! It was mouldy, it had rats – we bought it from a hoarder,” she explains. However they saw the potential in the house, which was “ pretty much the only one we could afford in the school catchment area.”
They had completed a project before, renovating a Victorian two-up two-down. “We wanted a bigger project this time, and definitely wanted to make it our ‘forever’ home if we could, but in an area where we couldn’t afford a forever home.”
They bought the house in October 2018 and lived in it for 15 months before beginning work in January 2020. “That was pretty tough going,” says Laura. “We had no heating and rats, with three kids and a dog!” Most of the house and garden had remained untouched for decades. Laura reckons the kitchen was 30 years old, and the electrics had been done by the previous owners some 40 years previously. “Everything was dangerous – we were trying to get the kids not to touch anything because we didn’t know what was live and what wasn’t.”
Their original plan to stay with family (or in a hotel) while work took place, was scuppered when the UK went into lockdown in March The arrival of the pandemic also left the build in a precarious position: “We had basically stripped the whole house back and had the steels put in when Covid hit – all the walls were gone,” Laura says. “We were completely open to the elements, and the builders didn’t come back for about four weeks because they weren’t sure if they were allowed to work.”
With no walls and half a roof, Laura says this period was a “terrible” experience. With no way of keeping rats out, they ended up infested, with pest controllers unsure as to whether they were allowed to work. “We’d come down in the morning and rats had been on the worktops,” Laura says. “It was horrendous. I remember thinking ‘we’ve definitely bitten off more than we can chew here!’” However, she still says it “was an adventure.”
FINDING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
The plan was to strip the house right back to four walls, reconfiguring the internal layout and adding a single storey 11 metres x 3.5 metres extension across the back and a double storey 5 metres x 6 metres side extension. This meant going through planning, but the couple had the help of their “amazing” architect Helen
Nightingale. “We went with her because she has a great reputation for knowing the council inside out,” she explains. “She was a bit more expensive, but we put our trust in her because we were asking for a lot – we were almost doubling the size of the house.”
Initially Helen warned them they may need to lower their expectations. However, in the end they faced no problems gaining approval, and she managed to negotiate the best result possible. “She kind of started at a moderate level and then every time we got approved, somehow she went back and pushed for a bit more until we got what we wanted,” says Laura Their neighbours had no objections to their plans, which Laura puts down to the fact that with the previous house being an eyesore, they could only improve things.
Getting the right builders was of course crucial. They obtained six quotes – which varied by £150,000 from the cheapest to most expensive – but decided to go with K&G Builders, as they “just had a really good feeling about them,” explains Laura. “It felt like they genuinely wanted the best for us – and they weren’t the top end of the quotes either which was a bonus.”
As well as organising all subcontractors smoothly, the builders also came to the rescue when Laura faced an unpleasant problem one Sunday. The old toilet gave up the ghost and waste started coming through the ceiling – while Laura was making lunch.
Being a Sunday in the middle of lockdown Laura thought there was almost no chance of finding anyone to fix it, but K&G “dropped everything, came round, patched it up and made it safe until the morning,” she explains.
Laura project managed the renovation herself, and says the builders were surprised at just how much input she and Ian wanted to have.
However, she says “it was quite different to the last project we did, where we felt like we were fighting the builder a lot of the time. On this build, “Every time we had a worry, within five minutes they completely put our minds at rest,” she says, such as when a large crevice was uncovered in the structure, causing her concerns about how stable it was.
COPING WITH COVID
Having to be in the property was however a major frustration, particularly with the pressures of the pandemic. Laura recalls one day in particular when she was attempting to homeschool two of their children while the builders were installing a two tonne piece of steel above their heads. “It was the only place we could sit and do work,” she explains.
They also had to cope with the tired and somewhat dilapidated appliances. “They left the kitchen standing until the very last point, but it was crumbling beneath us. The sink fell out at one point, and the hob was at a 45 degree angle by the end,” she explains.
The other major impact of Covid was a shortage of materials, including windows and plaster. They were so desperate for the latter that Ian drove three and a half hours to Plymouth to pick up just five bags, Laura explains; “enough to do one bathroom!”
DESIGN & LAYOUT
When it came to the house’s design, Laura and Ian wanted to respect the era it was built, but admits this wasn’t necessarily easy, being their “ least favourite era for houses!” They resisted the urge to go for things that wouldn’t suit the house however. “We could have had really beautiful Crittall windows but it would be working against the house,” explains Laura. It was also important to them to have an open plan, family-friendly living area.
The couple wanted to be as environmentally friendly as they could be, so had all of the insulation replaced with the highest spec offered by their supplier. They replumbed the entire house and installed a Megaflo system to supply hot water including underfloor heating. “You can have quite a lot of power but it’s more economical,” Laura explains. “We’re really pleased with that.”
Aware of the ever changing legislation surrounding log burners, they opted to have a pellet burner installed. “They burn a lot cleaner so are much better for the environment, and they’re slightly cheaper to run,” she says. “We wanted something we would always be able to use .” However, Laura was surprised that they struggled both in sourcing it and finding someone to install it.
Laura and Ian did have a budget, but were realistic about the likelihood of breaking it, which they did by approximately £20,000. “We really wanted a cool German kitchen that broke the budget but it’s fine because it’s got great bits that make our lives so much easier,” she says. “But you can’t have everything, you’ve got to have priorities and sometimes not quite get everything you wanted.” One such example was smart home technology – Ian hoped to install a Sonos speaker system in the ceilings but the couple “had to start cutting back on the ‘really nice to have’ things.” Being self-employed and unable to work for much of the project due to Covid meant they had to be extra careful.
When they started work, they hoped to be done in time for Christmas, but Covid delays meant they weren’t quite there. “It was definitely liveable, and we got our tree up,” says Laura. She adds that the pandemic modified their expectations: “We were just grateful for every little win we had along the way, we just took those and tried to stay positive.”
The layout leads from a hallway to stairs up to the four double bedrooms, family bathroom and master ensuite bedroom. To the left of the
hallway is a formal, carpeted living room – and to the right is Ian’s workshop, including a ‘workman’s’ sink, for painting and varnishing. Beyond the hallway is the large kitchen/living area, complete with a full size table tennis table. “The kids love bringing their friends,” Laura says. “We like a bit of an open house!”
There’s also a utility and ‘dog bedroom’ leading off this space, including a sink for bathing the dog and a downstairs toilet, which accidentally ended up larger than intended. “Ian and I made a bit of a mistake on the placement of the wall so it’s a metre bigger than we thought!” Laura explains. “That was the only thing that didn’t quite go right, but that was our fault.”
Laura loved the process of decorating the house, it being one of her passions. She and Ian sourced all the products themselves, taking inspiration from magazines and Pinterest, as well as visiting showrooms once they reopened. “When I envision something you’re not going to find it by going to local high street shops,” Laura says. “I spent hours upon hours researching and trying to find things that I already had in my mind!”
Laura included a couple of features that would allow her to be creative throughout the year, as ‘interchangeable’ items that change according to the seasons. These are “part of what keeps us happy and excited to be in our home,” she explains.
Such features include a bough that hangs over their dining table, which Laura decorates for every season and various occasions, and what she calls a “board of love” – a piece of quartz board that matches the kitchen worktops and is updated every week with something new. “It’s nice to change the feel of the room and it means it never becomes stale,” she explains, adding that it also satisfies her restless ingenuity. “It lets me be creative, otherwise I’d probably be saying ‘right let’s do our next project!’”
They also wanted to make a strong use of colour, which they felt confident doing in part due to Ian’s expertise as a furniture painter. He also influenced the choice of kitchen: “I’m not really a fan of modern but actually it goes so well with that 60s style; I’m glad I let him have his say!” Laura says.
Laura also used the expertise of two interior designer friends when it came to lighting, who firstly advised her and Ian to take their time choosing. They gave tips including layering lights at different heights for ambience, and to think how they would use spaces so light could be usefully placed in certain areas. “It was never a case of downlighters everywhere for us!”
When asked if she’d change anything, Laura’s only niggle is that they didn’t “kango up” the floor and install underfloor heating in one corner of the kitchen – money was getting tight and it was to be covered by the units anyway. “On very cold days we lose heat – for the sake of £1,200 – we should have done it.”
Laura’s goal was no less than to achieve “total happiness.”. She says that as she works long hours, she wanted their home to be “a sanctuary – I want to absolutely love it.” Despite that demanding goal, she says she couldn’t be happier with the end result, including the fact that now their kids can bring their friends round. “We’re really pleased with the size, which means we can incorporate things that make it really fun to be here.”
Looking to the future, Laura and Ian are virtually certain they’ll do a project again, but not until the children have finished school. And the cost of land in their area means that while a full self-build might be “the ultimate dream,” Laura says that as they know they want to stay in the area, it’ll most likely be another renovation. “We’ve found our home.”