This week on the podcast we visited a house that is, or will be, done up in the style of my dreams. Supper Club host Laura Jackson is midway through the renovations of her East London home and is a firm believer in buying nothing new unless you absolutely have to.
To that end she has had blinds made to fit her windows from vintage fabric, is using old parquet flooring as doors for her kitchen revamp and scours ebay and flea markets to find furniture ranging from an £8 sofa to a reclaimed bath that was £500 – bought new it would have been more than £5,000.
As ever you can listen to the tour (while looking at the pictures) here on The Great Indoors podcast and do if you get a chance as Laura is full of tips and jokes and information which just doesn’t carry onto the printed page.
Laura, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a tv presenter, food editor for Marie Claire and runs regular supper clubs. That is when she’s not looking after her baby, Sidney, and hunting down the cowboy builder who ran off the job while she was on honeymoon taking her car as well.
“We learnt so much from that,” she says with rueful understatement. “We paid him loads of money up front and when we came back from honeymoon there was no roof on the house and he’d disappeared saying he didn’t have enough men. And then he wanted to buy our (classic) car and we said ‘pay us next week’ and he never did and then he disappeared.”
The car was eventually recovered and Laura has since hired a new team of builders who were very much in evidence when Sophie and I went round.
“I really learnt from that. The next time we did what you are always told to do, which is get three quotes and go and see the work they have done,” she says. “That is also really helpful when you’re trying to describe what you want as you can say – like you did in that house but with this instead.”
So, with a new team in place, Laura and her husband, John, a photographer – more of whom later – started at the top of the house and worked down. The double-fronted building is in a conservation area so they were able to convert the loft but not to add a dormer or make it larger. The result is a charming tongue and groove clad space up under the eaves with a bed at one end and an open plan bathroom at the other.
There are three skylights in the roof – one at each end providing direct light into the room and one in the middle that lights the stairs outside but Laura sourced a vintage door with glass panels that allows the light from there into the room.
She also picked up a vintage bath for £25. “You just have to keep hunting,” she says. “And always see if you can have a conversation with the seller – that can help with the price too.”
Laura is also not afraid to travel in pursuit of the perfect antique. She found a bath in Devon, a cupboard in Brussels while the perfect (cream) shower tray was in Ireland.
“This house is a life long project for me. I want to live here for ever so I am taking my time to find the right things. And it’s also too expensive to do in one go.
“I don’t want to have a house that feels very now but I want more classic things. John also hates new stuff – although that’s difficult as it’s hard to find vintage curtains that will fit the windows.”
They have compromised by using vintage fabric made into bespoke curtains. The kitchen, currently little more than a dirt floor and a half-built wall – will have new carcasses behind doors made from reclaimed parquet flooring from Retrouvious.
“I do find bargains – an £8 sofa and a £25 roll top bath – but then other things are more expensive. I wanted vintage linen to make bistro curtains for the bathroom and that was expensive (from Volga) although the brass rod I put them on was cheap.”
Laura’s main bathroom (pictured above and below) is a gorgeous space that shows how much time and effort has gone into making it right. Originally a small bedroom and loo, the couple knocked the space into one to create a large family bathroom.
The metro tiles are laid vertically with borders between (a look created by Linda Boronkay for Soho House) while the vintage bath (£500 from a vintage place in Devon instead of something similar from Water Monopoly for more than £5,000) sits under the vintage linen bistro curtains in the window. If you want to create a similar look then Topps have finishing strips in this range and you could see if they went with these. The cabinet was £450 from ebay, which meant that there were some savings that could be used for the shower.
“I hate enclosed spaces so the shower was going to have to be big enough to work without a door,” says Laura. “Then I saw a picture of a shower I loved in a magazine and it was Moroccan or Spanish in style.”
It turned out to be tadelakt. And it turned out there were only two people in the UK who do it. And it turns out that while they will come and polish the plaster for you they won’t build the frame, or fit the shower tray (needed to be cream to match the walls cue trip to Ireland) or do any plumbing. The result, though is fabulous.
Before we move round to the bedroom a word on the tiles in the loft. These are the Shapes Hexagon tiles from our sponsor Topps and Laura painstakingly cut out some of the white ones and replaced them with black to create flowers. If you can’t be bothered with that – and Laura’s builder thought she was mad! – then you can buy these black and white ones but you don’t get the flowers unless you DIY.
One other point that Laura made was that removing a bedroom to create a bathroom meant that the amount of money she was able to release from the mortgage (to free up more money for building works) was reduced. This was because as far as the bank was concerned she had turned a four bedroom house into a three bedroom one – the loft didn’t count as it doesn’t have a dormer extension. When it comes to selling the house this won’t be an issue as a three bedroom house with a loft conversion (and second bathroom) and a large family bathroom will have plenty to attract prospective buyers but when it comes to the remortgaging the bank doesn’t like it. Worth bearing in mind if you are planning a similar project.
Of the three (remaining bedrooms) one will be Sidney’s and is currently piled high with everything else in the house although the walls are a soft pale pink (Pink Ground by Farrow & Ball) and the back bedroom belongs to John where his wardrobe and photographic equipment live.
Their main bedroom is painted in a soft blue colour. The pretty curved blinds were made by the Hackney Draper from vintage linen. I have no idea what this style is called – it’s like a Roman blind without the hard struts across and in a simple fabric like this it’s not too swagged and frilly. Well not for me anyway…
The sofa is the aforementioned £8 ebay bargain – “just put kidney sofa into ebay” – but, as Laura found once again – what she saved on one thing she needed to spend on another.
“We were on honeymoon and I saw this print on a chair where we were staying and I just fell in love with it. I managed to track it down and used it to cover the sofa.” It’s by Pierre Frey and this is similar.
“I love that it will always remind me of my honeymoon. Dolly Alderton said once that your home is the backdrop to the movie of your life and I love that. I have lots of stuff and collections and I want my house to tell a story. Every time John goes away he might bring back a shell or some trinket as a reminder.”
The wardrobe was another labour of love (and money). Laura wanted a fluted wooden front and couldn’t find anyone in the UK who was making them. “I found one person in Germany…”
So she started talking to the carpenter and he agreed to cut in half lengthways dozens of lengths of wooden dowel and stick them to the fronts of the doors. She then found a vintage ticking fabric for the bedhead to match those lovingly crafted wardrobe doors.
Downstairs and the builders are very much in evidence. This wallpaper has been there for 40 years. Both John and Laura want to keep it in what will be the living room and it’s currently behind protective sheeting. However, they have yet to see if it will survive the dust that will inevitably creep behind and it may need restoring.
This is also John’s problem. Laura has given him one room to do on his own and this is it. “He hates new things and wants everything to have provenance. I’m like that too but he really wants to keep this wallpaper. We’ll have to see how it looks when the rest of the house is done.
The room on the other side of the front door is painted dark green (Hunter Dunn by Paint and Paper Library) and will be the couple’s reading room. For their wedding list they asked everyone to give them a copy of their favourite book with a message inside about why they had chosen it. Their fledgling library now has everything from children’s books to recipe books with coffee tables and novels in. It’s a brilliant idea and I may have to see if The Mad Husband wants to renew our vows so we can do the same thing.
Finally, the kitchen, which I can’t show you (but we are definitely planning to go back) and another tip. Digging a basement under a house is phenomenally expensive so Laura and John have created one under the extension. This meant digging a huge hole and building the new kitchen on top which is a much cheaper way of doing it.
Laura can’t wait for this to be finished and is desperate to start hosting dinner parties and supper clubs again. But first she needs to find the right table.
“In my dreams something by Rose Uniake but in reality I’ll be back to Brussels. I have found that Ardingley is now very expensive, Kempton has been thoroughly picked over and everyone is always in France so we’ll take the van and look there instead.”
And with that she is off to feed the baby who is being looked after by her mother while we chat. With a wave and a call to shut the front door when we leave she was gone. And I can’t wait to go back and see the finished house.
I hope you enjoyed it and don’t forget that you can listen here.
With thanks as ever to Topps Tiles for sponsoring the fourth series of The Great Indoors. They will be back to sponsor series 6 in the new year and we will be back in two weeks with a new sponsor in the run up to Christmas. Do please keep listening and if you enjoy it then please rate and review as it helps other people find us and then we get more listeners which means we can keep getting sponsorship and, crucially, keep making the show.