“Love at first sight” isn’t exactly the phrase Alex and her husband, J, would use to describe their first reaction to this 1970s house in a village near Leeds. Having sold their old house and Alex being pregnant with their second child, they were under pressure to find a new place to live – quickly. “We ultimately bought this house for the location,” says Alex. “The village has a good school and we have a very big garden – but really, the area we live in was the most beautiful thing about the place. Sometimes I don’t know why we took it!
Considering the state of the property when the couple bought it, it’s no surprise that it seemed a bit overwhelming. The house needed a complete renovation. “The last owner was the only person to ever live here, and it showed,” says Alex. “There wasn’t even central heating – just hot air heating, no radiators. That’s how it was dated!
The owners Alex Watson-Usher (@alexandralouisewu), who works in restructuring and insolvency, her husband, J, who works in NHS management, and their children Nolita, six, and Delphi, four
The property A four bedroom detached 1970s house near Leeds
Project cost £80,000
By Alex’s own admission, she and J got to “mess up” pretty quickly. “We destroyed all the interior walls on the ground floor, making it unlivable,” she says. “Our renovation story is more like an example of what not to do! The entire ground floor has been opened up into one large space using steel beams. “The intention was always to extend the rear, so we did the initial renovations with that plan in mind,” adds Alex. “We actually got planning permission for the extension in January, so we’re pretty much ready to go now.”
The house feels considered and collected, but Alex is not one to mood board. “I don’t use Pinterest and I’m not a planner,” she says. “I’ve always had a clear idea of what I like. I started using Instagram more recently and found inspiration for our extension there, but I rely a lot on what I loves. For now, until the extension starts, she says her favorite place is the sofa area by the doors. “The girls play here with their toys and games,” she says, “and I love sitting here in the morning, looking at the garden.”
1. Make your kitchen design flexible (so you don’t have to redo everything later)
If, like Alex, you know you’ll extend later, that doesn’t mean you can’t create your dream kitchen right now: you’ll just have to make sure it works for now and the future. Alex’s kitchen is a simple Ikea job: her husband J planned it using the online planner, ordered it in store and assembled it himself. It was designed with future expansion in mind. “The island is huge because it’s tied to these blueprints, so it will become more proportionate,” says Alex. “When we receive friends, they flock here, it’s very sociable.”
Can’t afford to add a kitchen island or don’t know how it will fit into your future plans? Check out our portable kitchen island ideas for something even more flexible. Also, be sure to choose a color that will go with a change of scheme later, or opt for a kitchen that you can repaint. “We were pressed for time when we chose the kitchen, and in hindsight I might not have chosen grey,” says Alex. “I thought it would be timeless, though.”
2. Create Cost-Effective Crittall-Style Doors With Electrical Tape
Across from Alex’s kitchen, a sofa set up next to glass doors provides a nice spot for a morning coffee. “The doors are actually the original white PVC doors,” says Alex. “Eventually the extension will go here, so we didn’t want to replace them. Instead, we painted them black with Rust-Oleum paint and used electrical tape to create a Crittall-style look. C It’s an incredibly effective simple update. “The difference it made was amazing.”
To get the look, start by painting your door frame using a specialist PVC paint. Then use a tape measure and a Sharpie to mark the sections you want to tape. Hold the tape taut as you apply it, then heat the glue with a hair dryer and smooth out any air bubbles.
3. Use panels to add character to a featureless home (we’re looking at you, new construction)
On the other side of the room, the living room is adorned with the characteristic woodwork of Alex’s house. “There are no period features in this house, so the woodwork adds character,” she says. “We did it ourselves with MDF and No More Nails. This makes each piece less square.
If you’re a do-it-yourselfer or want to try DIY wall panels, this is a great project to get you started and develop your skills.
4. Boost the health of your home and inject mood-boosting greenery with houseplants
Anyone who has greenery in their home will tell you all about the benefits of houseplants: they help purify the air, increase productivity, and even promote sleep. “Everyone always asks, ‘Do you really have that many plants? said Alex. ‘I have! I hang them up for more.
If you want to add more indoor plants to your home, take a leaf from Alex’s book and think outside the box to make room. If you don’t have many surfaces to place them on, try one of our DIY plant stands – it’s a great weekend project. Additionally, place hooks in your ceiling or walls and use macrame hangers for added texture.
5. Don’t Make This Key Mistake With Your Bathroom Floor
“The room above the garage – now our family bathroom – was run down: bare, dirty brick walls,” says Alex. “When the owner showed us around, he initially didn’t want to show it to us because that was where he stored his collection of weapons!” Turning it into a family bathroom was one of the trickiest tasks of the renovation. “The garage has a peaked roof, so we had to build half-timbered walls to create a more manageable space,” says Alex. “It was difficult to manage – we had to install the shower at the highest point in the room, and the bathtub is hidden under the eaves.”
The couple also struggled a bit with the floor. “It’s a luxury vinyl tile, and we had it laid on the hottest day of the year, so when the temperature returned to normal, it shrunk,” says Alex. “If you took the floor there now, you’d find the remains of our first try underneath. The moral of the story? Never attempt to install new flooring on the hottest day of the year.
6. Use wall decals to create a trendy scalloped effect without the faff
Spotted the scalloped trend and want to try it yourself? You can paint it painstakingly by hand – or take a leaf from Alex’s book and take a clever shortcut. “Everyone was doing half-painted walls and swags,” she says. “These are gold decals cut in half – I think they’re really effective.”
To recreate the look, simply paint your wall to your desired height (dado height is a good idea), then buy circle or half circle decals, cut the first one in half and place it along the top of the painted section, using a measure to make sure they are aligned.
7. Include a Daybed in Your Guest Room for Bedtime Readings and a Fun Sleepover
The daybed in the guest bedroom converts to a double bed when the family has guests over. “Sometimes we read to girls here,” says Alex. “Paneling was a lockdown project – when I told J I wanted to do it, he said, ‘Oh, for God’s sake! “”
Multifunctional pieces of furniture like a day bed or sofa bed are perfect for a small spare room where you don’t want to take up valuable space with a double bed. Opt for furniture that can fold up when not in use, or try investing in furniture that has built-in storage, like a side table or ottoman that hides spare throws.