We’re still in the middle of building our new home. We started the process before the pandemic, so we’re still finishing it off. I’ve always wanted to build a property my kids wouldn’t want to leave so that when they’re older, they look forward to coming back.
I wanted this house to be full of people and noise. It’s why we’re building a property of this size. People keep asking why we want a ten-bedroom house and I tell them we’ve actually downsized. We had a 32-bedroom house before so this, so it doesn’t feel big to us… I suppose it’s all relative at the end of the day.
Using an Insulated Concrete Formwork has helped us save money. They look like massive Lego blocks which are fitted together and the middle is filled with concrete. It ultimately helps with the budget because it’s quicker, so the site runs for less time. It’s also incredibly green – we used a company called Nudura who were so helpful.
The staircase is where we’re splurging. I’m about to sign a contract with a company which has given us a fantastic deal, but it’s still eye-wateringly expensive. If you’re building a property like this, in other words a classical home, it’s all about the entrance hall and stairs.
There have been so many challenges along the way. For a start, we’ve used lots of new products we haven’t used before. I’ve realised you get used to what you know and the older you get the more stuck in your ways you are. For example, if someone has built with timber all their life, you’ll find they prefer to build with that and the same applies to other materials. But you have to force yourself to be open to new things and use something different.
Decorating is still a work in progress – but we want to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. For instance, I was talking about having a pillar box red kitchen – [my husband] Graham looked like he might faint, so then I threw out the option of aubergine. One of my favourite houses is the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, so if the house looks like that, I’ll be pleased.
A shaker style kitchen is always best. It means you can repaint it whatever colour you fancy without having to buy a whole new scheme every time. Buy a well-made, British kitchen and you'll enjoy it for years to come.
A parquet floor is usually my preference, too. It will last forever and I don’t intend to re-decorate any room ever in my lifetime again – in fact, I strongly believe you should decorate in a style you’d be happy to live with until it comes time to leave. The more fashionable something is, the quicker it will fall out of favour. Instead, think about how you might feel in 40 years’ time – it’s so much better for the planet.
People are becoming more aware of the effect they have on the environment. Perhaps through lockdown we’ve had more time to think about it. It was a sharp realisation for me how quickly the world repairs itself if we stop destroying it. Also, you don’t have to jump on some big bandwagon to change the world – if everyone makes a small change it will make a big difference. I use Delphis Eco, an ecological cleaning range that’s made from renewable, plant-based ingredients. It’s the same price as non eco cleaning products, it really works and it saves the planet. I try to avoid single-use plastic and their packaging is brilliant, it’s made from 100% recycled plastic milk bottles.
I never put mood boards together. That said, Pinterest is an amazing tool – you can put in search items like ’large plant against black wall’ and so many ideas pop up. It’s great when you’re trying to explain your vision to other people – be it contractors, decorators or even members of the family.
This house is a culmination of 30 years of experience. For example, we’re running the site ourselves, because if you don’t – and I’ve learned this the hard way – it’s so much more expensive. It’s also okay to change your mind, too. I’m sure we’ve annoyed plenty of contractors over the years, but if you build something you’re not sure about, you still won’t be sure about it when it’s finished – you’ll just be annoyed you didn’t change it sooner.
In many ways, good design comes down to experience. My opinions about certain things are based on the fact I’ve often seen them in reality. If we were being honest, everything we do is probably an interpretation of something we’ve seen somewhere else, but that’s okay. There’s rarely such a thing as an original thought, and most things come down to trial and error. We also own so many books on houses, which act as a constant source of inspiration.
Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s such thing as the perfect house – even on paper, or if you got someone else to design or finish it. After you move in there are bound to be things that annoy you, one way or another. It’s impossible to look too far forward.
That said, everyone should design for the future. For example, if your family is young or your children are babies, think about what your home should provide for, say, ten-year-olds – be it a playroom or more generous sized bedrooms. Right now, I’m designing this house to accommodate six adults, as well as future partners and children. It’s why every room has been designed to include a double bed, with the sockets placed 6ft apart.
The right time to buy and renovate a house is down to you. Never ever base it on the market – just because the economy is doing one thing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just get on with it. Over the long-term it will probably all work out, so try to enjoy it while you can.