Take one well-loved home in need of some modernisation, one creative new owner and years of hard work and the result is a super stylish, unique home worthy of any interior designer.
The house was a standard three bedroom semi-detached property in a popular and leafy north Cardiff suburb that instantly transfixed house hunter Elaine Phillips, originally from Bristol.
She remembers: “The house had a pleasant vibe about it, you can’t explain how or why. It had been taken care of. It wasn’t dark, gloomy, uncomfortable, neglected.
“Obviously it had gone through one period of modernisation I would say and then left, so it was dated and a bit tired and many original features covered up or gone but that was good for me, enough had been left for me to work with.”
And so the transformation began in 2011.
Elaine says: “We had the bones of a fabulous house and once we finished knocking it about, we just started to slowly rebuild it, room by room but the challenges in renovating came in various guises.
“The time it took to extend was estimated at four months but actually took 14, the hardship when even the most basic facilities are no longer available to you, the need for quick decisions, the undocumented costs, wanting and needing to get things right first time as we didn’t have the budget to make too many mistakes.”
There were also a number of renovation and design challenges to tackle as the modernisation project progressed.
Elaine wanted to keep the steel beam being installed in the new kitchen extension exposed to promote an industrial look, but when it arrive it was not exactly the chunky girder she was expecting.
Not to be deterred, her imagination meant her vision could be realised as long as she could persuade the builder.
Elaine says: “With much discussion with the builder, he created a pattern of bolts and steel plates which he screwed on to make the beams look far more interesting than it was. Phew, disaster averted!”
Then came the decision on whether to keep and restore the original damaged kitchen floor or start again.
Elaine says: “The glue was horrendous, yellow and almost impossible to shift. We got an expert in who used a particular solvent to clean them. That worked to a degree, but then you could see the damage.
“There were patches where tiles were no longer there, cracked ones all over, discoloured tiles and three huge bolts in the floor which might have secured perhaps a twin tub back in the day. It was a mess.
“But we decided to restore and whilst there are signs of wear, it gave me the inspiration for the entire colour scheme and the overall look, including the perfect opaline glass pendant lights which flow across the length of the dinning table.
“The fact the floor isn’t perfect suggests it’s authentic and actually what time and effort that must have taken to lay all those years ago and is still servicing us to this day.”
The experience with the old kitchen floor tiles essentially summarises Elaine’s interior design style; keep all original features true to the house and restore, use a focal point in each room to influence the scheme for that space, such as the tiles, and fill it with all the things you love.
Elaine would describe her style as industrial vintage, with Rockett St George and Abigail Ahern two of her favourite inspirational designers.
New pieces for the home came from high street shops, eBay, esty, online stores and, of course, rummaging through salvage yards and flea markets.
But Elaine says it’s mainly industrial buildings that have influenced her evolving style.
She says: “Bars, restaurants and even shops which have that freedom to create something ‘wow’, I take their grand ideas and distill them until it’s suitable for a house. I can now start to pick out ‘my style’, now I know myself a bit better.
“I visit a lot of flea markets, they have a massive influence on my style. I want pieces that have been knocked about a bit, one off, not mainstream. I enjoy taking an old fashioned concept and updating it.”
But where to start, designing and filling a newly extended semi in Cardiff to achieve such a cohesive yet eclectic style, brimming full of personality and an abundance of unique items?
From the years of experience it has taken Elaine to successfully produce this beautiful interior design, she has a number of key pieces of advice for anyone moving into a new home and about to begin and feeling daunted.
Elaine says: “Decorating a space you have never seen, lived in or used before is tough. Where does the light come in, will existing furniture fit in the space, will I regret having such an open plan living layout?”
The main piece of advice Elaine states is giving yourself time and having patience while you get to learn about the spaces you are living in whilst beginning to collect your design influences and ideas.
She explains: “Have patience; that is something I tell people a lot.
“Don’t force it, don’t buy things because you need something, or think you need something, that minute.
“Go about, explore, look in unusual places. I might like a certain look but if the stuff isn’t out there there’s not much I can do other than wait.”
Elaine continues: “It’s an organic process decorating a whole house but it’s also about inspiration. Thought needs to be put into each decision.
“When we tackled the bathrooms I thought at the time one toilet was very much like another and really wasn’t very interested in choosing sanitary ware. That was a mistake. Everything you choose must be carefully thought out.
“I like to start to design rooms where I adopt at least one interesting feature, such as the custom made fireplace in the snug, using items salvaged from a reclamation yard or two.
“Another example is the main bathroom where I took the idea of railway sleepers, primarily used in gardens, and to fashion it as a plinth for our double sinks.
“Similarly I found some very old property auction posters from a trip to Carmarthen and used them as wallpaper either side of the chimney breast, I’m just appreciative that I found them and then had an opportunity to use them.”
Elaine is also a vocal advocate for letting the age and the original features of a home influence your interior design style.
She says: “Look for original period features in your house and keep them! Those can create a launchpad for your room design.
“Take inspiration from what’s been left behind. Be sympathetic to the period of the house. You can’t ignore it and chances are that’s what attracted you to the property in the first place.
“Old and new together create depth to your scheme, I think it’s very important and no more so now where we need to start thinking about where pieces come from and their longevity. We shouldn’t be disposing of so much.”
Elaine also advises that if you look around online and in shops then creating an interior design style personal to you shouldn’t cost a fortune and is one of the main advantages of her own taste in vintage interiors.
She says: “I might invest in one expensive piece per room and then source other bits from more accessible stores and online.
“For example, above the dining table I have glass balls hanging from chains from the ceilings which I fill with tea lights, sometimes moss, other times birds feathers.
“These glass balls cost £1 each from Home Bargains!
“You can match old with new, expensive and inexpensive if you choose well, and place it correctly.”
Elaine saw every room in her house as an opportunity for her to experiment with colour, texture, styles and periods, learn what she liked and continually develop her style.
She states: “The thing that will hold your scheme together is you.
“Just because I decorated one room as a vintage guest bedroom doesn’t mean I couldn’t go slightly, swiss ski-lodge in another. Why limit yourself? “
“Usually a room will start with the need. For me it starts with an item or piece of furniture. Once that is sourced, everything flows from that.
Elaine continues: “So, for the front reception, the fireplace surround was bought because I loved it and wanted to use it.
“That then dictates, colour, style and ultimately how the room will present. Then you start layering, finding things you like that will go, and the room starts filling up – quite quickly!
“Zoning is a good tip for open plan living.
“Whilst you may want a cavernous space in which to move around freely, not many people want to feel like they are floating around in a white box. There’s little wow factor there.
“You want cosy, you want to create a connection, you want each space to work hard for you. You want to create interest.”
Elaine suggests zoning can be done successfully with furniture, colour or even steps as she has done in the kitchen diner.
The steps create a visual and physical break between the old house and new extension, but the two spaces are strongly connected via colour and style.
When choosing colour Elaine suggests being careful not to choose a mismatch of shades, but don’t limit yourself to boring either; there are many colours that are different but tone together or fit well as total opposites.
Before diving right into each room scheme with colours, textures and materials, Elaine created mood boards.
Elaine says: “For the old part of the house I worked room by room through necessity at first and then when inspiration came. I can’t decorate a room until the idea comes.
“If I haven’t got an idea, piece of furniture in mind or an original feature to bounce off I can’t do it.
“I need inspiration from something I’ve bought or something I’ve seen. Then, once that happens, I’m away.
“Firstly, I take direction from the period of the house. I visit lots of historical houses and look at many sympathetic restorations from other people’s homes. I then pick out what appeals to me.
“In addition, Little Greene actually categorises certain paint colours to its era, whether that be Georgian, Victorian, 50’s or 60’s.
“From there, knowing what period your house is, you choose shades that compliment. You don’t have to be wedded to that, but it’s a starting point.
“Then it’s research, research, research.
“Keep looking at websites, magazines, google images, Pinterest, even television programmes and see what stands out to you, what do you keep coming back to?
“The key to eventually loving your home’s interiors is to find your own style; find what you love. From there you can be confident in what you are buying.
“If you love a piece, it’s likely to fit somewhere in your home and from there a scheme should start emerging.”
Elaine also suggests not to be afraid to repurpose an old item, giving it a new lease of life like the old gym horse given to her by a friend, which she broke down and used the base as a TV stand and the top as a bench seat.
It’s hard for Elaine to chose her favourite room as she has put her heart and soul into each space but eventually decides the guest room, especially the wood slat feature wall made from reclaimed wood left over from a coffee shop refit.
A close second is the gentleman’s snug and both decisions are based on the texture of the rooms as well as the confidence she had to decorate true to her vision.
For example, while many people redecorating their homes are getting frustrated trying to get textured wallpaper off their walls, Elaine was putting it up and painting it navy! She felt it was perfect for her home.
She says: “I knew, with the dark wood furniture and leather chair I was going to put in there and then the bold contrast with the red woodburner, it would be perfect. It was the look I wanted.”
As the decor of the rooms started to take shape, Elaine continued to source pieces to fill the spaces, as well as find places for her existing items.
In each room in the house there are unusual and head-turning items to intrigue and inspire, all with a story to tell.
But that story never has to end.
It may have taken nine years to get the interior style of the home to this visually mesmerising point, but Elaine hasn’t stopped, in fact is likely to never stop styling.
She laughs: “Once all your decorating is done, don’t be afraid to change things!
“Your house can be altered, whether you decide to paint more walls or move pictures around to better suit or change light fittings as and when you get to know the space better or you find something you prefer.
“Things can change and be added to. A house can be fluid and you’ll be less likely to get bored.”
And when moving to a new home Elaine advises the first thing to do is to remember what you brought with you before you start to redecorate, find a place for the things that you have always loved before finding more.
“My favourite piece of all time is my grandmother’s Singer sewing machine; she actually sewed my christening gown on it.
“It travels with me everywhere and now has a special place in the hall.
“If you fill a room with items you love, enjoy or mean something to you, then I believe the item will find its perfect place. For me, that’s the best place to start.”
So you could be inspired by Elaine’s style or you could just buy her house already done and fill it with your stuff that you love.
The four bed house is on the market with estate agent Northwood for £625,000, call their Cardiff branch on 029 2030 1141 to find out more.