TRADING PLACES

Combining family life with a home-based business can be challenging if your property doesn’t accommodate both comfortably. ‘My business was part of the reason for choosing this house, as it had the retail space as well as the room we wanted,’ says Sara.

The family decided to relocate from west London to Somerset, to attain a more family- friendly lifestyle. ‘Steven still had good transport links to the capital, I was keen to work from home and we both liked the idea of a big house project,’ explains Sara. The couple certainly had their work cut out with the 400-year-old, three- storey townhouse they eventually bought.

In recent years, the property had been a restaurant, so there was a large front room where tables would have been and a small bar in the sitting room behind. ‘It just didn’t flow as part of a family home,’ recalls Sara. ‘Also, everywhere was very damp and dark, with black-painted beams and woodwork, tatty old carpets, rotten windows and a mouldy bathroom upstairs.’

First, internal walls were built to divide the large living area into a hall and two front rooms — one to store Sara’s vintage china and the other for formal dining. Improvements to the rest of the house followed gradually as time and funds allowed. ‘We’ve had to take things slowly but that’s allowed us to get to know the house,’ says Sara. As well as mending the leaking roof and installing a new heating system, the mildewed main bathroom was completely renovated and an additional one installed next to the main bedroom.

Sara and Steven’s biggest challenge, however, was to remodel the shabby, ill-equipped kitchen. To create a spacious kitchen-diner and utility, the couple knocked down an adjoining derelict outhouse and built a larger structure. ‘This turned out to be a massive job because the walls are unbelievably thick,’ Sara remarks.

The resourceful pair’s hands-on approach helped stretch their budget and has also given their home its unique, quirky character. Much of their furniture has been inherited or was found in charity shops or reclamation yards. The kitchen worktops were leftovers from an office refurbishment, a bedroom fireplace was rescued from a friend’s garden, and the bathroom sinks were picked up at a car-boot sale.

Set within a restful background of white, pale blues and greens, traditional and modern items mix informally, reflecting the couple’s personalities and interests. The pretty dining room reveals Sara’s love of vintage fabrics in soft, faded pastels, while her collages, decoupaged mirrors and collection of Victorian fashion drawings hang on the walls alongside Steven’s favourite architectural illustrations. There are textiles and tea sets from French brocantes in the dining areas, along with bright pink Chinese lanterns that remind them of their time spent in Hong Kong many years ago.

‘Everything’s higgledy-piggledy and a bit unexpected,’ admits Sara, ‘but it’s a gorgeous house, with a great feel. It just needed to be loved.’

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