Home makeover: 'Blending old and new is my design philosophy'
Kay and Paul Cullen updated their charming Victorian village chapel by mixing modern design with characterful vintage pieces
There are so many reasons for Kay and Paul Cullen to celebrate this Christmas, which marks the fifth since moving into their Welsh chapel and embarking on a labour-of-love renovation.
They have a beautiful new kitchen, two new bathrooms, an extra bedroom and – just in time for winter – a new central heating system.
Now they’re enjoying adding the festive finishing flourishes and have gone all out with earthy decorations, twinkling lights and candles, as well as hand-crafted touches made by Kay using local foliage.
‘I love country walks with my dachshund, Opry, foraging for twigs and greenery to decorate my home with at this time of year,’ says Kay.
Welcome to my home...We are Kay Cullen (@the_old_chapel), a senior interior designer for a hotel group, and my husband, Paul, a mechanical engineer.
Our home is a three-bed former chapel built in 1880 in Carmarthenshire.
‘I’ve used the foliage to make a wreath and added sprigs of mistletoe and gypsophila to the Christmas tree, like a dusting of snow. This year, after all our hard work renovating, we’re looking forward to a glass of mulled wine by the woodburner.’
The Welsh stone and redbrick chapel served the local mining community up until 2001, when it was sold and then converted into a home.
‘Some people in the village were married here and our plumber remembers going to Sunday school here,’ adds Kay. ‘Opposite the chapel there’s a beautiful garden created to honour the miners.’
The couple discovered the property four years ago, on an estate agent’s website, although Paul took some convincing to go and view it. ‘We like to think this little chapel was waiting for us to find it and love it, which we did in a heartbeat,’ says Kay.
‘It was a very sad building but full of promise.’
A bit more about my home...My decorating top tip is to be creative with paint. In the corridor, I marked halfway up the walls with masking tape and painted up to it. It creates the panelled look, but at a much lower cost. The trick is to paint the skirting and door frame, too.
I’ve learnt to always double the time you think you’ll need. We did most of the work ourselves, saving enough for luxuries like the woodburner, but we underestimated how long and hard the process would be.
She and Paul planned to restore the character that had been lost with the chapel’s conversion. Yet, taking on so much DIY with full-time jobs proved a challenge.
‘On moving day, we had to check into a hotel, as the chapel was infested with spiders and mice,’ says Kay. ‘We spent the following week cleaning so we could finally move in.’
With so many things in need of attention, the logical approach was to work through the property, room by room. Kay and Paul managed a schedule of works using local builders.
Kay works with colour and trend predictions daily in her job as an interior designer, so she had a clear vision for the project. ‘I wanted a traditional style with an emphasis on comfort, warmth and simplicity,’ she adds.
‘I spend most of my days off sourcing vintage pieces for my home – I love anything with an aged, worn look to it.’
The boiler room has been converted into a bathroom-utility and the large former bathroom into a third bedroom for their granddaughter, Evie.
The double doors inside the porch were full of flaws, all bowed and buckled with a rotting wooden frame, ‘but we loved the old chapel doors, so we repaired and repainted them – with five coats of paint,’ says Kay.
‘Paul repaired the porch walls, leaving one brick wall exposed as a feature, and I painted the plastic interior window frames myself using a plastic primer.
To add further character to the building, they also replaced the standard front door with an arched door and did the decorating themselves. ‘The chapel ceilings rise to almost 3.5m,’ adds Kay.
‘They make the space feel so much larger, but painting them was a mammoth task.’
Paul also did some of the plumbing himself. ‘We stored a new cast-iron bath in our shed, and when we were ready to fit it, as it was too heavy to lift, we used an old quilt to drag it along the floor into position,’ adds Kay.
They filled every room of the chapel with eclectic vintage and antique bargains, including £2 earthenware pots and a £30 vintage armoire in Evie’s bedroom.
The couple have recently transformed the chapel’s former car park into gardens, where Paul has built a garden path, planted box ball hedges along the side of the building and recycled scaffold boards to make an outdoor table – with chapel pew seats, of course!
‘Giving up almost every holiday and weekend has been tough, but we’re so proud of our achievements,’ Kay beams.
‘Knowing that we’ve breathed new life into an unloved building is very rewarding. Our little chapel is so special. Even on the gloomiest day, it lifts your spirits.’
This is a digital version of a feature that originally appeared in Your Home magazine. For more inspirational home ideas, why not subscribe today?