‘Getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family’

Gemma Coward has made a home that can keep growing and changing with her family by getting creative with paint and artwork

Originally from the Midlands, Gemma Coward and her partner Robin had been living in London for a few years in a rented house with their son Charlie before deciding to make the move back home.

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Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
‘I like that the rooms don’t stay the same – it’s not a museum to how we lived at one time but an evolving space that changes.’

‘When I was pregnant with our daughter, Willow, we decided that a move back to the Midlands would be a better option than raising two children in London,’ says Gemma. The couple actually met working together in Leamington Spa, so it felt fitting that they should take the family back there. ‘We knew the area, which made the move much easier for us all,’ she explains.

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
The front room is a space for the couple to relax in once the little ones have gone to bed. The large, neutral IKEA corner sofa is brought to life with lots of textured cushions and coloured throws, while the gallery wall shows off some of Gemma’s creative makes and family prints. The large, curved floor lamp is from Made.com, while the stack of cushions are from a selection at TK Maxx and H&M Home

They found a home in an excellent location near open spaces, good schools and the local park and shops which, with a growing family, was really important to them. The house itself has a traditional mid-terrace layout until you go into the back room, where they spend most of their time in the open-plan kitchen, dining, living and play space – perfect for life with young children.

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
An open stove really adds a cosy feel to a small sitting room. Gemma used a piece of reclaimed wood above the fire to create a shelf. The large rug is from La Redoute, while the mustard chair is from IKEA and the Harry Potter cushion is a Primark find

Although the couple love decorating, they didn’t want to take on a huge renovation project, so moving into somewhere that had already been extended was perfect for them. Thinking about how to tackle the house and introduce their own decorating style, Gemma had a lot of ideas. ‘I’m influenced by so many different styles that I couldn’t just stick to one in our home, so the house has touches of mid-century modern, Scandinavian, colour, monochrome and industrial designs.’

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
The large swing chair from Aldi was originally purchased for the garden but Gemma has found the perfect spot for it inside the house during the winter months. ‘It’s such a great chair for chilling out – who says it’s just for summer?’ smiles Gemma

The initial renovation was done in the 1990s, with a small extension added onto the back of the house to extend the kitchen and dining space, which still works wonderfully for the family. ‘We turned what the previous owner had as a dining room into a playroom and family space, then moved the dining room into the extension – this allowed us to use the space in the best way possible for us,’ says Gemma.

Owner profile 

Our home is A three-bedroom mid-terrace house built in 1890, in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. 

We are Gemma, a design consultant, 37, her partner Robin, 38, and their two children, Charlie, seven, and Willow, aged four.

My top tip Don’t be scared to give it a go! Since moving in I’ve learned how to install coving, paint, install a fireplace, lay concrete over an old cracked front step, tile a hearth and wallpaper – all from YouTube! 

My biggest mistake Was painting the stairwell spotty! I got stencil-happy after doing the bathroom floor and front doorstep, so tried stencilling Dalmatian spots.

We bought this house because We wanted to move out of north London and back to the Midlands, where we’re both originally from.

Shops I love I like to support small businesses, but I also like Tiger and H&M Home, and I never leave TK Maxx empty-handed. 

For style inspiration I am influenced by so many different styles that I couldn’t just stick to one in my home – I love all things quirky and eclectic.

My favourite room Right now, I love the dining area because the plant wall has brought the outside in.

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'

Dining room

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
The dining room is one of Gemma’s favourite spaces as it gets so much light. She injected colour by using chairs in different hues, which she bought from Cult Furniture, and placed them against white walls and a white table. The vintage school map over the dining table was just £5! ‘It’s from my favourite second-hand shop where I got a lot of the furniture for our house, including the old radiogram TV stand in the front room and the vintage wardrobe in Willow’s room’ Gemma says

Happy with the layout, the couple just needed to decorate the house, which was minimal with lots of wallpaper. Doing something with the rather flamboyant dining room wallpaper was first on the to-do list – it covered the whole side of the extension and, although Gemma loves a bit of retro, this pattern took the 1970s vibe and turned it up to 11! It overpowered the space completely, so it had to go.

‘The day we moved in I wrote ‘bye bye’ in large letters over the kitchen wallpaper so I would be forced to deal with it straight away, otherwise I knew we’d end up living with it for ages.’ In the end, Gemma actually painted over it as a short-term solution because she was worried that taking it off would also strip away the plaster. Regular white emulsion covered the pattern in a couple of coats, so it’s been like that ever since.

Bedrooms

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
The low bed was a purchase from IKEA several years ago as the couple liked its oak wood effect. Gemma made the bench at the end of the bed with a piece of reclaimed scaffold board, then fitted some hairpin legs she picked up online

Paint also transformed Gemma’s daughter’s room. It had previously been used as an office and was full of orange pine, including the cupboards, floorboards and window – so, out came the paint!

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
Willow has the smallest bedroom, but her extendable bed from IKEA means it can grow with her. The couple also retained the storage to keep the floor space fairly clear and spacious. ‘We changed the window as it was only single-glazed, and I found some lovely prints and artwork from Instagram,’ explains Gemma

‘I used a pale grey Rust-Oleum chalk paint on the floorboards then sealed it and painted all the cupboards white. Immediately the room felt lighter and brighter. I also painted the triangle to pull the focus a little from the compact size of the room and the sloping ceiling.’

Steal Gemma’s style

Bathroom

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
The downstairs bathroom is typical of an old terraced house, but Gemma has kept it modern and fresh with a white suite contrasted with the dark-coloured walls. The floor was hand-painted with a stencil pattern she bought from Dizzy Duck Designs, which has made all the difference to this room

The bathroom is another masterclass in what can be achieved with paint and a little creativity. Gemma really disliked the tiles on the bathroom floor but didn’t have the budget to replace them and couldn’t cover them up due to the underfloor heating, so she revamped the existing tiles using a paintbrush and stencil instead. ‘It was a much more cost-effective solution that can also be changed whenever we like and to be honest, I love the finished result and I’ve had so many compliments on it.’

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
Fun bird-inspired wallpaper from World of Wallpaper is used at one end of the bathroom. It adds drama and the colour complements the soft pink flooring. The storage rack from IKEA is a really handy and stylish space for all of the bathroom essentials

Gemma loves supporting small businesses where she can and Leamington Spa has some fab independent stores, such as Berylune, Collective and Thrills of the Emporium. Each room also includes pieces she has found in charity shops and second-hand furniture warehouses. ‘I wanted to inject some of the original features back in as the house was stripped of them all at one point. I added a fireplace in Charlie’s room and coving in the downstairs living spaces.’ She did all this work herself by learning new skills on YouTube. ‘I’m really proud of how much I’ve been able to achieve without having to call in the experts.’

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
The double lockers in Charlie’s room are from Gemma’s old work company in London. They were getting rid of them and she knew they would work a treat in his room for keeping clutter hidden away. It’s retro storage at its best!

Gemma has used lots of artwork on her walls, with most of the prints and artwork coming direct from the designers she’s found on Instagram and Etsy. ‘There are some very talented people out there and prints are a very inexpensive way of getting unique art into your home, so strong gallery walls make an appearance in most of the rooms. I’m not as minimalist as the previous owner, and I found adding unique furniture and art has really transformed each room.’

Real life home: 'getting creative with paint and artwork lets our home grow with our family'
Children make the best art and Gemma loves being able to display it. She’s used vintage frames and clips picked up cheaply from the charity shop to display their pieces

Gemma is happy with the house as it is, but also feels excited to switch things up when she fancies a change, including updating the flooring in the living room. ‘Overall, I’m really pleased with how the house looks. It hasn’t taken too long or cost too much and it’s always evolving. I’d like to replace the carpet in the front room with wooden flooring as unfortunately the original floorboards are in very poor condition, but I’m not in a hurry.’ Although the bulk of the hard work is done, Gemma insists the house will never be finished, because buying just one new accessory can change the whole feeling of a room. ‘I like the fact the rooms don’t stay the same – it’s not a museum to how we lived at one time, but an evolving space that changes as we do’.

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This is a digital version of a feature that originally appeared in Your Home magazine. For more inspirational home ideas, why not subscribe today?