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

Good idea! Paint wall cupboards in a contrasting hue to draw the eye upwards for a feeling of height and space.

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.

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They have a beautiful new kitchen, two new bathrooms, an extra bedroom and – just in time for winter – a new central heating system.

As a hotel interior designer, Kay is a pro at creating a welcoming ambience by layering different textiles and textures. She’s also chosen furniture and accessories to showcase the building’s unique features, such as the decorative vintage sideboard under the arched window, and the round mirror, which reflects the window on the other side of the room to bounce natural light around the space
As a hotel interior designer, Kay is a pro at creating a welcoming ambience by layering different textiles and textures. She’s also chosen furniture and accessories to showcase the building’s unique features, such as the decorative vintage sideboard under the arched window, and the round mirror, which reflects the window on the other side of the room to bounce natural light around the space

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.

Kay Cullen

‘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 internal double doors were full of flaws, all bowed and buckled with a rotting wooden frame that the couple repaired themselves. They also replaced the front door with a characterful one
The internal double doors were full of flaws, all bowed and buckled with a rotting wooden frame that the couple repaired themselves. They also replaced the front door with a characterful one

The Welsh stone and redbrick chapel served the local mining community up until 2001, when it was sold and then converted into a home.

Kay attached tongue-and-groove panelling to the walls and painted it in a gentle pale shade. She also painted the floorboards to add character. ‘This room is my sanctuary,’ says Kay. ‘I love the warm soft grey tone of Farrow & Ball’s Skimming Stone – it’s one of those colours that look different in all shades of light.’ The Poppy Field rug from French Connection brings colour and print to the neutral scheme
Kay attached tongue-and-groove panelling to the walls and painted it in a gentle pale shade. She also painted the floorboards to add character. ‘This room is my sanctuary,’ says Kay. ‘I love the warm soft grey tone of Farrow & Ball’s Skimming Stone – it’s one of those colours that look different in all shades of light.’ The Poppy Field rug from French Connection brings colour and print to the neutral scheme

‘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.’

With the tree sparkling, candles flickering and presents beautifully wrapped, the scene is set for a cosy Christmas. Kay has created an earthy feel in the living room using soft faux fur, embroidered cushions and cowhide rugs. She combines upcycled finds, such as a vintage chest of drawers, with more modern pieces like the round mirror and kilim cushions
With the tree sparkling, candles flickering and presents beautifully wrapped, the scene is set for a cosy Christmas. Kay has created an earthy feel in the living room using soft faux fur, embroidered cushions and cowhide rugs. She combines upcycled finds, such as a vintage chest of drawers, with more modern pieces like the round mirror and kilim cushions

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.

Kay Cullen

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.’

‘Dried hydrangea heads look festive in a brass vase, and combined with a metallic wire tealight and earthenware pot, they create the rustic feel I love,’ says Kay
‘Dried hydrangea heads look festive in a brass vase, and combined with a metallic wire tealight and earthenware pot, they create the rustic feel I love,’ says Kay

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.

‘We gave Paul’s mother’s Singer sewing machine a new lease of life and converted it into a basin stand in our shower room. It’s a poignant reminder of a much-loved lady,’ reveals Kay
‘We gave Paul’s mother’s Singer sewing machine a new lease of life and converted it into a basin stand in our shower room. It’s a poignant reminder of a much-loved lady,’ reveals Kay

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 chapel corridor was one of the features Kay loved the most. A row of pendant lights and framed art prints enhance the original detailing, and Kay painted half of the wall in a contrast shade for a faux panelled look
The chapel corridor was one of the features Kay loved the most. A row of pendant lights and framed art prints enhance the original detailing, and Kay painted half of the wall in a contrast shade for a faux panelled look

The boiler room has been converted into a bathroom-utility and the large former bathroom into a third bedroom for their granddaughter, Evie.

Kay and Paul created a bedroom for their granddaughter, Evie, and it looks particularly magical with a touch of festive sparkle. ‘The cot was a bargain from Gumtree, which I painted in Annie Sloan’s non- toxic Antoinette chalk paint,’ says Kay. ‘The floral throw is also vintage’
Kay and Paul created a bedroom for their granddaughter, Evie, and it looks particularly magical with a touch of festive sparkle. ‘The cot was a bargain from Gumtree, which I painted in Annie Sloan’s non- toxic Antoinette chalk paint,’ says Kay. ‘The floral throw is also vintage’

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.

Using fishing wire, Paul fixed up a branch from the garden and Kay has decorated it with mistletoe and her favourite baubles. Black granite worktops from Cardiff Marble Co contrast with the double-height chapel ceilings, and beautifully showcase Kay’s pottery. ‘The chapel ceilings rise to almost 3.5m and make the space feel so much larger,’ says Kay
Using fishing wire, Paul fixed up a branch from the garden and Kay has decorated it with mistletoe and her favourite baubles. Black granite worktops from Cardiff Marble Co contrast with the double-height chapel ceilings, and beautifully showcase Kay’s pottery. ‘The chapel ceilings rise to almost 3.5m and make the space feel so much larger,’ says Kay

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.

Kay has created continuity between two adjoining spaces by adding panelling in both her bedroom and bathroom, painted in the same colour. She has also carefully curated a selection of vintage pieces for each room for a coherent feel
Kay has created continuity between two adjoining spaces by adding panelling in both her bedroom and bathroom, painted in the same colour. She has also carefully curated a selection of vintage pieces for each room for a coherent feel

‘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.

'I like to hang utensils, kitchen linens, garlic bulbs and herbs in terracotta pots on my vintage ladder, for a country kitchen feel,’
‘I like to hang utensils, kitchen linens, garlic bulbs and herbs in terracotta pots on my vintage ladder, for a country kitchen feel,’ Kay explains

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 master bedroom features one of Kay’s favourite items, her grandmother’s Welsh blanket, which looks perfectly at home among a mix of traditional and modern furniture and accessories
The master bedroom features one of Kay’s favourite items, her grandmother’s Welsh blanket, which looks perfectly at home among a mix of traditional and modern furniture and accessories

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!

In line with her classic-meets-modern aesthetic, Kay has chosen traditional everyday kitchen essentials, including a cleaning brush and soap
In line with her classic-meets-modern aesthetic, Kay has chosen traditional everyday kitchen essentials, including a cleaning brush and soap

‘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.’

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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?