Having exhausted all her attempts to add character to her pared-back, 1960s ex-council townhouse, Lily Sawyer eventually surrendered to the fact that her current family home couldn’t provide the interior goods she had long lusted after: charming period features.
She decided to sell up in the winter of 2013, with her sights set on a spacious family home in the same area of London, complete with easy access to the local school, a studio for her photography business and those all-important original features.
But with such a particular list of requirements, the house search wasn’t all that straight-forward.
Welcome to our home…
We are Lily Sawyer, 46, an artist, designer, educator and photographer; David, 43; our children Calla, 13, Isaac, 12, and Beth, 11; and Lily’s mother Lilia, 82.
Our home is a five-bedroom Victorian terrace in London, built around 1896. We’ve lived here since January 2014.
‘We put our house on the market and it sold within weeks,’ Lily says. ‘But every time we found a property that we liked we were pipped to the post by people with cash or bigger budgets. We were getting desperate.’
Meanwhile, a friend of Lily’s was also moving into a new home and had plans to rent out her current property, which just so happened to be overflowing with Victorian charm and located within Lily’s desired area.
‘It wasn’t quite as large and spacious as I wanted, but it ticked every other box in terms of location and period features,’ Lily recalls.
‘Somehow, I persuaded her to sell the house to me – even though she had only been looking for a tenant – and, within a matter of weeks, we were in.’
Although Lily and her family, who couldn’t believe their luck, had finally landed their ideal home, the interior wasn’t quite to Lily’s taste. The problem was, she had no idea what exactly her taste was back then.
A bit more about our home…
My top tip is Do your research before pursuing an idea and don’t be afraid to let others inspire you.
For style inspiration When time permits, I have a good old scroll on Instagram and Pinterest. What really influences me are real home designs by normal people, such as myself, and interiors that look like they’ve evolved over time.
‘I knew nothing about interior design and so I felt really lost and overwhelmed,’ she says.
‘I had this beautiful blank canvas in front of me, but I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t think to scroll Instagram for inspiration and I had no clue about current design trends.’
The property was pared-back, but liveable, with pale walls, wooden flooring and tired, worn-down carpets on the stairs and first floor.
Its highlights were the many original features that remained, including the 135-year-old oven, a number of fireplaces peppered throughout the building, corbels and coving, plus the exposed brick wall in the kitchen where the room had been extended into the side return.
Initially, Lily opted to fully embrace the property’s Victorian roots and hung William Morris wallpaper.
But over the next few months, as she and her family began to settle in, she realised that the rigidity of centring all the interior schemes on a single era wasn’t giving her the look that she wanted.
‘I discovered Pinterest toward the end of 2014 and decided to experiment with a few interior ideas I’d come across,’ she remembers. ‘I got completely hooked!’
Having found her interior-design groove, Lily had big ideas for her home’s new identity, but budget, or rather the lack of it, slowed her progress.
Fortunately, when she discovered her love of interior design, she also unearthed a talent for upcycling and DIY.
‘I’m a recycler at heart,’ Lily says. ‘If I can make something without much effort and additional cost, I will.’
Her skill and enthusiasm for reviving second-hand and unloved items not only allowed her to achieve her dream schemes over time, but also saved her a lot in outgoings along the way.
In the six years since Lily and her family moved in, their home has seen many updates, paint jobs and tweaks. As Lily has explored her personal style (which she now describes as being cosy, eclectic and maximalist, with pops of colour) the property’s interior has evolved, too and although it dabbled in more muted décor for a time, it’s now unapologetically loud and proud.
Dark grey and green paint hues grace walls and ceilings throughout, while vibrant, patterned papers pep up walls and furnishings, and not an inch – neither doors nor wood trim – remains untouched.
‘I think I can finally say that I’ve found my style but I’m also becoming braver at running with my ideas,’ says Lily.
‘I like to play with a mix of different eras, patterns, colours and textures, and I make decisions based on what I love, as opposed to what I think will look nice together.’
When she moved in, Lily could likely never have imagined the impact a little redecorating would have on her life. In 2014, she applied for series three of the Great Interior Design Challenge as a bit of fun and made it to the final 16.
Then, in 2017, she created her interiors Instagram account, @layered.home, which has since blossomed into a side business that allows her to share her interiors know-how with the world.
But nothing beats the feeling of home. ‘We’re so fortunate to have a beautiful, happy space that truly feels like our home,’ Lily says.
‘It doesn’t matter what other people think of it or how many mistakes we’ve made along the way. It’s all part of our journey and story as a family.’