In 2016 Laura Sawyer acquired her one-bedroom, South London flat from a dear elderly friend. Set in a converted Victorian townhouse, it needed a lot of work – it hadn’t been renovated in 25 years, but she wanted to do it justice.
After a year of preparation, builders were brought in to make small structural changes to the bathroom, coving, ceilings and walls. Slowly but surely, Laura began to put her own stamp on it, and the result is a vintage-style haven full of retro trinkets and treasures. Here, she recalls her home makeover experience…
Welcome to my home…
A bit about me I’m Laura Sawyer, 41, an art director and creative consultant. I live in Croydon, South London, with my Burmilla cat, Albin.
Where I live My home is a one-bedroom flat in a converted Victorian semi-detached townhouse, built in 1905. I’ve lived here for nearly four years.
The flat was previously owned by an elderly gentleman who was my neighbour for 12 years. I lived in the flat downstairs – which I had previously renovated with help from my dad – and we became very friendly as he didn’t have any family.
I became like a surrogate granddaughter to him. Before he died in 2016, I acquired the flat with his blessing.
About my home
What I wanted to change It was a huge task to refurbish the place. It included installing new electrics and heating, as well as a kitchen and bathroom.
How I made it my own I changed the windows and hallway, and added in features such as architraves, coving and ceiling roses.
My favourite part With its mix of vintage and luxury, the bathroom is by far my favourite room.
It needed a lot of work and I wanted to do it justice; he hadn’t done any renovations since he had moved in some 25 years prior and he was a big hoarder. It took me about a year to get through probate and sort through all his belongings. I had promised his things wouldn’t just go to a house clearance or skip so I wanted to take my time.
The builders started in 2017 and the structural changes included remodelling the shape of the bathroom to make it wide enough to fit a bath widthways, as well as adding windows to the kitchen and bathroom and squaring off the hallway.
I worked with a fibrous plasterer to match the original coving, adding it where it was missing and repairing it where it was broken.
Plus, I added ceiling roses and designed the architrave, skirting board and panelling, as well as the doors which were all made bespoke. In addition to this work, I made all the doors taller and wider to really maximise the ceiling height and flood all the rooms with as much light as possible.
With the inclusion of cast-iron radiators and double doors in the kitchen, the flat feels more like it’s in Paris than London, which I love.
This space has been given a boutique hotel feel with high panelling, soft pink walls, tropical foliage and an incredible collection of mid-century furniture. ‘There is lots of vintage in here, including the armchairs, ceiling light, table lamps, paintings, sideboard and, of course, my flamingo,’ says Laura. ‘You can probably tell I love a good Sunday morning vintage market!’
In keeping with her classical style, Laura also added panelling and the dado rail in this room. The mid-century feel of the flat is reflected throughout this space, with retro pieces, such as the sideboard and shelves, adorned with an assortment of curios, giving a charming, unique look.
How to maximise a small space
Make sure you get it right with this sound advice
Reintroduce the original features, such as a floor you love, high skirting, panelling and ceiling roses. It will make such a difference to the feel of a space.
Plain-coloured tiles create the illusion of a larger floor space in the bathroom, but don’t be afraid to take a risk with colour either. Even if it’s in something small, like a patterned curtain or a coloured wall in a compact space, it will make all the difference.
Avoid cramming furniture into a room, or ornaments into a corner or up against a wall. Even in the smallest rooms, give your pieces a little space and the whole place will feel bigger.
‘The kitchen scheme was a difficult decision and, in the end, it was a friend that talked me into the minty green,’ says Laura. ‘I had it as an option but was nervous about the decision.
I had decided on the white doors long before and knew exactly what panel detail I wanted to have on them, which includes the very elongated look on the top cupboards.’ The kitchen is an IKEA base with Aerugo Green doors sourced from Superfront, a Swedish company that specialise in front panels to go over IKEA kitchens.
‘I wanted this room to be light and airy, so I chose to keep it calm and minimal with neutral walls,’ says Laura. ‘I love pink and think, in small doses, it feels feminine and luxurious. The elements of this room really come from my Wes Anderson film obsession, as well as my own passions and background.
‘Birds and bird-watching are a big love of mine, so you’ll see lots of them dotted around the flat, with a few in the bedroom too. I also like curved lines and circles, as they really soften an interior, so I think the headboard, cushions and ceiling roses work so well together.’
In order to create a turn-of-the-century vibe, the architrave, skirting board and panelling were all custom-made, while the herringbone floors add to the European feel.
What I learned…
New cast-iron radiators that look white are actually just primed unless you ask for them to be painted white. Annoyingly, my radiators are a little off-white.
I wish I’d found extra cash to double glaze the original sash windows, as I get a lot of condensation on them. In retrospect, I should have budgeted better to ensure I had enough money left to do this.
In the kitchen, my under-sink bin is a disaster. It’s shoddy and awkward to use and my dishwasher door doesn’t want to stay put. If I do a kitchen again, I’d think more carefully about these elements because they’re so important – you have to live with them every day!