Home makeover: ‘It was the ideal doer-upper for us’

Making their mark on an unloved former rental flat, Sophie and Joe have created a unique home with personalised art and an airy kitchen layout

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'

Sometimes, a property just needs someone with creative vision to see its full potential, and for this Victorian maisonette that person was Sophie Kreyer-Peake. Sophie and her fiancé Joe Janney, both management consultants, lost out on several properties before eventually striking it lucky with this one.

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Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
‘I didn’t have a huge amount of space to work with here, but every inch of it is well used’ says Sophie

‘As we have a dog, we were looking for a two-bedroom garden flat near my family in South London,’ explains Sophie. ‘We were after a doer-upper that we could put our own stamp on.’

They’d been looking for over a year and offered on eight properties, but pretty much every house went to sealed bids.

‘Being on a tight budget, we lost out on all of them. But, when it came to this one, no one else wanted it. Our offer was accepted and it was perfect for us,’ says Sophie.

Owner profile

We are Sophie Kreyer-Peake and Joe Janney, both management consultants, and we have a cockapoo named Willow.

Our home is a purpose-built Victorian two-bedroom garden flat in South London.

My favourite features are the high ceilings and cornicing, which you would never get in a new-build property.

I’m most proud of the customised IKEA Billy bookcases either side of the sitting room fireplace. They look built-in, something we could never afford!

The item I love is the hall console table. I saved up for it, so it was a special purchase.

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
No room to store chopping boards in a compact kitchen? Invest in beautiful wooden ones and hang them on the kitchen wall!

It had previously been rented out and looked pretty unloved and dismal, but the couple were able to look past the worn brown carpet and dull magnolia walls and imagine what they could do with it. Sophie and Joe also had the practical skills to be able to do all of the decorating work themselves.

Get the look

‘We took up the carpet, sanded and varnished all the floorboards, and did all the painting, tiling and grouting,’ explains Sophie. ‘But we got a builder in to do the structural work, the plumbing and electrics and to fit the kitchen.’
Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
‘We had a really stressful time when our builder ran off halfway through the job!’ says Sophie

To make the apartment feel brighter and more spacious, the couple removed the wall separating the kitchen and dining room to create one free-flowing space opening out onto the garden.

‘To blur the line between the kitchen-diner and the garden, we raised the patio by two feet, so that it was level with the house, installed bi-folding doors and used the same floor tiles inside and outside on the patio,’ says Sophie.

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
To make more of the side return and extend the garden, Sophie and Joe replaced the window in the side of the kitchen with a door

The project wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. ‘We had a really stressful time when our builder ran off halfway through the job – he said he would come back if we paid a ransom of £5,000! It was awful. We couldn’t afford it and rather than pay it and get tied up with him again we found some new builders to finish the job, while Joe and I got on with the decorating.’

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
Cut beading and MDF panels to size, glue on to walls and paint to create traditional-style wall panelling.

Sophie has always been into interior design, but as she’d only previously rented properties she was limited in what she could do.

Having a place of her own finally gave her creative juices free rein. She took a lot of inspiration from Instagram and Pinterest and found online interior design tools incredibly useful too. ‘Being on a tight budget, we opted for an IKEA kitchen,’ says Sophie. ‘One thing I’d always wanted was a kitchen island unit, as I love cooking and it gives you that extra bit of workspace.

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
Sophie has been clever with choosing storage in the kitchen. The door to the right of the dining table conceals the washing machine, ensuring there’s more room for drawers and cupboards in the kitchen. The brightly patterned geometric rug breaks up the monochrome palette and helps to separate the dining area from the cooking space

‘It was difficult to see how we would fit one into the space we had, but by using the IKEA kitchen planning tool, I managed to work out how to fit a small one with a breakfast bar in the space and I was able to get 35cm-deep drawers in on both sides too, which gives us lots of useful storage as well.’

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
Sophie has made a feature out of the tall chimney breast alcove by tucking a mini range cooker within it and tiling this area with striking hexagonal tiles. An extractor fan has also been hidden in here, while a Studio wall clock from Jones Clocks adds interest to the space above

In the more formal living room, Sophie made the period fireplace the focal point and shielded the windows, which open out on to the street, with floor-to-ceiling curtains. ‘I went for a cosier, slightly more traditional feel in here,’ she says.

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
A contemporary floor lamp throws a cosy glow over the generous three-seater sofa, which can comfortably host four people when entertaining. The plump cushions and throw also make it an extra-welcoming place to sit and relax

‘I’m particularly pleased with the IKEA Billy bookcases, which I made look bespoke by adding wooden beading and painting them.’ Sophie also installed the panelling in the hallway, which is so realistic it looks like the original Victorian fittings. And she created most of the artwork that adorns the walls of the home. ‘My favourite are the three line drawings that hang above our bed,’ she says. ‘I designed them to fit the space.’

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
The slim, clean lines of the four-poster bed in the guest bedroom – a £120 bargain from Studio – and the subtle monochrome accessories continue the classic-contemporary feel that flows throughout the apartment

Relaxing and simple was the design brief that Sophie set herself for the bedrooms. Both beds are dressed with plump pillows, cushions and duvets, set against a backdrop of soft neutrals, while a supporting cast of furnishings and accessories add splashes of colour.

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
The symmetry of the master bedroom’s scheme, together with the upholstered headboard, which comes from an eBay store called SleepStyle, and layers of bed linen, pillows and cushions, give the room an air of a luxurious yet welcoming boutique hotel room. The chests of drawers are from IKEA, which Sophie has painted in Farrow & Ball Railings for a luxe finish

Sandwiched in between the guest bedroom and the kitchen is a compact but practical bathroom. ‘We were limited by space here, but I managed to get a wide vanity unit with drawers in, which provides lots of storage, and I chose tiles that help to push the walls out a little. So it still feels like quite a restful space,’ says Sophie.

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
Sophie searched out a double drawer vanity unit to maximise the hidden storage space in the small bathroom. For a similar design, see the Ronda chestnut 900mm-wide floor standing vanity unit at Victorian Plumbing

Sophie and Joe are delighted with the finished result. ‘It’s exactly as I envisaged it would be, and in some ways it’s actually exceeded my expectations,’ says Sophie.

Real home: 'It was the ideal doer-upper for us'
Arranging the wall tiles in a herringbone pattern emphasises the compact room’s high ceiling. Sophie has also made a point of having flowers, foliage or houseplants in every room to give each space in their garden flat that indoor-outdoor feel

‘I didn’t have a huge amount of space to work with, but every inch of it is well used. We spend a lot of time entertaining and enjoying the kitchen and garden space and hanging out in the living room. It’s not our forever home, as we want to get a house eventually, but it’s been a great learning experience and I can’t wait to do the same thing all over again one day.’

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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?