When Cassie and Ben Schifano got together, they knew they wanted a house full of children. But, by the time they had four, they were bursting out of their three-bedroom house.
When they first viewed the house that they now call home, Cassie giggled all the way round because it was such a mess. It was single-glazed, had an asbestos flue, old wiring and the plumbing didn’t work.
But it had a great layout with potential for extending, so even before they'd exchanged, Cassie had already drawn out plans of how they could best use the space in her head. Here, she shares her renovation experience...
‘When we moved in, we weren’t daunted because we’re people who get things done. The first winter here was really cold so we fairly swiftly fitted new windows at the front of the house. Then the following summer we moved into a rental property and the real work began.
‘We extended the back to create a massive kitchen-diner and built two extra bedrooms above it. We turned one of the existing bedrooms into a family bathroom and had new electrics and plumbing fitted. Then we had the whole house plastered and were left with a shell to finish.
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‘Ben has been incredible doing most of the work himself, laying floors, fitting the kitchen and decorating the house, though YouTube has been a wonderful friend and we’ve both picked up skills along the way.
There have been stressful moments and you can get decision fatigue when there’s a whole house to do, butI love the design process and making things beautiful. If asked, I would do it all again.’
Welcome to my home...
A bit about me I’m Cassie Schifano and I’m married to Ben, a mechanic. We have six children: Kiki, Isadora, Arrietty, Mitzi, Fionnuala and Huxley. I document our interiors on Instagram at @wheretheeightdwell.
Where I live Home is a 1950s five-bedroom detached house in Woking. We moved here in December 2015.
‘People always tell me that I’m brave with my interior choices, but my mantra is ‘if you don’t like it or get bored, you can always change it.’ Lots of our furniture is reclaimed, but we wanted to splash out a bit on the living room as it’s our grown-up space, though the blue sofa was a bargain from Dunelm.
‘We had the units painted and built in and got someone in to do the wallpapering. It would probably have taken Ben four weekends, whereas a professional came in and finished it in a day and a half.
‘I believe it’s important to decide not only where to save or spend money, but also where to make the best use of your time. Saying that, Ben did lay the parquet floor after watching a YouTube video.’
‘I love cooking and entertaining, so I spent a lot of time designing this room. We looked at all the standard kitchen suppliers but didn’t find anything we liked. Then a flyer came through the door from Just Fitted Kitchens saying, ‘bespoke kitchens at bargain prices.’
‘I went to them with my colours and the plans I’d drawn out and they made up the cabinets, which Ben fitted. We then started looking at worktops but couldn’t afford granite and didn’t want wood because of the upkeep and we thought they would clash with the cupboards, so we started investigating concrete worktops.
‘After watching lots of YouTube videos, Ben made the worktops himself, though he joked about the island being the size of Sicily, where his dad’s from.’
A bit more about my home...
What I wanted to change Everything! It originally had four bedrooms and one bathroom. It needed a complete renovation.
How I made it my own We added new electrics and plumbing, and then an extension, an extra bedroom, a new kitchen and two bathrooms. Then we decorated it all.
My favourite part I love the lounge because it’s tidy all the time! The children are allowed in but only with us. It’s a bit of a sanctuary for Ben and me.
‘The bed has followed us around for years, but the bedside cabinets, from Swoon Editions, were a new, quite expensive, buy. While the rest of the house is for the children, this room is a bit of a refuge from the chaos for Ben and me, so we were happy to investment in some beautiful furniture for the space. I still walk in and think, ‘this is lovely.’
‘The green wall is, uninspiringly, called 6004. It’s an RAL colour mixed at a Dulux station, but it looks beautiful against the pink curtains and accessories. The ceiling chandelier is really special to me.
‘I fell in love with it when I was in Wales and when I told Ben he suggested we go and buy it immediately. So we called the shop, asked them to stay open for us and drove to get it there and then.’
What I learned…
The internet is your friend, both for design and practical help. You can be inspired by the millions of images out there or learn to do anything via online videos if you’re ready to give it a go.
Don’t be scared of change. If you put something up, enjoy it while you like it and change it when you don’t. Interior design choices don’t need to be forever and décor can constantly evolve.
I love colour and can’t imagine a home without it. I never thought I was creative because I couldn’t draw, but I now realise being creative is also about ideas and concepts that can make something beautiful.
‘With eight of us in the house, we were keen for the family bathroom to be ready as soon as possible, so we paid a tiler to do the walls and Ben laid the floor tiles.
‘The bathroom sink unit is made out of a vintage sideboard we bought on eBay. I’d seen lots of images of sinks resting on units on Pinterest but didn’t know if they were genuine or not. I asked our plumbers if they could modify our cabinet and adapt the basins from Victorian Plumbing to create a double sink and they did a really good job.’