Home makeover: ‘We had two months to totally transform it!’

Ruth and David van den Broek opted for a project property with heaps of potential, but with only two months to renovate it, they had their work cut out

The kitchen, like much of the house, was crying out for an update. Ruth and David opted for classic Shaker-style units with a butcher block countertop and slate floors for a fresh, sophisticated look

In 2015, Ruth and David van den Broek had an unpleasant shock when the landlords of the flat they were renting announced that they were selling up.

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‘They assured us that they were trying to find a buyer who would let us continue living in the flat but there were no guarantees, so we started looking for a new home,’ Ruth remembers. ‘It wasn’t until we sat down to do the numbers that we realised, with some help from a friend, we could scrape together enough money to buy a house.’

Craving a calm, cosy space, the couple chose muted hues for the living room, and accessorised with pastel pink and navy touches to add depth and link to the décor in the rest of the house
Craving a calm, cosy space, the couple chose muted hues for the living room, and accessorised with pastel pink and navy touches to add depth and link to the décor in the rest of the house

The couple focussed their search in Didcot, where properties were affordable and the architecture, shopping, art and culture of picturesque Oxford are easily accessible. However, the house hunt was far from straightforward, and finding a property that met all of their needs proved to be a big challenge.

Welcome to our home…

We are Ruth van den Broek, 31, my husband, David, 30, and Elsa, our English Cocker Spaniel.

Our home is A three-bed 1930s terrace in Didcot, Oxfordshire. We have lived here since May 2016.

Ruth

‘I have Cystic Fibrosis, so David and I had specific criteria, such as needing a loo both upstairs and downstairs, which we couldn’t compromise on,’ Ruth shares. ‘We viewed a number of properties, but very few offered what we needed within our budget.’

‘The bureau was a second-hand buy from eBay that I upcycled with white paint, and the navy armchair was another eBay steal, which I reupholstered in velvet,’ Ruth says. ‘The latter was my first ever project – luckily it worked out alright’
‘The bureau was a second-hand buy from eBay that I upcycled with white paint, and the navy armchair was another eBay steal, which I reupholstered in velvet,’ Ruth says. ‘The latter was my first ever project – luckily it worked out alright’

The compromise, in the end, was to opt for a project property they could make their own. One that ticked boxes in terms of Ruth’s health requirements, had lots of potential and was comfortably within budget.

I love this home because it feels like us. We designed it, we renovated it, it’s ours.

After their offer was accepted and the keys to the new house were collected, Ruth and David had two months until moving day, which wasn’t long given the amount of work needed to make the property liveable.

‘I love the breakfast bar,’ Ruth says. ‘We weren’t going to have one but changed our minds at the last minute, and I’m so glad we did as we use it all the time. The bar stools were an incredibly cheap eBay purchase’
‘I love the breakfast bar,’ Ruth says. ‘We weren’t going to have one but changed our minds at the last minute, and I’m so glad we did as we use it all the time. The bar stools were an incredibly cheap eBay purchase’

It had bubbling lino, peeling wallpaper, smelly, worn carpets and smoke-stained ceilings, and it all had to go. ‘It was very tight,’ Ruth recalls.

A bit more about our home…

My top tip is To decorate at a pace that suits you. You might be a person who needs to do things slowly, or you might prefer to get everything done at once. Either way, go at your own speed – you’ll be much happier and calmer that way!

For style inspiration I get a lot of ideas from Instagram, but nothing compares to flicking through home interiors magazines.

Ruth

‘I was very unwell during the process and so couldn’t offer any practical help at all, which made it tighter still. I did all of the designing while I was in hospital for a few weeks, and David and I would frantically email measurements and photos back and forth. It wasn’t easy, but we made it work.’

‘The dining room had red and yellow wallpaper and sliding doors that barely opened,’ Ruth remembers. ‘We added a skylight, as it has a flat roof, which has made the room so much brighter! The dining table was an eBay buy, and I love how much character it has,’ Ruth says.
‘The dining room had red and yellow wallpaper and sliding doors that barely opened,’ Ruth remembers. ‘We added a skylight, as it has a flat roof, which has made the room so much brighter! The dining table was an eBay buy, and I love how much character it has,’ Ruth says.

In order to meet their looming deadline, the couple hired a contractor to install the bathroom while David turned his attention to gutting rooms and stripping walls and floors back to a blank canvas. Many family members pitched in to help turn the house around in time for the fast-approaching move, but even with all of their joint efforts, there was still a last-minute rush to get the flooring laid the night before the big move.

A cohesive colour palette is one of the best things you can do for your home.

‘Thankfully, the floor was finished and we managed to move out of our flat in time,’ Ruth says, ‘but the house wasn’t yet done. We lived without a kitchen for a couple of weeks, washing our pots and pans in the bath!’

Ruth and David turned what was originally a closet into an upstairs loo and painted the walls of the main bedroom in Farrow & Ball’s Dimpse, a blue-toned grey. ‘I chose to keep it light and airy with crisp white bedding and pink cushions and accessories,’ Ruth says. ‘I painted the artwork above the bed using tester pots of paint used around the house to ensure it would be a perfect match’
Ruth and David turned what was originally a closet into an upstairs loo and painted the walls of the main bedroom in Farrow & Ball’s Dimpse, a blue-toned grey. ‘I chose to keep it light and airy with crisp white bedding and pink cushions and accessories,’ Ruth says. ‘I painted the artwork above the bed using tester pots of paint used around the house to ensure it would be a perfect match’

Before its makeover, the kitchen was in a very sorry state. There was mould on the cabinets, grease and smoke residue everywhere, wood chip was falling off the walls and pipes protruded in odd places.

‘It was very old, very beige and very dirty. We had to start from scratch’ says Ruth. ‘We decided on a classic Shaker-style farmhouse kitchen with white framed doors and a walnut butcher block countertop. I was so relieved the day that it arrived and David could fit it!’

Ruth chose Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue for the office walls to give it a rich and elegant appearance and added contrast with white shelving and storage. ‘The desk is made from a piece of plywood that I stained and David mounted to the wall,’ Ruth says. ‘It’s simple and sturdy’
Ruth chose Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue for the office walls to give it a rich and elegant appearance and added contrast with white shelving and storage. ‘The desk is made from a piece of plywood that I stained and David mounted to the wall,’ Ruth says. ‘It’s simple and sturdy’

The finishing touches took a little while to come together, as Ruth meticulously decided on colour palettes and furnishings.

‘Everything had been primed white ready for colour and creativity, but it took me some time to settle on the details,’ she says.

‘At first, we painted the guest bedroom white and just left it,’ Ruth says. ‘In September 2018 I had a double lung transplant. By December, I felt much stronger and wanted to celebrate by painting the spare room, so in three days over the Christmas period David and I totally transformed it. I chose a punchy hue – Valspar’s Winter Spruce – to reflect our joy at my new-found life and energy’
‘At first, we painted the guest bedroom white and just left it,’ Ruth says. ‘In September 2018 I had a double lung transplant. By December, I felt much stronger and wanted to celebrate by painting the spare room, so in three days over the Christmas period David and I totally transformed it. I chose a punchy hue – Valspar’s Winter Spruce – to reflect our joy at my new-found life and energy’

After some time spent mulling it over, Ruth opted for a sophisticated palette of fresh and soothing tones – white, light grey and touches of navy and pastel pink – to be woven through the entire house.

Some spaces, such as the kitchen and main bedroom, have light walls while others, such as the office and guest bedroom, boast bold, dark walls. Still, every room flows seamlessly thanks to the continued colour scheme. ‘I honestly believe that a cohesive colour palette is one of the best things you can do for your home, and your sanity!’ Ruth shares.

Previously, the bathroom had a green-brown suite, mould and a hole in the outside wall. The couple reconfigured the layout to allow more floorspace and redecorated with a white and grey palette for a fun, classic-meets-modern feel
Previously, the bathroom had a green-brown suite, mould and a hole in the outside wall. The couple reconfigured the layout to allow more floorspace and redecorated with a white and grey palette for a fun, classic-meets-modern feel

Proud of the mammoth task they have both achieved despite her being unwell, Ruth is happy with how their house turned out. However, there’s always something that can be tinkered with.

‘Ironically, since these photos were taken, I have repainted almost the whole house,’ she says. ‘I’m not very good at staying still for too long, and I’m always thinking of ways I would’ve done things differently. The great thing is, décor can always be changed.’

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Ruth likes to share snippets of her home’s ever-changing interior on Instagram @roundatnumber51 where, unsurprisingly, she inspires her some 13,000 followers with her ongoing design escapades. ‘I love this home because it feels like us. We designed it, we renovated it, it’s ours.’

This is a digital version of a feature that originally appeared in Home Style magazine. For more inspirational home ideas, why not subscribe today?