Home makeover: ‘We wanted to make our own mark on this house’

After two years, a lot of hard work and nightmare builders, Kate and Chris Sandhu have finally made their Victorian property their own, with a spacious new layout, plenty of colour and print, and modern-vintage décor

It’s worth planning your budget so you can spend more on fittings that’ll have a real impact on the space. ‘Our one big splurge was the Crittall doors we bought for either end of the open-plan kitchen,’ Kate says. ‘They make the space feel so much lighter’

An east-Londoner at heart, Kate Sandhu vowed to never, ever move south of the river – but that was before she, and husband Chris, started to outgrow their ‘hugely overpriced’ Hackney flat, and simply couldn’t afford to buy a house in the same area.

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The combination of rich green, soft pink and matt gold makes for a luxe living room. As a restaurant inspired her scheme, it’s fitting that Kate has added a gold bar cart
The combination of rich green, soft pink and matt gold makes for a luxe living room. As a restaurant inspired her scheme, it’s fitting that Kate has added a gold bar cart

Something had to give and, in the end (and much to Kate’s surprise), it was the location. ‘We came across Nunhead almost by happy accident as a friend had moved to nearby Peckham, and we just fell in love with it,’ Kate recalls.

While it wasn’t her beloved Hackney, it did have many things going for it, including a great community, friends nearby and more affordable housing, which meant that the couple could upgrade from a flat to a three-bed house.

It may take a little longer to find exactly what you want, but shop for reclaimed materials to save on expensive items. ‘The floorboards were salvaged from old apartments in Notting Hill,’ says Kate
It may take a little longer to find exactly what you want, but shop for reclaimed materials to save on expensive items. ‘The floorboards were salvaged from old apartments in Notting Hill,’ says Kate

On the wish list was more space to hopefully raise a family in and somewhere that they could really put their stamp on.

To tie the staircase in with the gold accents in the living room, Kate decorated the stairs with gold leaf. Applying it on the risers only will help ensure the gold won’t get damaged by regular use
To tie the staircase in with the gold accents in the living room, Kate decorated the stairs with gold leaf. Applying it on the risers only will help ensure the gold won’t get damaged by regular use

However, the search wasn’t a straightforward one, and they viewed close to 30 properties with no luck, either writing them off for not being a good fit or being outbid on occasions when they did choose to put an offer in.

Welcome to our home…

We are Kate Sandhu, 36, employed in strategy within the telecoms industry, my husband Chris, 35, and our 18-month-old son, Rafael.

Our home is A three-bedroom Victorian terrace in Nunhead, south London. We have lived here since 2017.

Kate Sandhu

‘This house came onto the market as a previously agreed sale had fallen through, and we didn’t hang around – we went to view it immediately,’ Kate says. ‘We were the very first ones there. We loved it, and so we offered the owner the full asking price if they agreed to take it off the market immediately. And that was that – we bought our home.’

Kate got the idea for her living room’s colours from a restaurant in London. ‘I decorated half of the room green and half pink with gold accents. Chris wasn’t convinced at first, but it worked really well’
Kate got the idea for her living room’s colours from a restaurant in London. ‘I decorated half of the room green and half pink with gold accents. Chris wasn’t convinced at first, but it worked really well’

Kate describes the state of the property when they moved in as being liveable, but grim. ‘It had no hallway, the pokiest little living room that you couldn’t fit five people into, a dining room with no windows and a black kitchen with silver glitter reminiscent of some kind of spaceship,’ she says.

The kitchen also had an illegal extension that didn’t meet building specs and, as a result, made the room feel freezing, and there was lots to be done about the unusual and impractical layout of the ground floor, too. ‘It was on three different levels, which was odd, and the ceilings were super low,’ Kate recalls.

When upcycling furniture, add new elements as well as a lick of paint. A family friend made Kate and Chris the table top using scaffolding boards and the legs from her parents’ old table, which have been finished in Farrow & Ball paint
When upcycling furniture, add new elements as well as a lick of paint. A family friend made Kate and Chris the table top using scaffolding boards and the legs from her parents’ old table, which have been finished in Farrow & Ball paint

The rough plan was to rebuild much of the house, and the renovation work was scheduled for February 2018. The hallway would be torn down, along with the existing kitchen, downstairs loo, dining room and pantry, and an open-plan kitchen, living and dining space with a new WC would replace them.

A bit more about our home…

My top tip is To get tons of quotes before committing to a builder and go and look at their prior builds. Sign a contract, and make sure you have a line-by-line quote down to the minute detail.

For style inspiration I look to magazines, Pinterest and Instagram. I either start a scheme with a key piece of furniture or a colour and create a mood board.

Home makeover: 'We wanted to make our own mark on this house'

However, cowboy builders ended up making what should have been a three-month job take nine months, causing masses of stress and financial concerns as costs got ever more expensive.

Kate has combined rustic textures with sleek blue cabinets, black accents and gold finishes to create an industrial-meets-modern kitchen. It’s been a big hit on her Instagram, @thehouseonhollydale
Kate has combined rustic textures with sleek blue cabinets, black accents and gold finishes to create an industrial-meets-modern kitchen. It’s been a big hit on her Instagram, @thehouseonhollydale

‘The building company turned out to be awful,’ Kate says. ‘They subcontracted the work without asking us and after a while we could tell things weren’t going to plan as communication was difficult and supplies were delayed. It eventually materialised that they had under-priced for the job and didn’t want to do it.

The main bedroom was the only room not in need of any building work, but Kate still put her creative stamp on it. She built her scheme around the wallpaper from Divine Savages, matching the teal tones with luxe bedding
The main bedroom was the only room not in need of any building work, but Kate still put her creative stamp on it. She built her scheme around the wallpaper from Divine Savages, matching the teal tones with luxe bedding

‘They had stopped paying the sub-contractor and were using our money to work on another house nearby, and then they pulled out altogether and left us two months into the build with half a house and a hole where the kitchen should have been.’

We removed the fireplace for more space and chose a monochrome scheme with touches of blue and peach,’ says Kate of the spare bedroom. ‘I’ve since gone off the paint, but you make mistakes and learn from them when you renovate’
We removed the fireplace for more space and chose a monochrome scheme with touches of blue and peach,’ says Kate of the spare bedroom. ‘I’ve since gone off the paint, but you make mistakes and learn from them when you renovate’

Raising a complaint with the Federation of Master Builders would’ve meant living without a kitchen for months while the dispute was mediated and a solution found, which, understandably, just wasn’t doable for Kate and Chris. In the end, the subcontractor agreed to finish the work. They were in luck, but also an extra £10k out of pocket.

Make a feature of a cloakroom bathroom with a bold pattern. ‘We panelled the lower half of the wall so the print didn’t become overwhelming,’ says Kate. ‘It’s a super fun space, and we always get comments on it’
Make a feature of a cloakroom bathroom with a bold pattern. ‘We panelled the lower half of the wall so the print didn’t become overwhelming,’ says Kate. ‘It’s a super fun space, and we always get comments on it’

‘At the time, we were going through fertility treatment, so it was very stressful and full-on,’ Kate shares. ‘The subcontractors were great guys, but they would do unusual things like cut the electricity in the middle of the day when I was working.

Kate’s renovated bathroom suits her home’s period charm. ‘We rebuilt the space and gave it a modern Victorian look with monochrome tiles and pink trim,’ she explains
Kate’s renovated bathroom suits her home’s period charm. ‘We rebuilt the space and gave it a modern Victorian look with monochrome tiles and pink trim,’ she explains

‘And, one day, we arrived home to find they had chopped up the sofa and put it in the skip for no reason. We ended up sitting on deckchairs and eating microwaved food from paper plates for around six months! Looking back, we can laugh, but I have no idea how we did it!’

Having been clever with bargain finds elsewhere, Kate was able to spend on the bathroom. The pink bath from Cast Iron Bath Company was a luxury buy, but well worth the investment in her eyes
Having been clever with bargain finds elsewhere, Kate was able to spend on the bathroom. The pink bath from Cast Iron Bath Company was a luxury buy, but well worth the investment in her eyes

It took nine months and an unthinkable amount of stress to finish the downstairs renovation and the cosmetic updates are ongoing, but the payoff – owning a home that they love – kept Kate and Chris going. Plus, they really did get the opportunity they so wanted to put their stamp on a place.

Painting simple motifs on the wall is an easy way to add cute detail to a child’s room. ‘I love the wall mural,’ says Kate. ‘I painted it when I was heavily pregnant and used paints from Vintro for the stars and clouds’
Painting simple motifs on the wall is an easy way to add cute detail to a child’s room. ‘I love the wall mural,’ says Kate. ‘I painted it when I was heavily pregnant and used paints from Vintro for the stars and clouds’

‘It was a real doer-upper, and so we love that we have been able to make it our own – particularly knowing what it took to get it to this stage – and give a bit of ourselves to the house, too,’ Kate reveals. ‘Houses are around for way longer than humans, so there’s something poetic about being part of this one’s story.’

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Feature Abbi Henderson. Photos Georgia Burns. 

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