Home makeover: ‘We went from vanilla to vibrant’

Leicestershire couple Ewan and Joe turned an outdated and bland four-bed into a fun and happy home

I have lived in this house my whole life. It’s in the perfect location, and is a short commute to work and within seconds of the countryside. Over the years I have watched it evolve, and when my parents decided to relocate to Hungary after retiring six years ago, I took it over.

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Once bland and beige, Ewan and Joe have transformed their home into an uplifting and homely space

Welcome to my home

A bit about me I’m Ewan Marshall, and I live here with my fiancé, Joe Barnsley, and our three dogs, Dylan, Merlin and Monty.

Where I live We live in a 1970s house in Desford, Leicestershire. It had three bedrooms but, after an extension in the 90s, it now has four. I’ve always lived here, but Joe moved in two years ago.

My favourite part I love the location and the size of the property; it’s great for our future.

My parents began to fall out of love with the house, so it was fairly outdated in terms of décor. In fact, if I had to sum it up in just one word, it would be ‘beige’.

At the time, I gave the place a few updates. I removed the dado rail, ripped up the carpet and stripped the layers of paper and paint that had been piled up over the years, but it wasn’t until Joe moved in two years ago that the place really started to feel like home.

kitchen
‘I couldn’t find a knife block I liked,’ says Ewan, ‘so I made one by tying together some old books I found in a charity shop. It was super cheap and is really effective!’

‘It’s really important to Joe and I that our house feels homely and welcoming to both of us, which meant that each of us needed to make compromises when it came to decorating. Together, we worked to design a home that combines our styles and makes both of us happy.

‘The result is a mix of light and dark spaces; deep walls paired with pale wood and furnishings, for example. One thing we always agree on, however, is artwork. We love pattern, particularly any that features tropical and animal designs, so we have incorporated those throughout our interior.’

stairs copy
Like most of the house, the hallway and landing were beige before,’ says Ewan. ‘I painted the ceiling and floor in red paint, but the result was much too dark, so I painted over half of it with white paint, which made it significantly brighter. Adding the chevron wallpaper enabled us to tie the space together and create a focal point’

Most of our schemes came together naturally after inspiration of some sort, be it a colour or piece of furniture that we then built the look around.

We found so much joy in updating our home that we started an Instagram profile, @the_boys_at_13, where we post all things interiors in the hope of inspiring our followers.

Living room

living room couch
‘The gallery wall has taken years to curate,’ says Ewan. ‘It continues to grow as Joe and I travel and find fun prints to add to our collection. Some are sheets of wrapping paper picked up during trips to Australia’

‘This room has seen the biggest change since the house became my own,’ says Ewan. ‘In fact, in the past five years it has been redecorated no less than four times. Gone are the days of dado rails dividing walls in two and wallpaper duos. Now, it’s our dark haven.

living room shelves
‘The large shelving unit was another of our DIY projects which we made using scaffold boards and a set of old window-cleaning ladders that we found online,’ says Ewan. ‘We got a few inquisitive looks driving them home on the roof of the car’

‘We replaced the carpet with laminate flooring for an easy-clean alternative and painted the walls and ceiling in dark blue. We updated the fireplace with grey paint, which took some persuading on Joe’s part, and replaced the sofas for a better flow between the sitting and dining areas.’

living room fireplace
Hesitant to paint the ceiling dark blue and the fireplace grey for fear of disliking the end result, Ewan considers his risk to have paid off. ‘I have absolutely no regrets,’ he says. ‘And even if it didn’t go as planned, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We all make mistakes; it’s how we learn’

‘Joe actually made the benches that frame the dining table using timber and pallet wood,’ Ewan muses. ‘The dining table and chairs took a lot of internet trawling to find, but we eventually sourced them on Gumtree for next to nothing’

Spare room

‘We call this ‘The African Room’, as it’s where we display many of the souvenirs, including masks, busts and woven baskets, we have picked up on travels to the Gambia,’ Ewan shares.

‘Before its update, the walls were a bold orange hue that needed toning down. We went with white on three walls and a mustard yellow shade by Valspar on the fourth feature wall, and it turned out to be my favourite aspect of the room.

spare bedroom
This is the space we use to host guests when they visit, and we like to think it’s warm and welcoming to everyone we entertain. Joe’s friends say it looks like something out of an interiors magazine. I guess they’re right!’

‘The hanging tree branch is both decorative and functional,’ says Ewan. ‘We found it while out on a walk, so we took it home, let it dry, then installed it using garden twine for guests to hang clothes when they visit.

‘The metal trunk was from a second-hand furniture shop in Hungary and, due to the conversion rate at the time, it was a bargain.’

Expert advice

How to make a hanging branch display

Search local wooded areas for a sturdy, dry branch, similar to the one Ewan has hanging in his guest room. Only scour the floor; do not cut branches from the trees. Leave the branch to dry out thoroughly. 

Once dry, remove any unwanted twigs. Trim, if necessary, to fit the space, then lightly sand using a low-grit sandpaper until smooth and you achieve the desired effect.

Paint, if you wish, using a wood-friendly spray in the colour of your choice, then leave it to dry. Skip this step if you’re seeking a natural look.

Secure to the ceiling – you could use gardener’s twine, like Ewan and Joe – ensuring the branch can support the weight of its décor.

Decorate as you please; perhaps with faux foliage, hanging ornaments, or even utilise it as a clothing rail.

Bedroom

‘Originally, we intended this to be the guest room for when friends come to stay,’ Ewan recalls. ‘It was light grey and, essentially, acted as my storage room. Then when Joe moved in, we started to create a welcoming space for overnight visitors.

‘The bed, which we bought from DFS, is by far my favourite piece in the room. It’s blue crushed velvet and feels very luxurious. What’s not to love?’
master copy
‘The bedside tables were made by Joe’s fair hands using timber and pallet wood,’ says Ewan. ‘We then painted them in colours that would complement the rest of the scheme’

‘We cleared the clutter, painted the walls white and hung a fun, floral wallpaper, but once finished we decided we liked it so much we wanted it to be our bedroom. I was pleasantly surprised that Joe picked such a vibrant, outgoing design for the feature wall, being that his interior preference tends to be more minimalist. He must have lived with me, and my daring décor choices, for too long…’

Bathroom

‘Our bathroom is pretty compact, which can pose a challenge when redecorating and balancing practicality with style,’ says Ewan.

bathroom
Ewan and Joe have opted for a nautical theme in their bathroom, which comprises of sealife artwork, vases filled with shells and – their favourite – vintage lobster creels bought from an antiques fair

‘We spruced up the space with a new wall colour, which made the room much brighter, then used artwork, accessories and foliage to put our personal stamp on it. The print is, in fact, a sheet of wrapping paper that I bought while on holiday in Australia, and it fits perfectly with the nautical theme.’

What I learned…

Preparation is key when decorating or making something for the home, so be sure to check you have all of the tools and equipment you need before starting a job. The process will be so much smoother and much more enjoyable.

Keep up communication with your partner or family members throughout. Share opinions honestly and make decisions together so you will all love the end result.

Try to enjoy it. Of course, renovating and redecorating can be really stressful, but it can also be really fun if you reduce the self-imposed pressure and treat it as a playful experiment.

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