Living room makeover: ‘It reflects our passions for travel and wildlife’

Tessa Bird has kept the character of her period living room, but added plenty of personality with travel mementos and her love of nature

Period living room

The period features first attracted Tessa Bird and her partner Robbie Henderson to what became their family home in Addlestone, Surrey.

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They decided to buy the three-bedroom 1930s semi when they first saw it just over three years ago, despite the fact it needed a lot of work.

‘It had a real Arts and Crafts feel, with beautiful wooden panelling and lovely solid floors. We wanted to preserve as much as we could, but we knew there was plenty of work ahead too.’

Brown leather chair
A big fan of the simplicity of shutters, Tessa has used them throughout the room. The enormous retro lamp is German and a family piece, so Tessa’s given it pride of place next to her chair

Tessa (@photographybylittlebird), a family photographer, and Robbie, a marketing manager, only had Mya, now five, at the time, but have since had Thea, now two.

‘Initially we concentrated on the things that desperately needed doing, like the bedrooms, and then put in a decent bathroom, as it was virtually non-existent, but what we were craving was a proper living room that we could all be together in.’

A period living room with brown leather sofas and a wooden coffee table
Tessa has added mementos from globetrotting adventures to bring an exotic flavour to her living room scheme

The room wasn’t as they wanted it, with bright yellow walls, a pink fireplace and honey-stained floorboards. ‘The whole thing didn’t hang together. It was far too colourful and not very restful, so we knew we had to think hard.’

After working out their budget, Tessa and Robbie thought about what they could save or improve without over-spending. ‘We’re very committed to recycling and reusing, as well as being vegan and obsessed with animals and nature. We can do quite a bit of stuff between us, so we sanded the floor and stained it.’

Vintage trunks
A tower out of trunks makes for practical and stylish storage. Match them with other accessories, such as vintage candlesticks to complete the period look

The couple also bagged themselves a leather sofa, chair and chest, all in good condition, by hunting around on eBay and Gumtree. ‘Leather just keeps getting better with age and it fitted in with the relaxed, natural look we wanted to create.’

A calm atmosphere was also high up on the list, so the couple chose to repaint the walls in off-white and grey. ‘We did two of each to give a contrast and the white has a soft, pink tinge to it.’ After waxing and coaxing the wood around the fireplace back to its best, the couple turned their attentions to the French doors and window.

An old chest used as a side table to display plants, souvenirs and photo frames
An old chest, which Tessa found on Gumtree for £50, provides a handy side table and space to display plants, souvenirs and photo frames

They opted for white shutters rather than fussy curtains at both. ‘That took up a chunk of our budget, but we know we’ll never get fed up of them.’ The pink fireplace had to go as well, and the couple painted over it with the same off-white as the walls to create a cohesive look. With the basics in place, Tessa wanted to personalise the room.

Texture is very important to Tessa, and she considered how to bring in different materials and fabrics. A big cowhide rug from eBay helped, along with throws in mohair and fake fur, and fabric cushions in her preferred grey and white, but with images of animals on them.

A palm print cushion on a mustard yellow throw
A mix of textures was high on Tessa’s list and she’s achieved it with tactile throws and cushions, not forgetting to add patterns featuring her favourite animals

‘I’m not a massive one for lots of colour. I prefer just to have the odd burst of it, like the yellow throw.’ Original artworks and photography are also essentials for the couple.

‘As a photographer, mainly in black and white, I wanted to put up lots of photos of us as a family that we can enjoy every day.’

A photo frame made out of an old window
Create an eye-catching frame for your favourite family photos by upcycling an old window.

The last big item Tessa felt was missing was some sort of coffee table in the middle of the room. ‘We were really keen to use an old table, which belonged to my great aunt, somewhere.

‘It’s a piece of post-war government-issue utility furniture. We cleaned it up, then chopped off the legs halfway down and waxed it.

Built in seating and shelving around a fireplace
The original built-in seating and shelving around the fireplace was something Tessa and Robbie wanted to preserve, and they’ve carefully cleaned and treated the wood to bring it back to its best

‘We also picked up some old ammunition boxes at a car boot sale that we use as child seats around the table, and they double up as toy storage. The finishing touch was putting up souvenirs from our travels before the children, such as the head over the fireplace from Bali.’

Shopping list

Kensington Premium White window shutters, £189.99; French door shutters, £359.99, both Tuiss. HX306 Triple Column radiator, £623, Hudson Reed. Walls painted in Dove Tale and Skimming Stone estate emulsion, £47.95 for 2.5l, both Farrow & Ball. Suitcase chests, from £20; tall candlesticks, £20 each; yellow mohair throw, £20; grey and white cushions, £15 each; giraffe cushion, £15; faux fur throw, £40; butterfly dishes, £9.99 for a set of four, all TK Maxx. Second-hand leather sofa, £450; chair, £300; cowhide rug, £150; cage lights, £12 each, all eBay. Ammunition boxes, £15 each, car boot sale. Faux-fur cushions, £9.99 each; Live the Life picture, £20, both Dunelm. Chest beside sofa, £50, Gumtree. Multi photo frame, £30, Sass & Belle.

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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?