Home makeover: ‘Renting has made me more creative’

Take a look inside Nancy's beautiful Victorian home...

With a few budget quick fixes and an eye for accessorising, Nancy Straughan has transformed her Victorian maisonette into a stylish family home.

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Here, she tells us all about her home makeover experience…

Nancy’s makeover story

After 10 years in London, it was time to move back to my hometown of Newcastle. I’d always wanted to move home and, luckily, Simon was on board.

Taking pride of place above the sofa is a screen print by Wolf Jaw Press of a huge Russian hunting dog called a Borzoi. ‘I stumbled across it on Etsy as it’s one of our favourite dog breeds. They look so magical, and it fits with our vibe, which is a bit spooky and medieval’
Taking pride of place above the sofa is a screen print by Wolf Jaw Press of a huge Russian hunting dog called a Borzoi. ‘I stumbled across it on Etsy as it’s one of our favourite dog breeds. They look so magical, and it fits with our vibe, which is a bit spooky and medieval’

Just before our daughter Peggy was born we moved in with my mum, and a few months later we started renting this three-bed maisonette in the suburb of Jesmond. It’s at the top of a four-storey Victorian house, and feels like a palace compared to our tiny London flat.

Welcome to our home…

A bit about me I’m Nancy Straughan, 32, a photographer and stylist, nancy-straughan.com. I live with my husband, Simon, 36, an accountant, and our daughter, Peggy, two.

Where I live Our home is a rented Victorian three-bedroom flat in Jesmond, Newcastle, where we’ve lived since November 2019. I post home updates on my Instagram @nancy_straughan.

Nancy Straughan

Our landlord has let us make whatever changes we want, like painting, wallpapering and updating the kitchen worktops. By accessorising, we’ve given the flat a bit more charm.

'This inexpensive IKEA Ivar bookcase is perfect for ever-changing displays. It’s been whitewashed so you can still see the grain, as there was so much wood in here already’
‘This inexpensive IKEA Ivar bookcase is perfect for ever-changing displays. It’s been whitewashed so you can still see the grain, as there was so much wood in here already’

I’m quite a feminine decorator so there are dried flowers on virtually every surface and vintage-style filament bulbs everywhere, which give a warm glow. It’s a mix of cosy rustic and modern vintage.

Newcastle is a very green, outdoorsy city. Being around nature has definitely influenced the interior. The only thing missing is a private garden, but we’re lucky we have a small shared garden with two other flats.

A bit more about my home…

What I wanted to change The flat was spacious but very plain with a boring kitchen and bathroom, so we needed to inject some character and personality into it.

How I made it my own As we’re renting, we’ve used removable wallpaper and given the small kitchen a mini makeover with new handles and adhesive vinyl on the worktops. I’ve accessorised with vintage books, dried flowers and muted artwork.

My favourite part The grey marble fireplace in our bedroom. I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful original feature and it makes a great backdrop for photos.

Screenshot 2021-10-25 at 11.42.42

I run my business from home too, which involves styling and photographing products for independent online shops. Eventually, we might buy somewhere, but we’re very happy here for now. After a couple of years of uncertainty, I’m quite relaxed about where we’ll end up.

Living room

‘I love the original floorboards and pine doors in here, but the space is really long so I found it a real challenge to decorate. In our London flat, the rug filled up almost the entire space, but here it’s just floating. I believe in buying things you’ll love for at least 10 years and a bigger rug will be expensive, so I’d rather wait.

To cover a section of retro glass bricks, Nancy created a half wall of faux beadboard wainscotting here. It looks like panelling but is attached with double-sided tape so it can be easily removed
To cover a section of retro glass bricks, Nancy created a half wall of faux beadboard wainscotting here. It looks like panelling but is attached with double-sided tape so it can be easily removed

‘In future, I’d like to change the dark DFS sofa for a more natural stone colour, even though it’s probably not a great idea with a two-year-old! Technically, it’s probably too small for the room, but it doesn’t show stains and leaves Peggy lots of space to play on the floor. I might’ve broken a few style rules in this room, but it has to work for us on a practical basis too.’

The personalised banner by Alice Gabb is inspired by north-east miners’ banners and the wording is from a song lyric by Chet Baker, which Simon played after their daughter was born. ‘With high ceilings, it needed to be quite big to have impact,’ says Nancy. ‘During lockdown we had no income, but had the best spring as a family so it reminds us of that time of renewal and hope’
The personalised banner by Alice Gabb is inspired by north-east miners’ banners and the wording is from a song lyric by Chet Baker, which Simon played after their daughter was born. ‘With high ceilings, it needed to be quite big to have impact,’ says Nancy. ‘During lockdown we had no income, but had the best spring as a family so it reminds us of that time of renewal and hope’

Dining area

By painting arches in a muted pink shade called Hare by Crown, Nancy has added interest to the dining room alcoves. After moving the William Morris curtains to Peggy’s room, she’s put up grey linen curtains paired with an oatmeal linen tablecloth for a simple, natural feel.

A dining table from MADE.com has been teamed with Danish chairs by HAY, one of Nancy’s favourite brands. ‘They’re very minimal, but when you mix them in with vintage pieces, it works really well’. The 1970s cabinet, bought for £20 from a London salvage yard many years ago, is ideal for storing Peggy’s toys
A dining table from MADE.com has been teamed with Danish chairs by HAY, one of Nancy’s favourite brands. ‘They’re very minimal, but when you mix them in with vintage pieces, it works really well’. The 1970s cabinet, bought for £20 from a London salvage yard many years ago, is ideal for storing Peggy’s toys

‘I prefer lighter soft furnishings, so I’ll probably change the curtains at some point. If we had a small downstairs loo, I’d probably paint that dark, but for main living spaces I like them to be light-filled, calming and airy.’

Kitchen

Stairs lead up to the kitchen, bathroom and office from the living room.‘This part of the house in the eaves would probably have been the servants’ quarters, as there’s no cornicing and really small skirting boards,’ says Nancy. ‘Although I like the sloped ceiling and stable door, I hated cooking in here when we first moved in as the lighting and black worktops made it feel gloomy.

‘I bought a bag of 20 inexpensive brass handles from Amazon to revamp the kitchen,’ says Nancy, ‘but I’ve kept the old silver ones in case the landlord wants to change it back’
‘I bought a bag of 20 inexpensive brass handles from Amazon to revamp the kitchen,’ says Nancy, ‘but I’ve kept the old silver ones in case the landlord wants to change it back’

‘The first thing we did was change the blue-toned LED spotlights for warmer ones as we hate cold lighting. Then I bought some brass handles and marble contact paper from Amazon to cover up the worktops and added a lovely Roman blind from IKEA to make it feel cosier.’

‘The shelving is handy for our cookery books and Simon added an extra shelf above where I always have herbs drying,’ says Nancy. ‘It adds a cottagey feeling and ties in with the lovely stable door’
‘The shelving is handy for our cookery books and Simon added an extra shelf above where I always have herbs drying,’ says Nancy. ‘It adds a cottagey feeling and ties in with the lovely stable door’

Master bedroom

Nancy has kept the bedroom walls white to highlight the original fireplace and added accents of grey, terracotta, pink and sage green.

Sticking to plain cushions with a single stand-out patterned design is a failsafe style trick. Nancy’s added prints from King & McGaw in contrasting frames so it doesn’t look too uniform, and a dried flower hoop from The Allotment Florist
Sticking to plain cushions with a single stand-out patterned design is a failsafe style trick. Nancy’s added prints from King & McGaw in contrasting frames so it doesn’t look too uniform, and a dried flower hoop from The Allotment Florist

‘Most of our furniture is from West Elm, mixed in with things like vintage books and dried flowers that make the mid-century pieces feel a bit softer,’says Nancy.‘We have quite a lot of vintage books dotted about. They’re mostly picked up on holiday from an amazing second-hand book shop in the Yorkshire Dales.’

‘My mum and dad put the print on the mantlepiece in my room when I was little, so it reminds me of my childhood. I find it really calming’
‘My mum and dad put the print on the mantlepiece in my room when I was little, so it reminds me of my childhood. I find it really calming’

Peggy’s nursery

‘This is my favourite room in the flat,’says Nancy. ‘It gets that golden hour light when the sun sets. I originally painted it sage green, but I soon went off it. I wanted something prettier without it being too cartooney and girly, so I used a lovely monochrome floral wallpaper instead.’

Removable peel-and-stick floral wallpaper by Livette’s is ideal for renters. ‘It looks like it’s drawn on the wall, which is why I loved it,’ says Nancy
Removable peel-and-stick floral wallpaper by Livette’s is ideal for renters. ‘It looks like it’s drawn on the wall, which is why I loved it,’ says Nancy

Since then, Nancy has added 1950s school chairs, an Ercol rocking chair, 1930s drawers from her mum and an IKEA cot that she painted pink. ’Mixing up different eras can look nice and eclectic but if you get it wrong, it can look messy. The key is using the same wood tone.’

‘The shelves feature lots of nice pieces that I’ve collected for Peggy or things that friends have made her, so everything is quite special. I particularly love the print by local artist Gemma Koomen’
‘The shelves feature lots of nice pieces that I’ve collected for Peggy or things that friends have made her, so everything is quite special. I particularly love the print by local artist Gemma Koomen’

Bathroom

Nancy has livened up her plain rental bathroom with artwork from Desenio, lots of plants and a warm brass towel rail from MADE.com to balance out the black floor. ‘As it’s so small, with only two shelves for storage, toiletries get put in the office next door,’ she says.

‘The Hammam towels were picked up on trips to Turkey, where they cost around £2 compared to over £20 in the UK’
‘The Hammam towels were picked up on trips to Turkey, where they cost around £2 compared to over £20 in the UK’

‘I’m a sucker for nice beauty product packaging, so anything on display has to look pretty. I store any ugly things like dental floss in IKEA wicker baskets. I’m tempted to add Moroccan floor tile stickers for a holiday spa feel, but I don’t know if it’s worth it, considering I don’t use this room for longer than 15 minutes.’

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Feature Karen Wilson. Photos Katie Lee.