Young newlyweds Euan and Fiona Coleman thought they had found their forever home, but once children arrived they reassessed their wish list of practicalities, which led them to embark on a renovation in Hertfordshire
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Soon after tying the knot, Euan and Fiona Coleman eagerly settled into what they thought would be their forever home in Essex. However, after the arrival of their first child and with a second on the way, it quickly became apparent that their house and its location couldn’t cope with the needs of the expanding Coleman clan. Fiona elaborates further: “Once we had children, our requirements changed. And the lack of nearby amenities meant we had to drive everywhere, it wasn’t convenient.”
TICKING THE BOXES
The couple’s wish list was fairly straightforward: a detached home with an open-plan layout, which would ideally be located in a community-oriented setting. Expanding their property search to Hertfordshire paid off; it didn’t take long for them to discover an “almost perfect” property in Bengeo, a suburb of Hertford, which ticked most of their boxes. However, she says that buying it was a decision that was somewhat done on the hoof, “it wasn’t something we planned, we just fell in love with the house
and everything around it, and decided to take the plunge!”
Nestled along a small and quiet residential road, the property is surrounded by an abundance of greenery, with gardens that also offered a good amount of privacy. From a practical standpoint, the property is within walking distance of the town, with supermarkets and train station – making the location ideal for Euan’s London commute.
After securing the 1980s-built property, they engaged JW Bespoke Architecture and Interior Design to transform their vision into a reality via a full renovation. The house had five bedrooms, but the upstairs bedrooms were on the small side, despite the overall footprint being “actually quite large,” says Fiona. They wanted to create six better sized bedrooms, “which we probably don’t need, but we have large families, so it’s three guest rooms.”
Although new to home renovations, the couple were undeterred by the work involved. Luckily, the property had already had some planning permission in place; the previous owners had extended the ground floor but didn’t get around to expanding the upstairs. “We saw the potential of what the upstairs could be,” Fiona adds, which was a big factor that pushed them to put in an offer.
In an effort to speed up the process, the architect surveyed the house and drafted plans before the couple’s purchase was completed. This approach, while somewhat unconventional, posed a calculated risk for both the couple and the architect. Normally, it’s advisable to live in the space for a while to understand their preferences when it comes to renovating. However in this case, they chose to take the plunge once more, and specify what they wanted up front.
As well as converting the five small double bedrooms to make three large doubles and three smaller double bedrooms, the architect redesigned the layout of the ground floor. Fiona recalls: “One of the things which I disliked in the original layout was how the utility room sat within the main living area, creating an awkward, unusable L-shaped space.” The utility room was shifted to a smaller extension to the side of the house. With the original utility room gone, the main downstairs space could be fully opened up, creating a stunning open plan kitchen/living room. In addition, a spacious playroom was created off of the open plan living area, as well as a formal sitting room and office.
Initially, the planned work raised concerns nearby, primarily about the single storey extension being too close to a neighbouring boundary, and worries about the size of the upper extension, which could potentially overlook other gardens. However, after a planning officer came out to site and deemed the design was OK, planning passed with no issues. When asked whether the couple were on good terms with their neighbours since moving in, Fiona laughs: “Yes we have enjoyed a few boozy evenings – everyone has been really friendly and welcoming.”
A JUGGLING ACT
As the couple were still living in Essex while the building work was going on, they opted to have their architect visit the site regularly and keep them updated with the renovation. Euan and Fiona were able to pop to Hertford from time to time, and their builder – Bournes Projects – were great at keeping them informed about the progress. “In a way, there were three groups project managing our renovation – it worked really well,” explains Fiona.
Having never taken on a renovation project before, the couple had no real experience of the work involved and the pitfalls that could arise on a makeover on this scale. Work started in April of 2022 and finished just shy of a year later, in March 2023. Fiona recalls that the only real stress came as a result of the big sliding pocket doors they wanted. These are a key feature in one corner of the open plan living space, but were delayed by a month, and without them being insitu, the property wasn’t watertight.
Fiona pays tribute to the buyers of their former house for their patience: “We had already pushed back the moving date twice, but moving into a house that wasn’t watertight with a one and three year old wasn’t an option!,” Fiona exclaims. Fortunately, the doors were installed the day before they completed on their previous home in Essex.
AN INSPIRED INTERIOR
With the build finally finished, they could turn their attention to the pleasurable task of designing the interiors. Euan and Fiona have created the ‘wow’ factor in each of the rooms by sticking to a simple palette throughout that complements the vistas onto the garden. “We aimed to create a traditional house with a contemporary feel. We have created green accents around the house, for example with some of the soft furnishings.” Feature wood panelling lines the hall walls and flows into the downstairs cloakroom, complementing the cabinetry throughout the kitchen, utility room, formal lounge and playroom. An independent kitchen design firm (Olive and Barr) – supplied and fitted the understatedly chic units.
The floor to ceiling glazing – supplied by EuroWindows UK & Maxlight – in the open plan kitchen/living room floods the space with light, successfully bringing the outside in. The choice of anthracite for the frames has a striking impact on the overall room decor – creating a strong frame for views onto the garden, and injecting a contemporary feel that the couple were striving for.
Upstairs, the master suite has large, sliding picture windows from Origin, again in anthracite, that open onto a Juliet balcony. Detailed wood panelling behind the bed creates a traditional focal point in the room, and little touches with lighting, furniture and art accentuate the window frames. The children’s bedrooms have been individually designed with bright accents of colour and attractive murals.
The bathrooms have been carefully considered, again mimicking the colour scheme in the rest of the property. The result is clean, clutter-free lines, but with an element of warmth so as not to appear too sterile.
Gas central heating feeds the radiators upstairs and (wet) underfloor heating runs throughout the majority of the downstairs, with the exception of the office and formal lounge.
Outside is still a work in progress, however one little gem in the garden is a ‘secret door’ that leads onto Hartham Common. Fiona explains that this is probably her favourite external feature: “The biggest bonus is this little wooden door, which gives access to tennis and football courts, a river, and a big playground. It feels like an extension of the garden and will be perfect for our children as they get older.”
Compared to a lot of self-builders who take on a project of this considerable scope, Euan and Fiona’s journey to creating their perfect home has been a case of relatively smooth sailing. She cites a friend who went through a similar renovation at the same time, but hated every minute. Fiona concludes: “Everything that could have gone wrong with her build did, and so I recognise we were very fortunate, as ours could have been a very different story.”