A tranquil retreat

Situated in bustling, popular Bishopston, this terraced Victorian house was brimming with potential. When the owners bought it, they saw its tall ceilings, period features and secluded rear garden; an ideal family home a stone’s throw away from Gloucester Road and its independent shops. Ivywell Interiors talks us through its complete renovation of the property.

This property’s owners were prepared to embark on this journey but they knew that redesigning an entire three-storey house while working and managing family life wouldn’t be a small job. They hired an architect to draw plans to open the ground floor, add windows and improve the layout and enlisted our help to plan the interior.

Armed with a floor plan and a fairly good idea of what they wanted to achieve, the couple’s biggest challenge was to balance the budget to cover the necessary building upgrades while creating the look and feel they desired for the interior. We agreed that knocking the wall down between the living and dining rooms was an integral part of the new layout, as would the removal of the dining room chimney breast but we avoided the costly alteration of the staircases.

As the whole house was very draughty and inefficient, the owners wanted to upgrade the windows and install an air source heat pump. This is a big undertaking requiring expert advice, so they used a local gas and heating engineer whom we’d worked with on similar properties. Collaborating with the building contractor, they planned where the system would go and the required insulation for the external walls, floors, and roof to make their home more efficient. The addition of underfloor heating on the ground floor also removed the need for wall-mounted radiators in the main living areas. With the structural elements agreed and the architectural plan amended, we could now start developing the interior scheme.

Images courtesy of Ivywell Interiors

Bespoke designs
In this project, the kitchen was part of a previous half-width rear extension and was fairly narrow. Its size did not allow for a kitchen island but the couple were keen not to extend it further to retain the garden area. The layout was reworked to include new sliding doors on the back wall to step into the garden and a large window that would occupy most of the side wall. This new configuration created a galley-type layout. With units on either side walls, we advised the owners to reduce the sliding door size to retain the feeling of space. We created a concept design to show the new layout that included a peninsula with a waterfall edge and the main elements such as sink, cooker, pantry, cupboards.

The owners previously had a fitted kitchen and they’d had to compromise on some elements. This time around, they wanted to make sure they got exactly the right balance of worktop, display, and storage space so we put them in touch with one of our kitchen partners, Creative Storage & Kitchens, to create a bespoke kitchen. Working in tandem, we developed the materials and finishes, while the maker focussed on utilising every inch of the available space and crafted a kitchen that would last a lifetime; within the defined budget.

The family bathroom was another tricky space. At just over 5sqm, the wall had already been pushed back into the study and the hot water cylinder was clogging up the remaining space. The contractor, however, managed to move the cylinder in the loft, enabling us to retain a shower over the bath, key for the needs of the family and include a large basin. In small spaces, we always try to blur the edges of the room to make them appear bigger, so we developed a tiling scheme where the floor tiles flow up halfway up the wall. The loft bathroom was more generous in size and we kept the feeling of space with a large walk-in shower.

A minimal but warm aesthetic
The owners asked us to create a contemporary, clutter-free aesthetic and incorporate cherished furniture pieces they’d collected over the years. With an Indian heritage, they were keen to incorporate warm and earthy colour such as terracotta, orange, and browns with pops of vibrant colours. Often minimal aesthetics evokes monochrome colours, cold and angular furniture. However, as this project shows, a minimal aesthetic can be created with almost any style. It is the overall calm vibe, free of clutter and visual distractions that creates the minimal look and feel, and its core resides in the careful balance of flow and thoughtful arrangement of textures and materials.

We always start by creating a colour palette for the flow areas within the whole house. It helps ensure the whole property feels cohesive, even if different rooms have their own individual colour palette and theme. The orientation of the room, and how the natural light will be, are considerations for the final colour choice but there’s no need to overthink it at the planning stage. We focussed on selecting tones we knew the owners liked and complemented them with texture and layering options for materials such as wallpapers, tiles, curtains and upholstery as it’s important to create depth in each space. One key element to nail the minimal brief was the flooring. After reviewing samples, we settled on a dark wood tone in large plank format that would be used throughout all the living areas, apart from the kitchen and family bathroom. This helped create spatial and visual continuity from the ground floor to the loft. The absence of entrance thresholds helped create a seamless flow from corridor to rooms. A small design detail with a major impact.

For this project coherence and balance were key for the couple. They had a beautiful collection of ceramics and prints we suggested to showcase by keeping the walls neutral but complement the tones through upholstery, soft furnishings and an understated feature wallpaper. The larger wall in the dining room was perfect for creating movement and flow through to the kitchen. We selected a wallpaper from Casamance featuring eucalyptus leaves with exceptional depth and a variety of natural shades as an invitation to explore the garden beyond the kitchen.

Breathing new life in an old home
The original entrance hall door featured beautiful stained glass, a lick of paint and new hardware was all that was needed to create a welcoming feel as you enter the home. The ceiling roses were preserved and fitted with simple pendants. The picture and dado rails were removed which enabled us to appreciate the volume of the space created by the high ceilings. The gas fireplace was also removed and left open, with built-in units added in the chimney breast alcoves to provide handy storage and symmetry.
The hallway, kitchen and bedrooms upstairs had original wooden floorboards, which were retained but covered with new Luxury Vinyl Tiles flooring. It served two purposes. Firstly, the new flooring improved the heat efficiency and retention as the wooden boards had gaps, and it acted as a soundproofing barrier. With two adults working from home and two kids studying, peace and quiet were high up on the goals list.

With big-ticket items such as sofas, curtains, and other furniture often coming last in a large renovation project, we always recommend ring-fencing an interior budget from the start. It certainly helped us support the couple to finish their home as we found creative ways to save costs in the bedrooms and utilise existing furniture and accessories. The existing sofa however was worn out and no longer fitted in the new layout, and neither did the coffee table. We proposed to create a bespoke arrangement.
There’s a misconception that bespoke is ‘eye-wateringly’ expensive. However, we were able to stay within budget by tasking Sofa Magic, a Bristol-based independent upholsterer, with creating a two-seater sofa to fit the space snuggly. We sourced a beautiful textured fabric that would enhance the tones of the space and together defined the optimum sofa depth, height, length and even the cushion filling to suit the couple’s needs. The layout prevented us from creating a larger sofa so instead we gained more seating area by specifying narrow tapered arms. We gained a further two occasional seats for visiting family and friends by creating an ottoman and table combination.

As in all major renovation journeys, there were bumps along the way but the clients couldn’t be happier with the results. For us, the best part of our jobs and loveliest compliment from the owners was that we “helped make a large project into a positive experience”.