Stuck in a gloomy terrace? Open it up with a palette of soft chalky colours and an outdoor living room, like Hannah and Richard Gooch did
Hannah and Richard Gooch’s house is a great summer home – not because it’s near the beach (the closest body of water is the River Thames) but because the couple have created a space that really comes into its own when the sun is out. As soon as the warm weather arrives, the couple and their young son Oliver spend every minute they can in the second ‘living room’ they’ve made, in the garden of their London terrace.
What was an average outdoor space when the couple moved in nearly seven years ago has been turned into an oasis in the city, with a decked area that becomes an extension of the large kitchen-diner thanks to a wall of sliding glass doors. “It means we can be inside and outside at the same time in summer,” says Hannah.
It was Hannah who found the house and saw its potential when it came on to the market in July 2005. “I was born and raised in Elham, so I knew it was a good area,” she says. “Richard and I had been looking for a place for a while, so when this house came up as a private sale, a bit run-down but within our budget, we put in an offer and instructed our solicitors within 48 hours!”
A bit run-down is a slight understatement – before Hannah and Richard could even think about the outside space of the house there were more pressing issues to deal with inside.
“We had to replace the boiler pretty sharpish,” says Hannah. “It was about 25 years old and actually caught fire! A heating engineer had come round to see why the boiler’s fuse kept blowing. When he turned on the pilot light it triggered a small fire that melted the inside of the boiler door. We were just very, very lucky that it didn’t explode or burn the house down.”
That wasn’t the couple’s only close shave. “Our chimney sweep couldn’t get his broom up the living room chimney. He set off a smoke pellet and smoke came pouring out. That’s how we discovered that builders had, at some point, capped off the chimney, which was attached to a working gas fire. We could have been poisoned by all sorts of toxic fumes.”
Thankfully, this is all a far cry from the welcoming living room it is today, where a reproduction fireplace insert and marble surround now take pride of place and the dark Sixties décor, which was prevalent throughout the house, has given way to a neutral, light and airy scheme.
Off-whites, muted neutrals and chalky greys have been used throughout the house and are the perfect background for the vintage-style pieces Hannah buys not only for her home, but also for her online interiors business – Ebury Home & Garden. The scheme also lets the period fireplaces, coving and ceiling roses the couple have lovingly restored really stand out. “I found a great product called PeelAway, which took off layers of dark paint on the coving and ceiling roses,” says Hannah.
Hannah is one of those handy individuals undaunted by practical projects like this. “DIY doesn’t
frighten me,” she says. “When we moved here, I already had my own sander, drill and toolbox. I was out in the garden laying the turf while Richard and his dad stood there watching me with a cup of tea in their hands. I also did the tiling and the wallpapering in our bedroom and laid all the floorboards in the kitchen. And I ended up painting the walls in the hall, right to the landing ceiling, up a 20ft ladder.”
Hannah developed quite a few new DIY skills during the renovation, too. “I’m now quite good at carpentry after building the kitchen units myself,” she says. “We’d seen lots of gorgeous bespoke kitchens but we just didn’t have the budget for one, so I used Ikea’s online planning software to design an Ikea kitchen, but leaving sufficient space to build our own wooden frames to encase the standard Ikea carcasses. I also made the panelled doors.”
What’s really impressive though, is that Hannah was eight months pregnant while she was building the units. “The oak worktops arrived the day I had Oliver,” she says. “It was very bad planning really and I wouldn’t do it again. Every time he had a nap I’d get into the kitchen to oil the worktops, I was delirious for want of sleep! But we did it. And we stuck to our budget, too.”
Hannah did leave some of the work to the professionals – renovating the avocado-green bathroom and converting the separate kitchen and dining room into one big space that opens out into the garden. The builders knocked down the wall that separated the two rooms and, as they had removed most of the back wall for the sliding glass doors, they had to put in a huge steel box frame to stabilise the back wall before the doors went in,” says Hannah. “From the day the builders started to the day the kitchen worktop finally arrived took about eight weeks in total, which is not bad going. We also got someone in to do the garden decking as we were too tired by then to do it ourselves!”
The large patio doors have really made a difference, and not just by linking the inside of the house with the garden. “They also just make the kitchen feel much bigger than it actually is,” says Hannah, who never sees herself moving anywhere else now.
“We’re so lucky living here, it would be difficult to move,” she says. “We have lovely neighbours, we live 20 minutes from central London, but we’ve still got a big garden, and the countryside is just five minutes down the road.” She can’t seem to get rid of the DIY bug, though. “I was in this really old -fashioned local hardware shop to buy some bits and found a whole back room filled with banisters and finials. I said to Richard: “Oh my God, I love it here…” with the same awed reverence and enthusiasm that most women reserve for their favourite shoe shop!”
• This feature originally appeared in Ideal Home magazine. Photography Heather Hobhouse, Styling Charlie Davis