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The final phase: advice from an IRL renovator

The Renovators | decoration

Being at home during lockdown has inspired many people to revamp their current living situ – or even find somewhere new. But designing a dream home often means one thing: renovating. In this series, four renovators show us the main stages of a refurb project - plus lessons learned along the way. Here, interior designer Matthew Shaw tells us how he created the ultimate family setup (while living in the property with kids: scream face emoji). Spoiler alert: the work isn’t over… yet.

AFTER: Rear of house

BEFORE: Rear of house

Over the last two years, interior stylist Matthew has remodelled a detached house in Surrey to create a large family home for his husband Andrew and their two daughters (plus Andrew’s mum and niece). Though the builders downed tools a few months back, the reno is still very much a-go as Matthew paints, decorates and styles all the newly restructured rooms. “We bought this place because we needed a bigger property to cater for three generations of family. It was unlikely we’d find a house that worked for us all without some sort of renovation. So we were nesting, not investing.”

Having completed the annexe conversion for his mother-in-law, the bedrooms and a huge kitchen extension, Matthew’s lockdown project was the living room. Formerly “a bland, beige dining room”, it’s now totally transformed. As the to-do list grows shorter, when will the reno officially end? “Our build was done in phases, so there was always a builder lurking about somewhere in the house,” explains Matthew. “While all the big things are now done, I don’t think renovations are ever really fully finished; something always pops up!”


BEFORE: Kitchen

The before

“When we moved into the house in the summer of 2018, the main issue was the kitchen. A vision of badly lit 80s pine, it didn’t work for our needs. I wanted to create a space that was bright, light and versatile enough to adapt over time with the family. Living in the property first allowed us to work through different design ideas. When drawing up the plans, the focus was creating a safe space for my children, with a good flow between rooms.”

AFTER: Kitchen

The budget

“The project was governed by the available budget and not the other way round. It soon became clear that things like fitting out the utility room were not top priority. The biggest money drain was replacing a cracked concrete slab in the old double garage and making deeper foundations. These two elements alone used up 90% of our contingency fund. However, we saved around £15,000 by individually sourcing the kitchen fittings ourselves.”

“Expect short-term pain, but long-term gain. It’s important to keep the end vision in mind when you’re surrounded by dust and noise.”

BEFORE: Living room (previous incarnation as a dining room)

DURING: Living room

The time frame

“We didn’t have any major problems but it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions! My advice? Keep on top of the builders and their plan. Being in the thick of the renovation is the antithesis of what you’re trying to ultimately achieve; the aim is to enhance your living space and yet the process has the opposite effect. So getting to the decorating stage was amazing, after all the stress of living in one small room.”

AFTER: Living room

The lows

“The hardest part was when the house was completely boarded off, so the entire family was living in a converted garage for five months. It was quite depressing at times. We had very limited space, boxes stacked everywhere, cooking on a portable hob – and don’t get me started on the dust! But that feels like a distant memory now, proving that the end result is worth it.”

The advice

Matthew on getting the decorating done 

Top to bottom

“I always start with the painting: ceiling first (so it doesn’t matter if it drips), then the walls, followed by the woodwork. Next, it’s the fun part - dressing the room. I went from bland beige to poison green in the living room, inspired by something I’d seen on Pinterest years ago. Luckily, the husband was fully on board.”

Show then tell

“Before speaking to your builders, make sure you really know what you want and have pictures or plans so they can visualise it. Then stick to your guns! Don’t be talked out of what you want.”

Shelf size matters

“Planning on installing recessed shelves? Remember that depth is key, as you’re creating a false wall. Utilise the space well; don’t go to all that effort just to add a small amount of shelving space. Why not go all out and create different sized shelves, or even go vertical?”

Lists for life

“I’m a great lover of lists, and I found it really useful to go from room by room and create a list of what still needed to be done. I recommend doing this digitally as reno life is hectic, and little bits of paper can go missing very easily!”

Keep calm, and carry on

“When the end is in sight you get this sudden rush of adrenaline and want to get everything finished as quickly as possible. But don’t! So often people rush the end process in excitement and end up making mistakes. Just take a breath, step back and look at what you’ve already accomplished.”

Article written by: Natalie Wall | Imagery by: @_matthew_shaw_styling_

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