We meet Georgia Betts and her family, who are embarking on a renovation and home extension to a 1920s Arts & Crafts house in West Sussex. Follow the progress of this project with Georgia’s monthly blogs.
Sitting on a rug in our garden, with a cup of tea on a sunny afternoon, I’m reveling in the peace of the moment. Apple blossom carried on the wind flits through the air. I can hear the birds chirruping, breeze-rustled leaves and the squawk of the two pheasants who live behind the compost bins at the bottom of our garden. It’s the calm before the storm.
In three days time, our builders will arrive to embark on the six-month extension and renovation of our Arts & Crafts house.
By the end of the week, I will be making ten cups of tea, offering enough biscuits to keep a ground works team going and listening to t–he sound of our garage being demolished.
Foundation trenches will be excavated and a concrete truck will deliver 30 cubic metres of concrete to start our build.
We bought our house nine months ago, though we first saw it a year ago. Our renovation project has been a year in the planning, and I can hardly believe it’s about to start.
We live in a small village in West Sussex – having followed the well-trod path of working and living in London for a decade before escaping the concrete jungle to raise our children in the countryside. That was nearly six years ago and Oakview is our second house in the village.
We weren’t planning on moving. We’d just finished doing up our old house – five painstaking years of weekends devoted to DIY, taking annual leave to install a kitchen and painting skirting boards in the evenings while our toddler and baby slept.
But houses like Oakview don’t come up for sale often in our village. The moment we saw it, we knew we had to go for it.
Our new home is a detached house built in the 1920s in the Arts & Crafts style, on a well sized plot with a mature garden.
After many iterations of plans and ideas, we’ve decided to add a double height side extension to replace the garage and workshop.
We are also going to renovate the existing house from top to bottom, including making some structural changes to open up the space.
We expect the project to take five months. Every single bit of the house needs work – actually, I tell a lie, the front door will be left untouched.
We’ll be keeping some of the original 1920s features in the house, such as the beautiful internal doors with original Bakelite handles, the wooden staircase handrail (worn velvet-smooth by a century of hands) and the sun-washed bay windows.
But we’ll also bring a modern design and aesthetic to the house. We envisioned open plan family spaces, a large black monolithic kitchen, grey framed aluminium windows and an overall sense of Scandi style.
Our budget is tight, so we’re going to have to be creative about our design. We’ll have to be innovative in terms of what materials we use (we’re already planning a super low cost handmade plywood kitchen), and we’re going to have to accept compromise (not something my husband is good at).
We’re sticking as much as possible to three key materials: wood, glass and concrete. We’re going to use a palette of black, white and greys – softened with large amounts of plants, an indoor tree, as well as brightly coloured artwork and textural fabrics.
In terms of layout, there is no ignored space in our designs and no room without a purpose. We’ve planned it carefully to ensure that every square metre functions and works for our family. The design is also very specific to us and lifestyle.
We like open-plan areas but we also want to be able to have a feeling of escape, so we’ve designed our main living space to be a huge L shape. This way the living room is at one end, away from the kitchen smells, cooking noises and high-pitch babble of the kids watching Sponge Bob Square Pants as they eat pizza.
We will have an upstairs laundry room to save my thread-veined, approaching-forty legs from carrying washing baskets of dirty clothes downstairs – only to have to carry them back up a wash-and-dry cycle later.
Here are some of the design options we explored:
We are also shunning convention and won’t have an integral garage. Most people I know fill their garages with dusty boxes – unopened for so long they can’t even remember the contents. I know where to store those boxes – the rubbish dump.
As we break ground this weekend, I feel a heady mix of excitement and trepidation. At last we’re doing it, after all these months of planning, discussions, research and after years of lusting after a big family home we could stay in to raise our family.
But I’m nervous too. I’ve taken a step back from my normal job in publicity to have time to project manage the build. From PR to PM. Lord Sugar will see me now.
As the digger arrives to excavate the extension trenches, I know I’m going to have to dig deep too. To hold my nerve and to run the project efficiently. To stay in budget, to ensure I can still be a good mum throughout, to work as team with my husband, and crucially, to make sure we enjoy the project.
We went to a friend’s 40th birthday party last weekend and a mutual friend, who has just completed an amazing renovation on a London townhouse, gave us some great advice: “You have to enjoy it. You could probably have ten holidays to the Caribbean flying first class and staying in a luxury hotel for the budget you’re about to spend. You have to keep in mind how lucky you are to be able to do this, and you have to enjoy the process.”
I think about my friend’s advice as I drink my cup of tea in the sunshine. They’re wise words and I’m going to do my best to feel joyful, and grateful, and lucky – because I am, we are.
So I look forward to the bird song being drowned out (temporarily) by digger noise. I’m excited to work with our builders, Jason and Ben, and I’ll be happy to make multiple cups of tea keeping track of which one has how many sugars. I’m ready to tackle building control with a smile on my face.
Let’s do this. Let’s break ground.