A cursory peek into Brackenhurst, the four-bedroom wing of a late-Victorian mansion in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, reveals all the hallmarks of a skilful interior designer’s makeover: brightly coloured patterned stairs, a dramatic stormy grey panelled wall in the sitting room, an internal archway papered in florals and lots of edgy artwork.
But rather than being the work of a professional, it is actually an opus created by one family, who rolled up their sleeves to hone and unite their crafty skills during the long weeks of the spring lockdown and put the finishing touches to their home.
‘We moved into the house in 2017, but there were still lots of tweaks we wanted to make,’ says stay-at-home mum Anna Sullivan, 44.
‘With 12 to 14-week delivery times on lots of things that we had originally wanted to order, we decided that with all of us at home, it was the perfect opportunity to do as much as possible ourselves, and make the house a family project.’
Although Anna insists she isn’t artistic, her eye for detail and many hours spent trawling Pinterest, Instagram and design magazines produced a constant flow of ideas, with her interiors icon Kit Kemp’s witty British scheme at the Ham Yard Hotel, in Soho, also an inspiration.
One weekend, Anna’s handy husband Chris, 47, a building surveyor, was sent to the shed with his electric saw and a pile of medium hardwood, out of which he created a framework for the Georgian-style panelling on one living room wall. Daughters Lottie, ten, and Kitty, eight, helped paint it in Farrow & Ball’s dramatic, dark lead-grey Downpipe – and that wasn’t the girls’ only contribution to the home’s revamp.
‘Lottie received a sewing machine for her birthday in May,’ Anna explains. ‘She is incredibly arty, so helped Chris make new pink pelmets, as well as bunting. She is very into interior design, and often spends her pocket money on cushions and bits and bobs for her bedroom.’
As for those eye-catching stairs, Chris scoured Etsy for individual multi-coloured Portuguese tile-style decals that you simply stick on the risers.
‘We were originally looking for an interesting runner to replace the beige carpet, but couldn’t find anything we really loved,’ says Anna.
‘Then Chris spotted these. The staircase is a place where you can have lots of fun. Each and every step up them makes me feel happy.’
The wallpapered archway between the dining room and living space is something Anna can, however, take all the credit for.
‘I had been thinking about painting it, but then realised that papering the inside of the archway would make it a real standout feature,’ she says.
She picked out the playful animal and bird-themed Wonderland Tropical Wallpaper, from World of Wallpaper (think toucans in bow ties), on a deep plum background.
It strikes the perfect note of vibrant exotica amid the living room’s calming pink and grey colour scheme.
It’s another example of how effective simple decorative changes can be. Although Anna and Chris have renovated several homes, they have been particularly savvy at Brackenhurst: apart from carving out an extra bathroom from a wide upstairs corridor and converting the boiler room into a pantry, they have transformed each and every space through purely superficial tweaks.
‘This house – part of a mansion that has been split into three homes, and probably originally serving as a nursery or laundry wing – had been beautifully looked after by its last owners,’ Anna says.
‘But most of it hadn’t been properly updated for about 30 years. We had been living in a townhouse in nearby Leamington Spa with just a small garden, so we knew how much potential this had.
‘Besides, I fell in love with it before I even saw it – it overlooks the most magical piece of woodland.’
Instead of doing anything significant structurally to the 2,405sq ft home, the Sullivans enhanced what was already there.
The wide hallway was laid with engineered wooden flooring and painted in Farrow & Ball’s stately Hague Blue – a sedate backdrop to the large-scale, limited-edition Sex Pistols artwork by Jamie Reid, Anna’s wedding gift to Chris.
The plain, white kitchen was fairly new, so instead of creating more landfill, they added pale marble-effect work surfaces, replaced the tiled floors with pale grey boards and swapped the plain silver handles with on-trend rose gold versions, instantly updating the space.
The traditional conservatory was reworked as a further living area, with emerald green paint on one wall juxtaposed with grey leaf-print on another.
From here, Anna can keep an eye on the girls playing or reading in the garden – during lockdown, she and Chris designed a bespoke cushioned study area where the girls could do their homeschooling al fresco.
Anna is assiduous in her research. She says: ‘I tend to have a look in mind, then start a long internet search to find the exact product that will make it work. But I am always canny, and always try to find something of better value.’
She could surely easily join the legions of Instagram’s home influencers, but Anna says she prefers simply browsing through other people’s pages.
Though they love their home – and Kenilworth’s castle, 68-acre Abbey Fields and Michelin-starred pub, The Cross – the couple are selling up, for £900,000, to move closer to Leamington Spa and the girls’ schools.
You can guarantee that any renovations will be a family affair.
Brackenhurst is for sale with Mr And Mrs Clarke, mrandmrsclarke.com.
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