Alfresco Living

Alfresco Living

by Narratives Styling & Writing: Sian Lewis

Louise and Ian Whittaker transformed their 2-bedroom coastal bungalow into an Australian-style family home and embraced alfresco living with indoor-outdoor spaces and contemporary beach style décor.

Louise and Ian Whittaker were absolutely not looking to buy a house when they pushed open the gate to view the little seaside bungalow with peeling paint on the name sign – ‘Eureka’.

“That was certainly not what I felt when I first saw the house,” says Louise. “I wanted a house with more character, it was an awful yellow colour inside and I just could not see the potential.”

Luckily, her builder husband Ian could, and although the couple, who had just returned to the UK after five years in Australia, had planned to rent for a while they could not resist the chance to secure a place on one of their favourite roads.

“The house is one row back from the beach, but it sits opposite a lane between two other houses which means the sea view will never be obscured. We will always have that view,” says Louise.

So, barely a month back in the country they found themselves moving out of their rented home into a tiny two- bedroom bungalow.

With six previous renovation and house build projects under their respective belts, the couple had soon planned what they wanted from the house and top of the list was a summerhouse so they could enjoy a bit of the Australian outdoor life here in the UK.

“We built it in the garden, on the basic footprint of an old garage,” explains Louise. Planning permission was granted within a couple of months and work started in Spring 2011. The couple had bought the house without a mortgage, but borrowed £40,000 for the initial build. Costs were kept low because Ian designed the structure, did much of the work himself and through his building company he knows someone for every job.

One thing the couple did not skimp on were the finishing touches, from natural stone flooring tiles to cedar clad ceilings and a Brazilian slate worktop in the kitchen that is kitted out with high-end appliances.

“I have learnt from previous projects that good quality finishes and products always look much better and last longer,” says Louise. “When I look back now at how much we financed out of our own money I can’t quite believe how we did it – but somehow we did.”

The plan was always to link the summerhouse to the main house via a kitchen extension. “Initially we thought about just doing the extension and leaving the loft conversion until a later date,” says Louise. “But I’m so glad we did all the work at the same time. Especially since I got pregnant with Jamie during the build and suddenly we needed an extra bedroom.” Louise and Ian worked with an architect to draw up plans that would create three extra upstairs bedrooms, including the master bedroom with en suite bathroom. However, they faced a setback when planning permission was initially refused because the roof’s ridge was deemed too high. Reworked plans were approved after two months, but the planners refused to budge on one point. “I wanted a balcony at the back of the master bedroom as well as the front,” says Louise. “There’s a lovely view out across the fields. But, that was a flat ‘no’.”

Having borrowed a further £60,000, work started on the kitchen extension in September 2013. Within eight weeks the shell was watertight. “It was right on schedule and within budget,” says Louise. “But then it’s not our first project and Ian does this for a living, so it would be embarrassing if it hadn’t been!”

The extension was rather like blowing up a stone balloon, the house grew in all directions. As well as extending at the back, which created space for the new sitting area, the main kitchen and a dining room which then leads down to the summer house, the couple also pushed out the front of the house to increase the size of the main sitting room and downstairs bedrooms.

“You used to come in through the front door into the sitting room and the house ended at the back of that room. Both the bedrooms, the kitchen and the bathroom were o to either side,” says Louise. “I love the fact that now when you come through the front door you can see right through down to the kitchen and out into the back garden.”

To the left of the sitting room are an en suite guest bedroom and the family wet room. The second en suite bedroom and home office are neatly tucked away down a hallway to the right. On weekends, the office door can be closed and life happens at the back of the house where long bi-fold doors open from the kitchen onto the patio and the garden. “We spend all our time in the kitchen now,” says Louise. “When the doors are open and the sun streams in I can almost feel like I am back in Australia.”

Work on the loft conversion started in December 2013. The designs evolved as the project progressed. A staircase planned for the side of the house was moved to the centre so that all three upstairs bedrooms and a playroom now open off a small central landing. Original plans for two bedrooms became three when Louise and Ian found out they were going to have a second child. “Sophie’s bedroom was cut in half to carve out space for Jamie’s room,” explains Louise.

“My one regret is that we had to lose the old wood burner in the sitting room downstairs,” explains Louise. “The chimney breast went right up through the loft so it had to go, but it was a real shame that we couldn’t find some way to keep it.”

Louise also altered the architect’s plans for the new kitchen. “He had designed the kitchen at the end where we now have our sofas,” explains Louise. “I wanted it to be the centre of the room, with views out across the garden to the fields beyond.”

The family saved money by living in the house during the work. “With every new project, I always vow I never will and then we do,” says Louise. “I hate the dirt and the brick dust which finds its way into everything, but of course you don’t have to pay out rent.”

They also took the decision not to invest £5,000 in waterproof scaffolding when the roof came off. “We put tarp over it every night and prayed to the weather gods,” says Louise. “Luckily the weather held for nearly three weeks.”

When Ian had finished work on what Louise called ‘the base’, she could get started on what she does best – interior design. A trained florist with a keen eye for colour, Louise often chooses clashing colours and then ties them together in a scheme that includes vintage oral prints and pieces of furniture that she finds in charity shops and brings back to life with swatches of fabric or wallpaper.

“Ian likes contemporary beach style,” she explains. “I like retro, vintage and really big floral prints. This house is a mix of the two, but it seems to work.”

Choosing neutral creams and grey/blues for walls and flooring means that all the different living areas flow into each other. Although each room has its own colour personality, Louise’s favourite oranges and blues pop up throughout to bring the overall scheme together.

The house name on the front gate has been given a crisp new coat of paint and does now seem more apt. “I feel way more ‘Eureka’ about the house now it’s finished,” says Louise. “As in, ‘Eureka’ – we’ve finally found what we were looking for.”

Photos by Julia Toms/Narratives Styling & Writing: Sian Lewis / Narratives ©Narratives

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