Who doesn't dream of moving to live by the seaside? Laura and James Simpson seized the chance when a visit to a friend's coastal home changed their minds about relocating up north. The couple were on the verge of moving from Buckinghamshire to Scotland after Laura had given birth to their eldest daughter, Isla. They needed a bigger house – but because Laura had just left her job in product design to set up her own business, they couldn’t afford to buy near London.
Laura was brought up in Scotland and suggested that the family move back up there to purchase a property. ‘We were considering it when we came down to Bournemouth to visit my best friend from primary school,’ says Laura. ‘It was a gorgeous sunny day in March and we were standing on the beach. My friend said, “Why don’t you move here? It’s accessible to London but more affordable.” ’
Laura and James loved the idea and started the hunt for a new house. ‘We were looking for a period property because my style is new with old,’ says Laura. ‘I like period features but I like putting a bit of modern in there, too.’ Also on the wish list was a house that needed renovating so that the couple could put their own stamp on it.
The owners Laura Simpson, co-founder of interior design company My Bespoke Room (opens in new tab), her husband, James, founder of a recruitment company, and their children, Isla, Sophia and Sienna
The property A four-bedroom, semi-detached 1900s house in Bournemouth
Project Cost £125,000
This house was the first one they saw for sale. It ticked all the right boxes, being located in a quiet road close to good schools and the beach, and a 10-minute drive from Bournemouth town centre. It also needed a lot of work. ‘It had been repossessed by the bank and was in a bad state,’ says Laura. ‘It had a lot of damp, the garden was overgrown and the décor was a feast for the eyes – but in a bad way!’ Luckily, despite the red painted doors, pink skirting and architraves and yellow walls, Laura could see past the garish décor. ‘I viewed it on my own and within 10 minutes I knew I wanted it,’ she adds. ‘I loved the proportions of the rooms, the high ceilings, original fireplaces and cornicing.’
She convinced James, and on 11 June 2014 – the same day Laura launched My Bespoke Room, her interior design business – they bought the house. ‘Eleven’s always been a lucky number for me,’ says Laura. ‘I met James on June 11, and we got engaged on June 11 – though not the same year!’
The family couldn’t afford to rent while they updated their new home, so they lodged with James’s gran in London for three months while the main renovation work was carried out. The couple appointed Bridgewater Construction, a local builder recommended by an estate agent. They had a strict budget of £77,000 for the first phase, which Bridgewater project-managed, with Laura paying weekly visits from London. This phase included building a single-storey rear extension, demolishing a wall to create an open-plan kitchen, dining and sitting space, adding a downstairs loo, rewiring the house, repairing the roof, and laying carpet and flooring throughout. The builder appointed a structural engineer for the kitchen extension, and arranged all of the trades.
The work ran smoothly until two unexpected problems arose: the discovery of rotting floor joists, and differing floor heights that had to be levelled. ‘It was an extra expense so we had to scale back on the kitchen I wanted,’ says Laura. Instead of the high-end £20,000 kitchen with a quartz worktop she had set her heart on, she now only had £11,000 to spend, so she bought a cheaper kitchen from Howdens and settled for a marble worktop.
The family moved into their home in September 2014. ‘We took Isla into her bedroom, then she crawled all over the house and we could tell that she loved it,’ says Laura. ‘We all felt at home straight away – it just felt right. After three months of sharing one room at James’s grandmother’s house, it also felt massive. Now we have three children, it doesn’t feel so big, though – plus James and I work from home, so the house does more for us now.’
After the move, the couple still had a lot of work to do, including painting the walls in every room – which Laura and James did themselves to save money. ‘The house felt very dark when we viewed it so I wanted to make it light and bright,’ says Laura. ‘I like a natural palette because I grew up by the sea, so I’ve chosen cooler shades for the décor: blues, greys and greens, with pops of colour. We’ve applied that palette in different ways throughout the house to keep it cohesive.’
In 2015, they had the front driveway, garden and exterior paintwork done by local contractors. In 2017, they remortgaged to raise the funds for the final phases: creating an en suite shower room, replacing the family bathroom, and in 2021, overhauling the back garden. Now, finally, Laura says there’s nothing left to do but enjoy their hard work: ‘Renovating is stressful but I’ve loved bringing the charm, love and laughter of a family back into this house.’
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