Our very own space odyssey
When Caroline Rowland ran out of space, she traded up her two-bed in London for a five-bed rural home. Ciara Elliot visits a country retreat
Moving on from the city can be a life-changing experience in many ways. Not only are you leaving behind the coffee shops, the easy commute to work and the friends you get to see so easily, it is often the beginning of a whole new chapter in house renovating. This is how it was for Northern Irish magazine editor and blogger Caroline Rowland, who traded up from a cramped two-bed in southwest London two years ago to a five-bed Victorian terrace in Surrey.
'We loved where we were but it was becoming very student-y," says Caroline, who is a former art director at the Financial Times and now runs a successful independent magazine, 91, as well as her lifestyle blog, patchworkharmony.co.uk. "We were often woken by neighbours' parties, so when we had our daughter Ruby [now four] it just wasn't conducive to a young family."
The family - Caroline, husband Simon, Ruby and Claude the cat - began to look for somewhere to settle outside London and came upon the small village of Banstead in Surrey totally by accident: "We'd actually never heard of the area before," laughs Caroline. "But randomly we came across the house online and thought it looked too good to be true, in terms of its size and the price. We thought we'd just have a look out of interest, never expecting it would be the one we loved ... it had a lovely little village high street and was right on the edge of some woods. Also it's less than an hour's drive to the coast."
Not only was the five-bed Victorian terraced house bigger than Caroline imagined they could ever afford in London, but it was southfacing, had a decent-sized garden and was in their budget.
"We were very lucky, but the price did reflect the state of the interior, so we have had a proper graft bringing it back to life," says Caroline.
''Bringing it back to life'' has so far meant re-plastering, pulling up carpets, tiling the hallway and re-doing two bathrooms as well as adding an en suite. They also revamped the kitchen.
"The downstairs loo needed doing quickly as the floor was falling in, so we completely ripped that out and replaced everything. The living room was painted white and we removed the dark burgundy carpet and replaced it with parquet, and we retiled the fireplaces with Bert & May (bertandmay.com) tiles."
The place is transformed, although Caroline insists there is still a lot to do. "We've approached it as a long-term project. Saying that, our second night in the house we were painting over the dark blue paint on the living room walls with a huge pot of white emulsion. We never really had a plan though, and we just tend to tackle certain areas as and when we get inspired to - although I am desperate to get rid of more of that burgundy carpet which is still on the stairs and landing!"
The kitchen is the couple's most recent project. Caroline researched ply kitchens and sourced accessories before approaching Howdens Joinery, a major UK kitchen suppliers, for unit carcasses and then having the doors custom-made by a local carpenter. An approach that could easily be replicated here using Ikea frames.
She found the worktop online - it is Formica-faced birch plywood. "It was about half the price of other worktops I had quotes for," she says. "We went for white laminate on the floor as our builder advised against my original solid wood choice due to the floor being uneven and the fact we already had underfloor heating."
Pushed to describe her style, Caroline says ''playful Scandinavian''. "I generally keep the base quite simple, with light paintwork and simple furnishings, both contemporary and vintage, but then I like to accessorise with playful, fun pieces of art - like illustrations from Marta Abad Blay (martaabadblay.tictail.com), Margo in Margate, Audrey Jeanne (audreyjeanne.fr) as well as contemporary geometric tiles and quirky wallpaper.
"I do love pink but I like to make it less girly by mixing it with monochrome," she says.
What the couple like most about the house is the space. "The back is south facing, so we get lovely light in our kitchen and dining area. At the moment the kitchen is our favourite space as it's the most recently done room, but really I love the whole house."
With such an innate sense of style, you might imagine that Caroline grew up surrounded by high design but the reality is different. "I was not at all around design growing up. My dad was an accountant and while my mum is really crafty and used to make me some fabulous costumes as a kid, I think I was probably the most creative one in my family," she says.
She was raised in the small village of Aghalee, not far from Lough Neagh in Co Antrim, and went to secondary school in Lisburn. "I didn't hate school, but I didn't love it either, and I left after my GSCEs to go to art college in Belfast. Looking back, I always loved magazines, and I also enjoyed re-arranging my bedroom so I guess that was a bit of an indication of my future career path."
She won a place at the London College of Fashion studying Styling and Photography, "I thought I was much cooler and trendier than I actually was," she says now. "And I had set my heart on studying at London College of Fashion. Somehow I managed to get a place on the course, but within the first year I realised I wasn't super trendy and cool compared to everyone else there, and actually the course was not suited to me at all. So I left to study photographic arts."
She transferred to the University of Westminster and it proved fateful - she met her future husband Simon at the beginning of her second year there. When they got their first flat together, it sparked her passion for interiors.
"I guess having our own space to decorate kicked it off and that's when I started blogging at Patchwork Harmony," she says. Next came 91 magazine, which was digital only initially, but expanded into print in 2016. "Ever since then it's been growing and growing. Independent magazines in general seem to be becoming more and more popular, which is fabulous."
What has doing a refurb taught her? "Take your time and find really good tradesmen," she says. "And be prepared that every problem you tackle will more than likely uncover another, more difficult problem."
91 magazine is on sale at Easons; 91magazine.co.uk