Buying the right house is so often about luck. And just like anything in life, sometimes you think that luck might have passed you by, when suddenly you get a second chance. This was the case for Irish illustrator Carol Maxwell and partner Tom, and their two boys. They had upped their bid on their dream house twice, only to lose out to a higher bidder. Then they got 'the call'.
"Three weeks after I had given up all hope, the estate agent rang to say the original offer had fallen through and were we still interested. Of course, I snapped their hand off. From the moment we had viewed it we had fallen for all of the original features such as the hallway, staircase and coving and then the panelled roof in one of the reception rooms. I also loved the view through the kitchen and out to the garden. We knew it was right for us and our needs."
It was a long way from home for Carol who grew up in Tara Hill, just outside Gorey in Co Wexford. She graduated in 2002 from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin with a BA in printed textiles. After exhibiting at the prestigious New Designers show in Islington, she was offered a placement in a London print studio. "I came for a month and never moved back," she says.
As luck would have it, too, Carol's dad is a builder back in Gorey. "He often drives over through the night and stays for a few weeks at a time to do work for us in the house. He is a legend!" says Carol.
They got to work renovating the Victorian semi in Forest Hill in south-east London, remodelling the kitchen and knocking through three small rooms on the first floor to make one large family bathroom and guest room. They also did a loft conversion to create two new bedrooms and an en suite upstairs.
"After the loft was finished, my dad redid the whole floor, stairs and landing up to and including the loft. He tiled the hallway floor with geometric tiles after he lay a concrete foundation. We then re-painted the hallway in Farrow & Ball 'Railings', including the woodwork and the stairs. Above the dado rail, we used 'Peignoir', also by Farrow & Ball. The carpet and runner is from Carpetright (carpetright.co.uk) and we got [the edges] whipped in bright green."
Throughout the house, Carol punched up the colours - bottle greens, strong blues, off blacks - on walls and woodwork. Even the tiled floors in the bathroom and hallway are far from the usual background shades.
"I think a lot of my generation grew up surrounded in magnolia," says Carol, "and perhaps that's what drove me to have colour in my home. A few years back I noticed that there was an almost generic format that people took to when decorating their homes, and everyone's houses ended up looking the same - or like you bought everything from the one shop."
But she says, "I think people are getting braver with colour, especially dark colours, and I think more and more people will start to use them in the kitchen."
Her own kitchen was a revamp on a budget, says Carol, as she hopes to do an extension in the future. "So we kept the floor, which I hate, painted the cabinets in 'Under the Eaves' by Valspar, and changed the handles, which were all sourced from the Door Handle Company (doorhandlecompany.co.uk).
"We also replaced the worktops and sink with ones from Ikea. Again, my dad came over from Ireland to help." The gold tap was found on eBay and the white square tiles were an inexpensive buy.
The lighting is all from an Irish company based in Brighton, Spark & Bell (sparkandbell.com). The dining area is painted in 'Mid Azure Green' by Little Greene, and the window is in 'Under the Eaves' to match the kitchen cabinets.
The bathroom is a stunner. It was inspired, says Carol, by yet another piece of luck - a pink vintage French church sign found in a secondhand shop. The rest of the room is designed around the sign, with a mixture of inexpensive and designer tiles - the pink tiles are Topps Tiles (toppstiles.co.uk) and the green are Bert & May (bertandmay.com) - as well as up-cycled and vintage finds.
"The sink was from an old bathroom which I bought on eBay and the vanity unit was an Edwardian writing desk which I painted, changing the handles and sourcing a marble off-cut piece for the top."
Another vintage find that sparked the decor of an entire room was a pair of palm print curtains in the guest bedroom. "I bought them years ago and wanted a colour to sit well with them so I grounded the walls in 'Inchyra Blue' (Farrow & Ball). I showed my builder a picture from Pinterest of the panelling and he easily created this for me out of MDF. This is essentially a new room but the panelling brings such character."
Carol spends a huge amount of time at home as she creates her bespoke children's illustrations and greeting cards from the first-floor studio that was once a bedroom and has just this week launched a new collection of florals, Wild Words.
"My idea from the start was to have a very different feel in my office from the rest of the house, so it really felt like I was stepping away from home and into work. I also wanted the studio to look like the branding of my company, which is minty green and dusky pink."
She decided to paint the ceiling green, a shade called 'Arsenic', and paired it with walls in pale pink 'Calamine', both by Farrow & Ball. By carrying the green down from the ceiling and on to the walls, she has created the illusion of a Victorian picture rail that matches other rooms.
"I wasn't worried about painting the ceiling in a bright colour, although it does look a bit bonkers from outside on the street, especially when it gets dark," says Carol. "I love that it is fun and bright and feels like such a creative space to work in."
With its smart industrial loft vibe and daring wallpaper, the master bedroom and en suite in the new attic conversion looks like the suite of a fancy design hotel - exactly the idea, says Carol.
"I had, in fact, originally wanted a Crittall wall dividing the bedroom and en suite," says Carol, but not only was it beyond the budget but it would take too long to finish. "Instead, I asked our builders to create an internal window opening in the style of Crittall. So you can look through and see the Drench shower enclosure. I love the bedroom as its feels like our very own kid-free sanctuary. It does still feel like I'm in a hotel room - I haven't quite got used to that yet."
When it came to doing the boys' rooms - Max is five and Milo almost two - Carol said she had almost run out of steam. "The kids' rooms aren't entirely finished yet so I will look at them again next year. I want to re-do the gallery walls, get some new furniture and paint the original fireplace."
In the meantime, the wallpaper in Max's room is from Farrow & Ball, the bed and rug are from Made (made.com), the bedding is from Lulu and Nat (luluandnat.com) and most of the prints are by Carol. The yellow runner flooring in Milo's room is by The Colour Flooring Company (colourflooring.co.uk), which specialises in rubber, vinyl and cork flooring and will deliver to Ireland. Carol hand-painted the mural, which is a play on her popular 'Max Made Me Do it' letter-print range.
Does she have any advice for other renovators? "I would say take your time and forward plan as much as you can, and, if you find something you love and that works, don't be afraid to repeat it," she says.
"For example, I have used the same colour several times through out the house but paired with other colours and things. It feels different yet I think it helps in bringing the overall feel of the house together."
Favourite colour: “It’s got to be green, maybe it’s my Irish roots and it keeps me connected to home. I’ve lots of the colour through the house.”
Interiors style? “I used to be more of the ‘chuck everything in’ kind of vibe, and our old flat was filled with all sorts from various flea market and junk shop finds mixed with family antiques. I think as the years have gone on, I’ve pared it back and it feels more considered, but colour and things that tell a story are key to me. I would like to think our house feels stylish but with a sophisticated, vibrant feel, full of deep and rich colour schemes, and with a nod to times gone by.”
Trend spotting? “I think the love for brass hardware and Crittall will continue. In terms of fabrics, I would love to see a nod to Frida Kahlo-inspired prints and tropicals full of rich colours.”
Choose one thing? “It’s a hard one — I still love my vintage chandelier that hangs in the hallway which was a 30th birthday present from Tom and the vintage metal French church sign that hangs in the bathroom above the bath. I also love our drench shower enclosure in the loft en suite.”
Go-to design stores? “When I am back in Dublin, I love discovering new stores like Industry & Co (industryandco.com), Barn (wearebarn.com) and April and the Bear (aprilandthebear.com). Also friends of ours from college run the Irish Design Shop (irishdesignshop.com) which is a wonderful showcasing platform for Irish design talent.”
Best place to chill? “At home in Wexford, I always try go to Seafield Hotel and Spa which is very close to our family home.”