Written by Natalie Osborn

Two couples team up to renovate a Georgian home in Essex

Getting a foot on the property ladder is no mean feat, so twins Emily and Hannah Craven and their partners teamed up to double their buying power. Some were sceptical, but the two couples managed to work together to buy and renovate a six-bedroom 18th-century house in Tendring, Essex.

Emily Craven, owner of Emily Craven Interiors, and her partner Harry boosted their first-time buying power by joining forces – and mortgages – with her twin sister Hannah and John, Harry’s good friend since they met at primary school.

‘Our situation is certainly something you don’t hear about every day, but it definitely works,’ Emily laughs. ‘When we were all dating, we spent lots of time together, so buying a place as a four seemed like the natural next step – not to mention a huge help in getting onto the housing market.’

Emily and Hannah Craven and their partners, boyhood friends Harry and John, at Weeley House

Emily and Hannah Craven and their partners, boyhood friends Harry and John, at Weeley House. Photo: Colin Poole

An impressive first-time buy

In fact, with their larger-than-average budget, the couples have managed to skip several rungs on the property ladder and found themselves an impressive, red-bricked Georgian abode just 20 minutes from their childhood houses in leafy east Essex for £420,000.

‘Weeley House was definitely a case of third time lucky,’ recalls Harry. ‘We had already made a couple of offers elsewhere and viewed many more, and much to our mortgage advisor’s anxiety, our budget was rapidly creeping skyward out of sheer desperation.’

Weeley House in Essex is home to Emily Craven of Emily Craven Interiors

Weeley House in Tendring, Essex, has six bedrooms – not bad for a first-time buy. Photo: Colin Poole

‘Where can I sign?’

Just as they were ready to give up, Hannah spotted this place on Rightmove, though she had a hard time convincing her sister that it was worth seeing.

‘I’m more than happy to admit that I was wrong!’ Emily chuckles. ‘I was just tired of looking at a seemingly endless carousel of properties online and I didn’t think this one was right for us. But, within a matter of minutes of walking in, I was mouthing “where can I sign?” to everyone.’

18th century home makeover: living room decorated in pastel shades

The home has two sitting rooms, one in pastel shades, the other in more traditional decor. Photo: Colin Poole

Coexisting socially, but separately

Weeley House was the home they had all dreamed about but never thought they’d find: first, there was more than enough space for them to not only coexist socially but also separately; second, natural light flooded into every room via huge sash windows; and finally, and arguably most importantly, the place was in need of enough updating to bring the asking price within budget, but not too much that it would then cost a fortune.

‘We can only imagine what was going through the mind of the previous owner when she opened the front door to find four prying young adults,’ John remarks. ‘And as soon as we stepped inside, we were captivated – it was obvious that this was the one. Our offer was accepted shortly after that first viewing, and we began our adventure together in the spring of 2016.’

18th century home makeover: traditional decor in a drawing room with modern teal sofa

Port curtains and leather furnishings evoke the feel of a gentleman’s lounge. Photo: Colin Poole

Inventive decor ideas

The existing décor was wall-to-wall magnolia and the well-proportioned rooms were crying out for more inventive decor ideas. But, with four passionate homeowners deciding each scheme, a fair and methodical approach was required.

‘Emily and I are the main driving force,’ Hannah explains, ‘but we design everything as a collective. We want all of our visions to work in tandem and not end up with a confused mess.’

The process begins with a discussion about what they want to achieve, with some being more ardent than others depending on the room: for example, Emily took the lead on the living room, Harry was the most excited by the kitchen, John was inspired by the drawing room and Hannah fell in love with the dining area.

kitchen with pantry blue DeVol kitchen cabinets and brass handles

The kitchen was originally the village convenience store. Brass handles combine beautifully with the pantry blue DeVol kitchen. Photo: Colin Poole

Dark, saturated colours

Next, they order fabric samples, find paint swatches, and then it comes down to a vote. ‘The system works well – we haven’t had any tears yet,’ Hannah adds. ‘We hadn’t planned on getting a house that needed so much work, but I’m glad we did: I love all the new skills we’ve picked up and it’s been amazing to watch our style grow.’

This methodical approach has revealed an elegant theme of dark, saturated colours, made possible by the amount of natural light streaming through the large sash windows.

‘We like to be daring and our taste is definitely eccentric,’ Harry says. ‘It’s a balance of luxury and comfort, but without being boring. We want people to fall in love with the place as soon as they step inside, but to also be surprised and delighted by what they see.’

bedroom decor featuring green and blue shades

In Harry and Emily’s room, a marble-topped bedside table from eBay adds vintage flair. Photo: Colin Poole

Handcrafted details

Amidst the melting pot of opinions, there is an overriding design ethos which helps steer every decision: the high quality and finish of materials. ‘We love solid wood, opulent fabrics and handcrafted details,’ adds John, ‘and none of us are willing to compromise for anything less, which means our main problem is that we have expensive taste.’

This doesn’t mean they have excessive bills, however, as the creative team are no strangers to hard graft or haggling. Emily owns Emily Craven Interiors, an interior and upholstery business, so all the curtains, soft furnishings and headboards are bespoke or reupholstered through her own expertise.

The foursome also rarely buy anything new and are regulars at vintage fairs and charity shops, spending hours online sourcing the best homeware bargains. ‘We’ve also upcycled some of our parents’ old things, such as the coffee table in the drawing room, which was originally an architect’s paper table,’ Hannah adds.

custom-made tall headboard in grey for a luxe navy bedroom

Hannah asked sister Emily to make a custom headboard for her and John’s luxe bedroom. Photo: Colin Poole

Bespoke dining room table

One of the most recent and impressive projects was the massive parquet-topped, copper-edged dining room table. ‘We designed it ourselves,’ Emily proudly explains. ‘We couldn’t find anything that suited our style or the large space. We had the copperwork and metal frame built by a local contractor, then we assembled the table in situ.

Here’s a tip: small parquet is cheap online. Few people want to use it any more as it’s a nightmare to lay. This is something we can definitely testify to, as we used it in the hallway as well – we’re obviously gluttons for punishment.’

The finished cost of the table was £2,000, which sounds a lot, but second-hand dining chairs cost no more than £40 each and were reupholstered by Emily. The pendant lights were a chance find at TK Maxx for £35 each; the rug was £250 from eBay; and the display cabinet was a priceless garage discovery; a leftover from when Weeley House had its own corner shop.

dining room is full of modern country charm

The dining room is full of modern country charm and the dining table is bespoke. Photo: Colin Poole

‘A crazy idea’

The dining room is just one example of the incredible creative ingenuity, not to mention the hours of dedication, that Emily, Harry, Hannah and John have brought to their first home – and they aren’t finished yet. Next on the agenda are the three bathrooms, where ideas range from navy, green and cream terracotta tiles, tongue-and-groove panelling, a roll top bath and 20s wall lights.

When the couples decided to buy and renovate a property together, they were told that it was a crazy idea; that all of their finances and relationships would be hanging in the balance. Two years in, the quartet have taken great pleasure in proving nay-sayers wrong, boosting the price of the property by £80,000 to £500,000 [price correct as of March 2018], and have charted progress on Instagram @weeley_house_to_weeley_home.

‘Before we bought Weeley House, all we heard were the horror stories,’ Emily recalls. ‘No one mentioned the fun, satisfaction and pleasure in seeing what we have achieved – and knowing that we’ve done it together.’

Harry adds: ‘Living here is like having your family and best friends round for the weekend every night.’

MORE HOME MAKEOVERS