A twist of fate led Dani Ellis to a renovated into a charming family house.
Your dream home doesn’t come on on the market often – never mind within budget – but it happened to Dani and Matt Ellis. ‘We were in the fortunate position of acquiring a lump sum from the sale of my father’s company,’ Dani explains. ‘We’d only just moved back to Hertfordshire and were living in rented accommodation, so we knew we wanted to invest in a family home. This house was for sale on a beautiful road nearby, where properties rarely came on to the market and, even when they did, they’d normally be out of our price range. I rushed to book a viewing and fell in love the minute we stepped through the doorway.’ The red-brick Victorian house had a beautiful bay-fronted façade, with five bedrooms and ample space to set down roots. ‘It was bigger and more expensive than we had ever intended, but it was our dream home in the perfect location. We couldn’t believe it could be ours.’
With the sale agreed, Dani began to consider how she could put her stamp on the interior. ‘I’d always lived in smaller properties and with fairly restricted budgets, so this was all new to me. I felt as though I needed to do the place justice, so I started slowly and let my style evolve naturally – even though my head was already whirling with ideas,’ she laughs.
Starting with the living room, Dani painted the chimneybreast and opposite wall dark grey, keeping the remaining sides white to bounce the natural light into each corner. Textured accessories in teal and mustard keep the scheme modern and fun, and work beautifully next to the mid-century pieces. ‘I wanted a “grown-up” space to use at night and really celebrate the period features,’ Dani continues. ‘I planned to go all-out dark in here, but I now quite like the monochromatic feel.’
Moving through the house, a Georgian-style glazed door opens into a generous snug, set between the entrance hall and kitchen. ‘This space was a challenge as it is essentially a walkway and the ceiling is lower, but I still wanted it to function as room,’ Dani explains. ‘I went against advice and amplified the cocooned, enveloping feeling with deep-blue walls, as I was worried that trying to make it feel brighter with white paint would have a clinical effect. It seems to have worked, and we spend a lot of time in here as a family, all squished up in front of the log burner watching films.’
The kitchen is in contrast to these moody, rich hues. Boasting neutral walls, the newly renovated space is bathed in sunlight from a large roof lantern. ‘Victorian semis are notoriously dark and I’ve played to this in our living spaces, but I knew I wanted to brighten the north-facing kitchen,’ Dani explains. Choosing Shaker-style cabinets from Harvey Jones for timeless appeal, she finished them with pewter handles, then chose leather bar stools from Rockett St George and displayed colourful retro crockery to complete the look. ‘I always had open shelving in my mind – it makes the space feel less closedin,’ she adds. ‘I’ve gone for pops of more teal and red on a background of Farrow & Ball’s railings and pavilion grey on the units, then the oak island and wood-effect flooring bring in warmth. The teal velvet sofa in the dining area was an indulgence, but reinforces the laidback theme of the kitchen-diner, which has fast become the home’s hub.
Upstairs, the south-facing master bedroom is a softer, more feminine space. Light pours in from the large bay window, highlighting the blue tones in the grey feature wall. ‘I love the touch of tropical pattern and colour that the bed linen brings,’ Dani reflects. ‘We made the lights ourselves by painting shelving brackets from B&Q the same colour as the walls, then threading coloured flexes through and adding Edison globe bulbs from local shop Fly 9. They add a soft, industrial look – and prevent the room from feeling too girly.’ An ombre wall hanging above the bed introduces gentle texture, and was found at one of her favourite stores, Homeplace.
The bathroom is the couple’s most recent project, and Dani had a clear vision in mind when they started it. ‘We reused the bath and WC, and I sourced a rosewood mid-century cabinet from eBay to mount the basin. I like that it references the style of furniture downstairs,’ she says. My decorator thought I was mad when I pulled out the off-black paint for the walls, but it makes the room feel indulgent – especially when the candles are lit and you’re laying in the tub full of bubbles.’
Dani is the first to admit that her style is hard to pin down; she is drawn to too many colours, eras and shapes for it to fit into any neat definition. ‘I would say that it’s a reflection of my personality and us as a family. I don’t think there should be any rules when you do up your home,’ she enthuses.
Throughout her renovation, Dani has found refuge and inspiration on Instagram, where there’s a thriving community of interior mavens and home renovators – as well as ample opportunity to shop. ‘It’s wonderful to find so many like-minded people showcasing their homes, and it’s a great way to unearth small businesses that sell fabulous products. I would have never discovered the likes of Cowboy Kate, Violet & Thistle and Red Eyed Dove otherwise.’
Looking around Dani’s home, it’s clear she has achieved her aim: to honour and respect the building’s heritage, while crafting interesting, evocative spaces for her family to live and grow together. ‘As someone recently said to me: a home only has to make the people who live in it happy. What anyone else thinks isn’t important. I love coming back to this place, and we all feel very lucky indeed to be enjoying it together.’
Photography: Colin Poole