Sian Irvin’s passion for renovation led her to restore a listed property in West Sussex to its former glory.

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Living and working in London as a food photographer, Sian Irvine had been renovating properties as a hobby. ‘I grew up in West Sussex and spent a lot of time visiting my parents who still lived there,’ she says. ‘During one of those stays I popped into Bognor Regis and spotted a for sale sign outside a very dilapidated house. It was in a terrible state and all the original features had been torn out, but I decided bringing it back to its former glory would be a great challenge to get my teeth into.’

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Six months into the renovation, Sian was taking a stroll along the promenade and spotted a Regency villa called Sea House that was on the market. ‘It was a pretty property with a yellow canopy and frontage. It was in that moment when my second love affair with a rundown house began,’ she recalls. ‘The interior hadn’t been touched for more than 25 years and it needed everything doing to it. I’m not sure what influenced me, but I thought it might be lovely to work on it alongside the other Bognor Regis project.’

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The building looks rather like a pretty doll’s house from the front, which conceals the Tardis-like interior within. The beautiful courtyard garden is a delightful suntrap, and looks right out on to the beachfront, affording wonderful views of the sea. The front door opens up into a welcoming entrance hall and a large wet room – perfect for washing down sandy feet after an afternoon at the beach. Fortunately, the internal footprint of the property didn’t need to be changed as the original layout already flowed and worked well, however, extensive renovations still needed to be done.

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In order to complete the restoration to a professional standard, Sian set about contacting local contractors to help with the work – most of the carpentry and building side of things were done by Victor Marino. The roof had to be replaced and a modern kitchen and bathrooms were installed. In addition, the whole house was rewired, a new heating system was plumbed in and all the original sash windows were renovated. The rooms were then freshly decorated throughout; carpets were laid and the floorboards and walls painted white to keep the whole space feeling light and airy.

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‘The main thing I’ve learnt is to never underestimate costs – in fact, you should double them,’ suggests Sian. ‘Always manage the project yourself where possible and never leave the builders in charge completely as no one is going to care about your house as much as you do.’ She also advises to avoid day rates and try to agree on a total job price instead, especially when it comes to period properties, as it’s difficult to foresee impending problems and expenses until you start gutting a place. ‘Always try to buy the best quality boiler and bathroom  ttings you can afford, especially if you live in an area with hard water,’ she adds. ‘Installing an inhibitor and a Magnaflow filter should help prolong the boiler’s life.’ After a year of hard work, Sea House is now an elegant home, sympathetic to its roots and with plenty of coastal style, in keeping with its location. The villa is full of interesting books and local art, and features an eclectic mix of both vintage and modern furniture sourced from eBay, car-boot sales and auction houses, as well as from high-street stores and antique shops.

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The dining room at the front is a lovely light-filled room with French doors that open straight out to the garden. There’s a split-level landing with a large domed light directly above, making it a peaceful place to relax. Up on the first floor there is a cosy living room with access to a balcony overlooking the sea and a stunning original marble fireplace. On the same level a quirky double bedroom has a rustic exposed flint wall and double-height ceiling, which helps the space feel bright and airy. ‘Whatever the season, you can never get bored of watching the ever-changing seascape,’ says Sian. ‘The house is a wonderful place that just seems to absorb people – it’s lovely to see everyone tumble out and on to the lawn, which is great for games and picnics.’

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After completing the renovation, Sian is sharing the fruits of her labour by renting it out as a holiday let at seahouse-sussex.co.uk, so visitors have the opportunity to enjoy it as well. Her eye for design, detail and colour has turned this villa into a beautiful, laid-back and happy place in which to work, live and wind-down. ‘Regardless of the time of year, the space is a joy to relax in,’ she says. ‘I love it here.’

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Photography: Liz Pearce

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