After a tireless renovation project, Laura Batten has transformed her Brighton property into a stylish home.
When they were shopping around for their first home together, Laura and Leigh Batten were looking for something they could put their own unique stamp on. They didn’t expect to buy an uninhabitable wreck that, even with the full-time help of Laura’s parents, needed six months’ worth of renovation work. ‘When I showed my best friend around this house for the first time she was shocked at how badly decayed it was,’ says Laura. ‘She couldn’t believe the poor state of the place and how much work it needed to make it fit to live in.
The property, a red-brick Victorian terrace in the Preston Park area of Brighton, had been left over the years to slowly decline. ‘Our first viewing was an open day and there were six couples waiting outside for the agent to arrive. When he opened the front door the smell hit us like a train,’ explains Laura. ‘Four of the couples walked in and then went straight back out again.’
The main bathroom was situated off the kitchen with a Fifties pale-blue plastic bath and matching sink, dark-orange textured wall tiles and brown floral wallpaper. The kitchen had four different types of wallpaper, dark-green veneer cupboards and orange-and-white polystyrene chequerboard ceiling tiles. The main living room and dining area included a dated arched partition with two ancient electric fires, and the door to the garden had been boarded up years ago. Leading up to the first floor was an old stairlift. Upstairs, the unpleasant smell was at its worst due to the rotten windows and damp walls.
The couple realised they were taking a huge risk buying the house, especially as this was their first-ever renovation project. ‘We wanted a home where we could start a family, we’d been looking at other properties that had been finished but none were quite right for us,’ says Laura. ‘With this property, we knew we could preserve and replace the Victorian features wherever practical and affordable.’
This is where Laura’s newly retired mum and dad stepped in to help. For five months, Laura’s parents project-managed the renovation, using their trade contacts and working tirelessly on the house, giving invaluable advice along the way. ‘They stayed with us in our small rented flat around the corner and carried out repairs on the house while we went to work to pay for it,’ she explains. ‘Most evenings and weekends were spent searching the internet or driving around Brighton trying to source materials and fittings to make sure our tradesmen had everything they needed,’ says Laura. ‘Every time we came back home, mum and dad had a list of items we needed to get. It was an intense time, all living and working together, but the experience brought us even closer together as a family.’
There wasn’t a single aspect of the house that didn’t need work – from replacing all the original lead pipework and electrics, to fitting new floorboards and replastering the walls throughout. ‘Removing the wallpaper was a challenge, since there were at least three layers in each bedroom with paint between each one – you could never take off more than a 50 pence-sized piece at a time,’ says Laura. ‘We spent an entire Saturday removing the wallpaper from just one wall in the main bedroom, which was somewhat disheartening at the time.’
When they found out that the roof needed £8,000 of unexpected repairs, they decided it was worth borrowing a bit more money to do a loft conversion, adding another bedroom and bathroom. More building works continued downstairs by knocking down a wall and removing the bathroom to make the kitchen a real focal point. ‘I was really particular about having a big double oven and a Belfast butler sink, and Leigh wanted an American-style fridge,’ says Laura. ‘We both wanted bi-fold doors that would open out to the garden.’
After six months of building work and with the invaluable help of Laura’s parents, the couple were finally able to look forward to living in a beautifully restored property. ‘On our moving-in day I found out I was pregnant with Joshua, which was a great start to our new home,’ says Laura. ‘But it meant that we had a deadline to get the interiors ready for the baby.’
Moving from a small flat into a large house, the couple had little furniture to speak of. They slept on their mattress for six months while they saved up for their bed. ‘We didn’t want to rush into buying furniture and preferred to take our time on the decoration.’ They have sourced a lot of artwork and accessories from local interior design shops, and even their son has slowly seen his room change from a nursery to a little boy’s room complete with a map, plenty of toy storage and disco lights.
‘We wanted our home to reflect our laid-back lifestyle in Brighton, so we have shopped for lots of unusual bits and pieces in local shops,’ Laura says. It was especially important to give the guest room a unique look. ‘Our spare room has a seaside-inspired vibe decorated in the colours of sticks of rock. When Mum and Dad come to stay with us, it feels more like a holiday for them,’ says Laura.
Photography: Jonathan Jones