Chehvani and Omar have revived their previously unloved Victorian property in London into a cheerful, positive and expressive family home.
After first laying their eyes on this two-bedroom Victorian house in North London, Chehvani Leonard and Omar Lado knew they’d struck gold. ‘It was on the market for less than we were selling our nearby studio flat for, but the viewer before us walked in and immediately walked out in disgust,’ said Chehvani. ‘It had been rented for 30 years and was incredibly shabby, but we weren’t discouraged – despite finding a fire had been started in the bathroom and a wasps’ nest in the loft. At least it had stairs!’
And so started the journey to bring the unloved house back to life, maximising their budget by using reclaimed and repurposed items. The couple were made for the job, as Chehvani is an interior stylist for TV makeover shows and is well practised in creating “wow” interiors for next to nothing, while Omar, a creative model maker, is a practical craftsman.
The first job was to remove the walls downstairs to reconfigure the layout into a spacious living and dining area, while Omar embarked on restoring the staircase. ‘Returning it to its former Victorian glory was a labour of love,’ he says. ‘We uncovered the original features and left them as they were, rather than add a fresh coat of paint, as we thought the aged patina is a thing of beauty.’ Then, while searching for a Victorian newel post for his beloved staircase, Omar also discovered original doors from the period for a bargain £150. Even more amazing, they fitted perfectly.
Unable to stretch to replacing the PVC windows, the couple had a neat trick up their sleeves: Omar replaced the ugly plastic trim with timber mouldings. Then he covered the whole frame with multi-surface paint, creating the illusion of it being wooden. Plantation shutters, bought secondhand and customised to fit, further created the impression of an original sash.
While the renovation and loft extension went largely according to plan, the couple hit a hiccough when they discovered that the house had not one, but three boilers, servicing three different-sized sets of pipes. ‘In the five days it took to replace the pipework, I had to resort to washing four month old Teilo in a plastic bowl in the sink!’ laughs Chehvani.
With structural work complete, it was time for Chevani to add her interior magic. ‘When my mum decorated her first home in Devon in the 1970s, arriving from Malaysia, her style was radical. Back then everyone had matching sofas and floral wallpaper. Not our house – ours was completely different. We had white walls, our curtains were mismatched saris and every room was filled with plants to give a jungle effect. She definitely recreated a little patch of Malaysia in Devon,’ she smiles. Clearly inspired by her childhood home, a rainbow of colour and vibrancy shines through the house; from the modular sofa upholstered in Aztec fabric and mismatched abstract sunshine cushions to the bright, vintage art. But the pièce de la résistance is the giant red papier-mâché elephant bought in Brick Lane antique market. ‘It was love at first sight,’ said Chehvani. ‘She sits in pride of place in the dining room to welcome visitors – new guests are judged on their response to it. Give her a kiss and we'll be friends for life!’
The dining space itself is a clever mix of old and new. An Ikea dining table sits well with original Herman Miller Eiffel chairs, salvaged from a skip, and the handmade bench was a moving gift from Omar. In the kitchen, where the bathroom had originally been, the space has been extended to include a dayroom that opens onto a sunny patio garden – an essential with two small boys around. Omar used Ikea carcasses for the kitchen, adding handmade solid wood doors, legs and beautiful leather handles. One wall, which Chehvani covered in intricate patterned tiles, recreates the decorative fabrics of Malaysia, popped with vivid yellow accents.
Upstairs, the bright master bedroom is a reference to Omar’s Mauritian father. A traditional shell chandelier and mirrors are combined with simple wood furniture, a clean white colour palette with signature pops of colour. In Sayer and Teilo’s room, bunk beds provide storage and keep the floor clear, while the rest of the space is peppered with bright homemade artwork.
Mauritian shell lamps from Omar’s dad and a variety of ethnic fabrics influenced by Chehvani’s mother decorate the spare bedroom, accented with a bright Welsh blanket. ‘I grew up in Wales and inherited these from my grandparents. What an eclectic bunch we are,’ he smiles.
Omar’s comment seems to typify the renovation; a beautiful blend of personal histories and shared memories. With care, attention, canny shopping and some exceptional DIY skills, the couple have managed to restore love, colour, style and warmth back into this once forgotten property.
Photography: David Giles. Words: Mel Massey.