By opening up rooms and extending, Carmel Rashid has created a kitchen-diner that brings her whole family together.

Every day, on her way to dropping her children at school, Carmel Rashid would pass a house with a for-sale sign outside. She could see it had bags of potential, but couldn’t persuade her husband Jan to take a look at it. ‘I’d always liked the road and I would often check to see if the board had come down,’ she explains. After plenty of arm-twisting, Carmel finally persuaded him to view the property. ‘It had been empty for a year,’ she continues. ‘The place was draughty and there were holes in the floor, but we could see the promise it held. There was also a decent-sized garden.’

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As the dilapidated building needed to be completely gutted, the couple signed a legal agreement which allowed them access before completion of the sale in order to undertake essential work to make it habitable. ‘We ripped up carpets, sanded floors, re-wired, re-plumbed and fitted a boiler, new bathrooms, central heating and a basic kitchen,’ recalls Carmel.

The family moved in and made no further improvements, but two years later, they decided to knock down the wall separating the small kitchen and dining room, and build an extension to create a large, open-plan space with a living area, making use of the side return to house a WC, utility and study. I had plenty of time to think about exactly what I wanted,’ says Carmel. ‘I longed for a bright, sociable zone with a large island where the kids could sit and draw or do their homework while I cooked.

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The build team, which also designed and made the double-glazed wooden windows and French doors, completed the project in just 12 weeks. Carmel then turned her attention to looking for units, which she found at local Kitchens Upon Thames. ‘I spoke to the designer and explained that I wanted grey cabinetry, a big island with plenty of storage and a sink under the window,’ she says. ‘I also opted for open shelving to display the vintage pieces I collect.’

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During her training as an interior designer, Carmel learnt how to source items individually to stay within a tight budget, so while the units were being made, she went directly to manufacturers and online suppliers and bought everything else independently – from worktops and flooring to appliances and the sink. ‘This took up a lot of my time, but it was certainly worth the effort,’ she says. ‘I managed to save an absolute fortune.’

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Suitably impressed by what she had achieved in her own house, Carmel’s friends started asking her for advice on where they could get the items they needed to revamp their kitchens. While she was happy to help out, she also spotted a business opportunity, and has subsequently started her own company, Plum & Apple Interiors, which finds and supplies materials for local people refurbishing their homes.

The Rashids’ streamlined kitchen-dining-living area has definitely changed the way they live as a family. ‘We don’t have a TV in here and I’ve found that our children now tend to socialise more with us,’ says Carmel. ‘Rather than be spread out around the house, we all congregate in this space, and Jan and I will often relax in here when the kids have gone to bed.’

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Photography: Fraser Marr

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