Property: When the stars align
PUBLISHED: 11:32 24 March 2015 | UPDATED: 11:32 24 March 2015
Alison Hammond 2013 All rights reserved +44 (0) 7939 716409
A collapsed chain and the remarketing of a property they adored allowed a couple to grab the chance to buy their ideal family home in Watford. Report by Natalie Flaum. Photography, Alison Hammond
In February 2012, a twist of fate brought Kate and Neal Oulton and their two children Ella and Ethan to their new home in Watford.
‘It had become a joke between close friends and family as to how many times I had repainted the rooms in our old house. In the 10 years living there I think each room had been painted at least five times if not more,’ Kate laughs. ‘I was looking for a fresh new start in a slightly larger home close by that offered more bedroom space for relatives to stay over as I have a large family.’
As chance would have it, Kate, a senior research fellow at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Neal, a retail buyer for Amazon, had viewed the four-bed semi-detached Victorian house a year prior to purchasing it when the previous owner, an interior designer, decided to test the property market.
‘The owner’s daughter was an art student and I remember admiring her artwork on the walls,’ Kate (pictured above in her new characterful kitchen) recalls. ‘Their style was so similar to my own that I fell in love with the house instantly.’
Soon after that first visit the house was taken off the market and Neal and Kate were making plans to relocate to Hemel Hempstead.
‘We had invested money on a survey and spent time looking at new schools and were almost packed up and ready to move when someone pulled out of the chain, which was just as well, as a few weeks later I couldn’t believe my luck when the estate agent rang to inform me this house was for sale again,’ Kate explains. ‘Standing in the hall, seconds from entering, I knew this was the house for us. We put in our offer straight away as I wasn’t about to lose the opportunity again. We ended up moving a few streets from our previous home.’
Being a keen painter and decorator, Kate got to work straight away on the children’s rooms to make them personal to 14-year-old Ella and nine-year-old Ethan.
‘Moving week was quite a traumatic time. I had my PHD Viva on the Monday, it was my father’s funeral on the Tuesday and we moved in on the Friday,’ Kate says. ‘Decorating Ella’s room with my mother on the Saturday was an important step in helping Ella feel at home. The walls were dark brown, so we painted three walls white and Ella chose her own powdery blue paint to make it brighter and more stylish for a teenager. Ella loves drawing and is great at art. I come from an artistic family background; my great grandfather was a playwright, my grandmother was a ballerina and my grandfather was a photographer, so it’s in the genes.’
Initially, Ethan found it difficult. His bedroom is at the end of a long corridor, which unnerved him slightly. ‘He took 18 months to settle without coming into our bedroom at night. To help, we introduced familiarity by recreating his old bedroom displaying his favourite belongings including a world map on his wall,’ Kate recalls.
One of the most expensive tasks was to move the boiler from the cellar to the attic and renew old pipework.
‘As it’s quite a chilly house, we wanted to increase the heat capacity, especially as we moved in during one of the coldest and longest winters,’ Kate explains. ‘With the relocation of the boiler and new pipes, we are able us to use the sitting room fireplace, which is fantastic.’
In the kitchen, Kate selected a textured wallpaper to add character to a long wall and connect the cooking and dining areas. ‘Our kitchen is a sociable space, something I haven’t experienced to this extent before. In my previous homes the two zones have either been separate or adjoined but in quite a small space,’ Kate explains. ‘I love the brickwork wallpaper in the kitchen, which is a great way to break the clinical feel it originally had. The feature wall opposite was rose pink when we moved in and has undergone various colour changes. At first I painted it blue, then olive green (which the children hated!), then a dark grey until we finally decided on a softer grey.’
The eye-catching chandelier in the kitchen took some tracking down. ‘Having admired a similar gypsy-style chandelier at Neal’s cousins’ house, I went in search of one but couldn’t seem to find one in stock in the UK so Neal asked his brother in Australia to order us one and have it shipped over,’ Kate says. ‘I then sourced colourful imitation Eames chairs on Ebay that really bring out the colours in the chandelier.’
The most recent change has been the wallpaper in the sitting room, which Kate hung single-handed.
‘I wallpapered the sitting room myself in just one weekend,’ she smiles. ‘My mum taught me how to wallpaper walls when I was a teenager. I’ve learnt that practise makes perfect and the more you do something the more you grow in confidence. I wouldn’t let anyone else wallpaper for me now!’
In her master bedroom, Kate has upcycled bedside tables left by the previous owner and intends to make further changes. ‘We went to Istanbul to celebrate my 40th birthday recently, so I have lots of ideas in mind for redecorating our bedroom. I’d also like to knock through the separate loo and family bathroom, as the one thing I really miss is having a spacious bath.
‘I like to visit Heals to get inspired, Spitalfields Market for individual pieces, and my guilty pleasure is Homesense, which stocks lots of different items every day.’
The Oultons have enjoyed not only their home but also love the surrounding area. ‘Neal is a keen cyclist and has just competed in his first triathlon. He enjoys cycling to local countryside and we’re a stone’s throw from beautiful Cassiobury Park with its greenery and canal waterways,’ Kate says. ‘Living in this part of Watford, you get a real sense that this is a place where people tend to stay put, which is a feeling shared by lots of friends I’ve met since moving here.’