Home of the month: stylish renovation in Bishop's Stortford
PUBLISHED: 15:16 20 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:16 20 November 2018
A ready-to-move-in house is the last thing this Bishop's Stortford couple want. Serial renovators, they've had the vision to take on three tired homes, including this latest project, and make them into something remarkable
Ben and Mairead Wright are an odd couple. They love living with builders. Both being creative – he runs a branding and design company, she’s an interior designer – they get huge satisfaction from doing up houses. Their current house is the third they’ve done. The main objective is not to make a quick buck. For these two it’s all about spotting potential that will enable them to create a lovely place where they and their four young children will enjoy family life together. That is, until Mairead comes across the next property needing TLC that says ‘buy me’.
Mairead was a HR manager for a company in the City, living in a flat she’d bought in Snaresbrook in north-east London with the help of the bank of mum and dad when she met her future husband. The first house they did up together was a Victorian semi in the capital.
‘I think doing up houses is in my genes,’ she laughs. ‘When I was a baby my parents bought an old house in Epping that was a wreck. They did it up themselves. They still live in that house. I probably inherited my love of creating something new from something old from them.’
It started early, as a child, she remembers, she was always rearranging her bedroom.
‘I love the whole process of redecorating. I love the process so much we keep doing it. As soon as one project is finished I can’t wait to find a new one.’
Willow Springs is the second house in Hadham Road in Bishop’s Stortford that they’ve virtually rebuilt.
‘This is number 131. The first was 124a,’ Mairead explains. ‘It was part of a big red brick Victorian house that had been cut in half. The red brick part faces the road. Behind that was the cottage which was a total wreck when we bought it – you could see the sky through the roof. What attracted us was that it came with a garden that was a third of an acre because by then we had two children. I wanted our kids to have the same freedom as my sister and I had. We had a wonderful childhood.’
Work on the cottage took about a year to complete but the family moved in after nine months when it was habitable. But it wasn’t long before Mairead was back to checking Rightmove almost on a daily basis on the off-chance of finding the next place with unspotted potential. By then, she’d given up her job in the City and retrained as an interior designer.
‘Strangely enough, I hadn’t been on Rightmove when I heard this house was for sale. I didn’t know it was here. It’s down this tiny lane off Hadham Road. It’s a lovely quiet spot yet it’s near the centre of town – a wonderful position.’
A close neighbour told her it was on the market. ‘We were having lunch together one day when she mentioned this house was for sale. She knew I was pregnant with number three. When I came to see it, it was one of those moments when I knew I’d found a place that was absolutely perfect for us.’
Archie was three months old when they moved to Willow Springs in 2013. Mairead remembers the removal men wheeling the children’s trampoline along the road because it was too large to fit in the van.
The house was built in 1952. ‘The previous two we had done up had been old houses. Restoring and enlarging a comparatively modern house was something totally new for us. We wanted to keep the original structure but bolt on a double-storey extension with a flat roof covered in sedum – wild flowers – but the council planners said no to a flat roof. They were adamant about it. In the end the house became much bigger than we intended. Originally it was four bedrooms but because they wouldn’t let us build an extension with a flat roof, it had to be a pitched roof like the original and there was no point having a loft with nothing in it so we ended up building another four bedrooms on the third level.’
Mairead says it has always been a priority that the whole family sleep on the same floor, especially while the children are young. Consequently, since they added the side extension there are now five bedrooms on the first floor.
She and Ben share the master suite and the four children each have their own room – that’s eldest son Finn (10), Archie (five) and daughters Isabel (seven) and Lola (three). Every bedroom has a bank of built-in wardrobes. There are also three bathrooms on the first floor – one in the master suite and a further bathroom and shower room for the kids to share.
‘By the time we got around to planning the layout of the rooms in the attic I was pregnant again,’ Mairead reports merrily. The news led to a break with family tradition: ‘I’d never wanted to know the sex of the other three before they were born but this time I did because if it was a boy the new bathroom in the attic would have been an en-suite but when we found out the baby was a girl we made it a family bathroom. All the fittings for the new bathrooms came from the Bath Store. They were excellent. I made sure I got one of the largest baths ever made. It takes all four kids.’
She adds that although they don’t need eight bedrooms, the attic rooms are ‘wonderful’ when they have the whole family to stay at Christmas – ‘They love it up there’ – and she uses one of the rooms as a study when she’s working from home. Mairead and her sister Emily, a mum of two, have gone into business together. They’ve launched a design company geared to bright ideas for children’s rooms. It’s called Wild Hearts Wonder. Their online boutique specialises in own-design hand painted furniture, fabrics, fashion, wallpapers, accessories: anything and everything to make the world a brighter place for kids.
Mairead adds that in the future the top floor could become a granny annexe or a teenagers’ den. ‘For this reason we decided to divide up the attic with stud walls that can easily be taken down and the space rearranged.’
Having now remodelled three homes, the couple have gathered together a group of tried and trusted craftsmen and suppliers. And while the pair know how they want to realise potential, they commission an architectural technician to draw up the plans to submit to the council for planning consent.
The priority for the ground floor of their present home was an open-plan kitchen at the heart of the house connecting with a playroom in one direction and flowing into a family room-cum-dining room in the single-storey extension at the back.
‘I wanted the dining room to have a cosy feel, that’s why it’s partly enclosed by a wall,’ Mairead explains. As well as the open plan area there’s a separate drawing room, a walk-in pantry (Mairead is a keen cook) and an oversized cupboard with a separate section for each member of the family to hang up their coats and stuff, ‘so everything gets put away’.
Perfect for this big family, Willow Springs may be, but an itch needs to be scratched. Mairead has seen another property in the same road. She believes the next one has the potential ‘to be our forever house’. Well, that will be a first for the couple. In the meantime, their home in grounds of almost half an acre is for sale through Savills in Bishop’s Stortford for £1.85m.