House of the Month: Moving on up in Wellpond Green
PUBLISHED: 21:50 20 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:35 20 February 2013
Kevin and Gill Bird tell Pat Bramley how they transformed a three-bedroom bungalow into a spacious family home
WHAT have I done with my life? cant be a question that keeps Kevin and Gill Bird awake at night. They only have to look around to see what theyve achieved.
Both are passionate about doing up houses and judging by the result of their latest project theyve got plenty to show for what must take up a lot of their spare time.
The 1930s three-bedroom bungalow they bought in 2006 is unrecognisable since theyve transformed it into an airy open plan home more typical of the houses you find on the other side of the pond in New England than in a Hertfordshire village where the original properties were farmworkers cottages on large plots to enable the families to live off the land.
Gill says the main objective when they see a property that excites their interest is to turn it into a beautiful home for themselves and their two daughters, not to make money by selling it on.
Yet thats what happened with the Edwardian house in Puckeridge they bought in 2001 and refurbished. Five years later someone made them an offer they couldnt refuse and before they knew it they were back in the market looking for the next place with potential.
Mark Brown at the Ware office of Ensum Brown, the agent who sold them the three houses they updated while they lived in Puckeridge, also found them the bungalow in nearby Wellpond Green.
Gill recalls, It had just come on the market and he said we ought to see it because of the possibilities. Wed met the couple who lived here socially but hadnt been inside their home.
She adds, When Im a buyer, I never look at what a place looks like, only what we could do with it.
Both she and her husband have an expert eye for spotting potential.
Kevin trained as a surveyor and is also a skilled carpenter and joiner. Gill was an estate agent but then developed her creative side with a two-year course in interior design at Ware College. She now has her own consultancy. She says the two of them relax by reading books of house plans and doing the rounds of shows for self builders much more helpful than the design shows, you meet the manufacturers and innovators.
When Im a buyer, I never look at what a place looks like, only what we could do with it
They sold the Edwardian house in May, bought the bungalow in August, put in for planning permission to add a second storey in December and were granted consent in January. We worked closely with the planning officers. The only issues were pretty minor. Building work started in April.
Gill explains, The footprint of the house isnt much greater than the previous building. We used an architect who was recommended. We told him what we wanted and he prepared the plans to our specification.
We love open-plan. We holiday in America and go to Australia quite a lot. We havent been to New England but we like that style of architecture. We like open-plan kitchen/breakfast rooms. We wanted a large space which everyone would use. In the Edwardian house we used to joke about the east wing and west wing you couldnt have open-plan there, the style of the house wasnt right but everyone used to congregate in the kitchen/breakfast room.
The sense of space in the new house is evident as soon as you come in through the lobby. The hall with its galleried landing flows into the main living area, creating one large arena incorporating the lounge, dining area and kitchen.
The central food preparation area and the island unit doubling as a breakfast bar are on a slightly raised platform, marked out with inset downlighters and a silver strip outlining the step.
In contrast to the pale cream high gloss units, work surfaces are brown granite. No wall cupboards, Gill says decisively, I dont like wall units. Drawers are much more practical for pans and crockery. I have two double cupboards in the island unit and instead of a range cooker which I had previously I have two single ovens side by side. I find its better to have two proper ovens. All the appliances in the kitchen came from John Lewis they never let you down, do they?
Open plan is ideal for much of the time the four of them are together and certainly for parties. For periods when concentration is needed away from the group theres the study and when Kate, 20, or Abbie, 15, invite friends home, the entertainments room comes into its own. In here theres a pool table and a large screen for watching films. Both rooms have doors.
The main living area through from the hall has a gleaming cream tiled floor. Its easy to keep clean, says Gill, has to be when youve got a dog. Lex, the familys chocolate Labrador, has large feet. The entertainments room, study and all four bedrooms upstairs are carpeted.
The dcor throughout is cream with taupe as an accent colour. Using the same colour theme accentuates the feeling of space and flow.
The sense of space in the new house is evident as soon as you come
in through the lobby
Even though shes averse to wall units in the kitchen, Gill has made clever use of two horizontal shallow frosted glass kitchen wall units fitted either side of the fireplace in the lounge area. We put them on chrome legs and use them for storage of DVDs and stuff.
Theyve also created a cupboard that disappears into the wall at one end of the dining area. Kevin made it out of four end kitchen unit panels with pop close magnets. The closet hides the pipework for the underfloor heating and is fitted with rails and shelves which make a highly efficient airing cupboard for clothes.
The only real splash of colour in the house other than accessories comes from the two red leather sofas and matching armchair in the lounge. We noticed them in a furniture shop window opposite our hotel room when we were in Birmingham months before we started work on the house. We went over the road for a closer look and fell in love with them and the shop agreed to store them for us until the house was done.
The upstairs rooms in their palatial New England style home have quirky ceilings on account of the gables giving individual character to each of the bedrooms. Bathrooms are kitted out to boutique hotel standard with luxury fittings like monsoon shower heads and the built-in tiled seat in Kevin and Gills double shower cubicle.
Their dressing room has hanging rails and shelves rather than drawers. You see everything at a glance but you have to be very tidy.
Elder daughter Kate, a student at Hertfordshire University, has her own suite of rooms above the new double garage with the ground floor gym, utility room and storage area at the back.
Gill says the secret to success is all in the planning when you embark on a major project such as theirs. Its not about rushing about, choosing colours. Its about getting everything in the right order, making sure you have what you need when its needed. Colours and choosing furniture and the nice bits come at the end. You must do things in logical order. We had a long time to plan this. Thats why were pleased with it.
But their success with Almond Bank the name of the property is about the only thing that didnt change will soon be history.
After four years, theyre about to go through the same process again, except twice over. They explain, The girls are now 20 and 15. Weve always wanted a holiday home in Norfolk. Weve decided now is the moment to look for a house by the sea because with the girls getting older we want the maximum time to enjoy it as a family. That means downsizing here. We dont want to leave the area because Abbie is still at school in Puckeridge but the time is soon coming when we wont need so much space.
No doubt both places will need doing up, Gill laughs.
Almond Bank at Wellpond Green is for sale with a guide price of 1.195m through Fine & Country at Ware
How they achieved it
Gill Bird reveals who helped create their home and adds her comments on why she would recommend them.
Hardiplank, the fibre concrete cladding with the appearance of wood on the outside of the house. The manufacturers say it wont need repainting for ten years but the man who fitted ours said hed had it on his own house without repainting for 17 years.
Sheraton range in mattonella gloss stone from Coopers of Bishops Stortford, 01279 656551
Granite, antique brown from Cawdor stone gallery, Woolmer Green,
Something a little bit different to the usual black.
The doors eliminating a wall from the dining area into the garden make the transition from interior to exterior seamless. Arbour door systems, Bristol, 01454 270039
Samantha Coles, Hockliffe, Bedfordshire. 01525 382682
or 07990 973533
She sourced me some gorgeous red Italian glass pendants for over the kitchen island that I just wouldnt have found otherwise, and they are the focal point of the room.
Oak dining suite and occasional pieces from Andrena furniture, Hoddesdon. 01992 451722. Always able to match your requirements,
in colour, size and style, nothing is
too much trouble.
Cheshunt Tiles 01992 642211.
The choice is almost too big, but the advice is always welcome, and theyll recommend you fitters too.
For more information about her interior design service, Gill Bird can be contacted on 07753 486485