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Hertfordshire home: from drab 70s house to modern family home

PUBLISHED: 11:35 04 June 2019

Calming green with botanical hints in the master bedroom (photo: Chrissie Adams)

Calming green with botanical hints in the master bedroom (photo: Chrissie Adams)

Chrissie Adams

Searching for that elusive property with bags of potential, a couple took on a renovation that transformed a tired 70s home into a TV show winner

How would you react if a production company got in touch out of the blue with an invitation to be a contestant in a TV show?

Last November Chrissie Adams was contacted by talent scouts for the BBC1 programme Best House in Town. Each week-long contest showcases the skill, ingenuity and commitment of homeowners who have transformed their properties with great design and style.

St Albans, where house prices are among the highest outside London, was one of the locations chosen for the first series. In the first round owners living in similar propery types (detached, semis and so on) in the city competed to reach the final and the chance to win the title of Best House in Town.

The production team tracked down 37-year-old Chrissie Adams through her entertaining and informative blog about how she and her husband New Zealander Paul Strang transformed their 1970s St Albans home.

'I was very nervous during the lead up to filming,' the stay-at-home mum of two admits. 'I agreed to take part as I thought it would be fun but then I began to wish I hadn't said yes.

'You are showing off your home. I had nothing to go on, no idea about the format, what they'd expect. I was worried about keeping the house tidy ready for when the judges turned up.'

The windows beside the dining area also fully fold back (photo: Christina Adams)The windows beside the dining area also fully fold back (photo: Christina Adams)

Filming took place over two weeks last November. The programme was screened in February. Looking back, she doesn't regret taking part for a minute. She enjoyed it; not least because her home won.

First it came top in the detached house category, then it won the votes of four of the five judges for the top title.

'Once I got over my nerves, I gained so much confidence through the experience,' Chrissie says. 'I got to know the other local contestants. I learnt a lot from them. We've become friends.'

Chrissie and finance industry worker Paul's house is in the Gustard Wood area. It's the first they've bought together. Before they met, she lived in a one bed flat in Shoreditch just before the credit crunch brought the market to a halt. She was there eight years. 'I did up the kitchen, that was about it.' Before she gave up work to be a full-time mum she was a corporate account manager in telecoms. The job didn't leave much time for DIY.

The couple first lived in London. 'We started looking for a house to buy when we were expecting our first baby. We couldn't afford London prices so we decided to move further out.

'We rented in Harpenden for a while but that's a very expensive area. We were house hunting for a long time. We decided not to go for the best house in the road but try to find one which was cheap because it needed loads of work.'

The open plan kitchen and dining area opens to the garden thanks to an expanse of bifold windows and doors (photo: Christina Adams)The open plan kitchen and dining area opens to the garden thanks to an expanse of bifold windows and doors (photo: Christina Adams)

The pair got lucky. 'The house we found is in a road of houses built by the same developer. This one had been owned by a lady who had lived here since it was built. After she went into a home it had sat empty for two years and was in a pretty bad state. The agent who took me to view it couldn't hide his surprise when my eyes lit up and I said "I love it, it's perfect." It was exactly what we wanted.'

Their puchase in 2014 had no central heating. Everything needed renewing - electrics, plumbing, the dated interior. The place was on its uppers.

'We moved in and immediately put in for planning permission.

It was no joke living in a house in the state it was in with a one-year-old.'

It took them a year and a half to get planning consent to completely remodel the house. The front wall, one of the side walls and the roof are all that remains of the original house.

Playtime in the garden (photo: Christina Adams)Playtime in the garden (photo: Christina Adams)

'Our application was turned down twice, each time because what we wanted to achieve externally didn't fit the street scene. In retrospect I think we shouldn't have commissioned a London architect. A local architect would have known the planners from previous projects. A local company would have known what the council would accept and what they wouldn't.

'In fact all the houses in the road have had extensions or been improved since they were built but there's still a semblance of uniformity.

'We wanted a large front porch - the planners didn't object to that but they wouldn't allow us to put wooden cladding on the front elevation - that was a no. They didn't object to it on the back of the house but not on the front.'

Once planning consent came through, the family moved into rented accommodation and the transformation took just six months to complete, mainly because they found a first-class local builder. With a small baby, but home-based, Chrissie was able to project manage the build.

Coming from New Zealand Paul loves open plan kitchens and living spaces that flow straight into the garden. He also wanted as much glass as possible at the back of the house to capture natural light.

The kitchen-dining-sitting room is the heart of the home. Two sets of bifold doors and a set of bifold windows open up nearly the whole of the back wall to a lovely mature garden. When it's sunny the doors are open and the children, six-year-old Archie and three-year-old daughter Eden, have free rein to run in and out.

One of the features which scored highly with the Best House in Town judges was the three metre kitchen island with polished concrete worktop. Poured in situ, it has a mottled appearance that Chrissie says masks any stains that can't be removed, and in fact add to its character.

How the rear of the house looked before works began (photo: Christina Adams)How the rear of the house looked before works began (photo: Christina Adams)

As well as the large open plan area there are two private rooms on the ground floor with doors - a study which doubles as Paul's office and a playroom which takes all the kids' toys.

By replacing the original staircase with a more space- efficient one there are now four double bedrooms and two bathrooms off the first floor landing instead of the previous three doubles, a single and one bathroom. Chrissie says the house is 40 per cent larger than when they bought it and fuel bills are 20 per cent less. On the debit side they spent twice their original budget.Her advice for others planning a renovation or remodel is to shop around and don't be afraid to haggle.

'If you see bathroom fittings you love but they're way too expensive, look online. You'll find the same style for half the price, and always ask for a discount. Never pay full price for anything if you can help it. Builders and interior designers get 20 to 40 per cent discount on retail prices. Ask for the discount or get your builder to do it for you. Even on the high street you'd be surprised what you can get off if you just ask the question.'

Has the project motivated them to tackle another project? 'Paul wants us to stay here and enjoy what we've achieved. The problem for me is that I see certain things I wish we'd done differently. I see the mistakes all the time. Paul's right though, we should enjoy what we've achieved. Right now I've stopped looking at RightMove. It's too addictive.'

Three-year-old Eden's lovely bright and simple bedroom (photo: Christina Adams)Three-year-old Eden's lovely bright and simple bedroom (photo: Christina Adams)

You can follow Chrissie Adams' progress as a budding home designer on her Instagram account

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