When taking on a dated period property, the desire may be there to rip it all up and start again. But waiting a while can take you down a less obvious path. Helen and Tim Ward house-hunted for two years in Knowle (a creative hub in Bristol) before they found this house five years ago.
It was a slightly worn but functional family home, with masses of space and a generous garden – the elusive blank canvas. ‘We loved the house before we even saw the inside,’ says Helen. ‘When we moved in, we felt daunted by the amount we thought needed to be done. But we’ve grown to love all its little quirks – the tangled pipework all over the place seemed like a problem at first, but now we kind of love it as it is!’
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Biding their time paid off. When the layers of magnolia-painted Anaglypta wallpaper were eventually stripped from the hallway three years after they moved in, beautifully textured original plasterwork was revealed below. The couple fell in love with this pared-back aesthetic, which remained, and has set the tone for the rest of the renovations to this generous Edwardian semi-detached house.
The building’s personality – its nooks and crannies, quirks and foibles – meld well with the couple’s love of vintage and repurposed furniture. Take the chest of drawers in the hallway, for example. It came via Tim’s father, Nigel, who salvaged it from his old workplace, a fire engine factory. Where the chest once contained tools (and tool room assistant Betty’s lunchbox), it now stores gloves and hats, and is still fondly referred to as ‘Betty’s box’.
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It’s no surprise that a family of artists and designers would create a home so colourful and interesting. The couple’s daughters, Jet and Della, have made much of the artwork that decorates their bedroom walls and elsewhere in the house, as has their mother. Helen works as a product designer, interiors consultant and artist, specialising in cut paper.
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When she first began making cut paper artworks a decade ago, it was to put to use her collection of beautiful antique marbled endpapers, salvaged from the bookbinders where she used to work. Like her home now, the raw materials came first and Helen was happy to let them lead the way.
‘I knew I would have to come up with an idea that was really special if I were to start cutting them up,’ she explains. ‘It was a few years before I finally decided on making the entomological collections.’ A winning decision, now that her paper artwork is exhibited all over the world.
Everywhere you look in this home, there’s something to catch your eye, from a decorated skateboard to a mini dolls’ house replica. Period features remain – the Edwardian hall floor and wall tiles are spectacular – and the original fireplaces now house modern woodburners.
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Design classics such as the Parker Knoll Statesman chair alongside an antique portrait of the Queen display a confident eye for the unusual and a playful disregard for propriety. The grey painted walls and woodwork run throughout the house, and while they may initially seem dark, Helen thinks differently.
‘Most of the house was painted in various shades of cream when we moved in, so it’s been fun to add a bit of drama to the place. Experimenting with darker colours has helped to pull the space together.’ And it doesn’t feel dark? ‘We are lucky that most of the rooms are large, so the darker walls have created a more intimate feel and helped to make the architectural features stand out. I always wanted a black bedroom when I was a teenager – it’s only taken me 30-something years to get one!’
The grey also provides a backdrop to bursts of neon pink, festoon lighting, homemade textiles and artwork, such as the giant pom-pom wall hanging in the couple’s bedroom. Houseplants feature heavily throughout this home, too, although Helen claims to be anything but green-fingered. ‘I am dreadful at looking after houseplants but I like having them. They bring life to a room. I really notice if there aren’t any plants in a room – it feels like something’s missing.’
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