Tell us about the house…

It’s on the County Down coast in Northern Ireland and, built in 1896, is one of the oldest original properties in the village of Helen’s Bay. It’s sited between the train station and the local church, just a few hundred yards from a beautiful stretch of sandy beach. We bought the house as a project in 2019. In hindsight, we vastly underestimated the scale of works required – every corner, inside and out, has needed a facelift! Just over three years in, we are still completing our kitchen and dining room restorations, so our journey is still ongoing.


Has it been important to retain a sense of its past?

Every home we’ve owned and renovated since our first London flat has been a period property, so maintaining the original character and style of the house has been a must. Several original features had been removed in the 1990s and we’ve worked to reinstate cornicing, picture rails, period-style panelling and original fireplaces. It’s been really important for us to maintain the integrity of the building. Our family room had been used as a tool storage area and was completely uninhabitable. We added a wood-burning stove and dark wood panelling to achieve a moody gentleman’s smoking room feel. It’s now a cosy spot to use in the evenings.

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Which room has proved the most challenging?

When we bought the house, the kitchen was at the front. In a double-fronted Victorian home, this really affected the natural flow of rooms – it just wasn’t in keeping with what would have been the original floorplan. We’re currently working to relocate the kitchen to the rear of the house, and re-establish the room at the front as a formal dining room.

Has it been easy to find good tradespeople?

We found there was definite hesitation about working on a period property. For some reason in Northern Ireland, the number of new-build homes vastly outweighs period properties like ours, so I think many tradespeople were out of their comfort zone. Many would admit it was difficult to quote on works in our home as it wasn’t as straightforward as working on a new build. Establishing a network of the right tradespeople has slowed our project, but it gave us the opportunity to get to know our home better before making costly changes.

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Which is your favourite room?

I have two! One is the master bedroom. I love the calming dusty pink walls (Farrow & Ball’s Dead Salmon). We lived in the room for months with stripped-back Victorian plaster walls and I think this perhaps informed our final colour choice. The sitting room is a stunning space with doubleaspect windows and period fireplace, which is the focal point of the room – when people gather round the fire in winter the room really comes into its own. When stripping the old wallpaper back we found dated inscriptions from past decorators – the first in 1910, then in the 1930s and finally in the 1970s.

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What tips would you give anyone embarking on their own renovation project?

  • Find the right tradespeople – someone who will work alongside you and help achieve your vision.
  • Read up on period properties. I’ve found it fascinating to learn more about Victorian interior choices and have several books I refer back to.
  • Take time to source second-hand or vintage pieces. Don’t be swayed by the instant hit of buying new. It’s more sustainable and also creates a more curated, unique feel to your home.

See more of Sara’s home and renovation journey on Instagram @six_by_the_sea

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