A Seventies Stunner

by theartofbespoke in Interior designed homes

Interior designer Gail Race took an ugly 1970s house and turned it into a stylish contemporary home. Here’s how she did it.

It’s one thing to take a Georgian or Victorian house and transform it into a showcase home, but when you’re starting with a 1970s building, the job’s always going to be trickier. This was the challenge facing interior designer Gail Race when she bought her home just outside Arundel in West Sussex.

‘To be honest, the house was really horrible,’ she says. ‘It was built in 1970 and at that time was probably very groovy – it had the whole cork-matting thing going on – but there were lots of things about the house that weren’t consistent. The windows, for example, were a mix of wood and metal.’

But they bought it anyway, ‘because it’s in a brilliant location,’ says Race. ‘It’s in a very beautiful village and is walking distance from the pub and playing fields. It was that scenario where it’s the ugliest house in the street. But it did have lots going for it – it was south facing and slightly elevated. Plus the proportions of the rooms are nice – 70s houses are often very easy to live in.’

‘There are lots of 1970s bungalows about – the trick is finding them in nice areas. You don’t want to put money into a property that’s going to have limited appeal.’

Still, Race and her husband had plenty of work to do. ‘We extended it by about a third,’ she says. ‘And at the top of the house were concrete hexagonal tiles, which we replaced with western red-cedar cladding. We also replaced all the windows with spray-painted aluminium ones – Velfac is a good supplier of those – and now the windows are a real feature of the house. There’s lots of light.’

The whole project took about nine months. ‘We were living here while we did the work, which had its pros and cons,’ says Race. ‘It was difficult in many ways, but also meant we could totally keep an eye on the builders.’

And while ‘there weren’t any real skeletons’, as with any project of this scale, there are always unforeseen issues that crop up. ‘In our case, the electrics hadn’t been touched in years. And the house was heated with a hot-air heating system, which was costly to replace.’

But while lots needed re-doing, Race and her husband took care not to throw out everything. ‘Some elements of it were really nice,’ she says. ‘We kept the original staircase, which was an endangered hardwood, and re-used materials where we could, so we took off a long row of cladding, reconditioned it and used it in the utility room.’

These days the house is a chic family home that works on a practical level, too. ‘It’s very cool and calm inside, even on a really sunny day,’ says Race. ‘The kitchen/dining area has folding doors and in summer they’re mostly open, even when it’s not a particularly hot day. It’s a very inside-outside house – it feels almost Australian, in fact.’

As ever with these projects, there are some things – though not many – Race would do differently, were she to do it again: ‘I’d use underfloor heating more,’ she says. ‘We were in a real hurry to sort the heating out and so had radiators, but it really limits how you can use a room.’

But, unsurprisingly, she’s very happy with how it’s turned out. And for anyone considering doing something similar, she has some advice. ‘You really need to do your room plans at an early stage,’ she says. ‘That means thinking about where you’re going to put your desk or bedside table, so that when you’ve got the electrician on site, you can make sure that all the plug sockets and light switches are going in the right places. Every client wants to overlook it, but it’s a major thing – and definitely much cheaper in the long run.’

Her other tip is to spend time finding the right house. ‘There are lots of 1970s bungalows about – the trick is finding them in nice areas. You don’t want to put money into a property that’s going to have limited appeal,’ she says. ‘If you’re surrounded by houses that are waiting to be revamped, it doesn’t always pay off.’

If you’ve an interior design project you’d like to discuss with Gail, contact her via her website or leave a comment below.


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