Belfast Telegraph

Belfast couple who scoured eBay and salvage yards to transform 1930s house on tight budget could win top interior design award

Newlyweds Laura Dixon and Michael Holmes, who are both lecturers, tell Stephanie Bell the secrets of their amazing home makeover

Michael Holmes and Laura Dixon in their new kitchen
Michael Holmes and Laura Dixon in their new kitchen

By Stephanie Bell

A newlywed Northern Ireland couple whose tight budget forced them to get creative when decorating their home have been shortlisted for a top UK-wide interior design award.

From the beautiful homemade kitchen table to the fun pink painted claw foot reclaimed bath, it is not hard to see why the 1930s home of Laura Dixon and husband Michael Holmes so impressed an eminent panel of interior industry experts.

Scouring online outlets like eBay and Gumtree as well as salvage yards for bargains, they have created a stunning interior which is now set to be recognised nationally at the annual UK Interior Awards in London later this month.

Their home has been shortlisted in the Best Budget Interior category of the competition which was set up to honour "the humble householder" and recognises the talents of ordinary people and bloggers when it comes to interior design.

The couple, who married in 2017 and bought their detached period home in east Belfast in the same year, blew their budget on renovations, leaving little for the finishing touches and decoration.

They carried out most of the interior work themselves, a process Laura describes as a labour of love.

"We spent so much on building work that when it came to decorating and furnishing the house we had a very limited budget and had to do most of it ourselves," she says.

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"We didn't have loads of money to spend but there is great joy in being able to say 'I did that' or 'I painted that'. It is an awesome feeling to be shortlisted for this award and I've no idea how that happened. We have been doing it for just a few months and have so much more to do while others have been working on their homes for years. I am really chuffed and quite surprised."

Laura (29) works as a creative arts lecturer at Northern Regional College's Newtownabbey campus and husband Michael (29) is a science lecturer at South Eastern Regional College.

The couple grew up close to each other in east Belfast but only met when they were introduced by mutual friends at the age of 19.

Before
Before

Laura was studying at the University of Ulster and Michael at Edinburgh University when they started to date in 2010.

They bought their first home - a three-bed semi in east Belfast - in 2015.

They both love period features and decided to move in 2017 to their new 1930s home which proved the perfect project as it allowed them to be creative and make it their own.

Building work, which saw it stripped back to the bare walls, lasted several months.

Laura says: "We ripped it apart and started again, completely renovating it from top to bottom and back to front. We also put an extension on to the back of the house.

"We like older buildings and this house had the character we love with stained glass windows, high ceilings and picture rails.

After
After

"We extended to create a bigger kitchen/diner at the back and added on a bedroom with an en suite.

"We had to strip it right back and it looked like it had been bombed. There was water coming through the ceilings and everything had to be re-plastered and rewired and a new heating system installed.

"The building work was carried out in two phases and it took from October 2017 until December that year to do the main house and then we had a second phase for the extension from February 2018 until June last year."

With the structural changes eating up most of the budget, the couple had a new home which they now set about injecting their personalities into as regards the interior design.

Mindful that they had little to spend, Laura started to search for bargains, scouring salvage yards and eBay for second-hand items.

And with a degree in architecture, she soon discovered that when fiscally challenged her creative talents came to the fore.

Before
Before

She started to keep a blog of her progress on Instagram in February and was astonished when, shortly after, it was spotted by an Irish interiors magazine that included it on a watch-list for Irish Interiors.

Laura explains: "I was really just doing it for myself as a record of what we were doing but when the magazine put me on the watch-list suddenly I had all these people following me.

"I've really enjoyed doing the blog and you get to know a whole new group of people where you can swap ideas for things like paint colours and where to buy things and new ideas and it has been great to be part of that."

After
After

Starting with a blank canvas, Laura has really enjoyed putting her mark on her home with bold use of colour and pattern.

The result is an eclectic interior with a mix of old and new furniture and reimagined pieces which all work in harmony.

Laura says: "My favourite TV programme growing up was Changing Rooms and I did a degree in architecture. I've always loved pattern and design in all shapes and so it was a challenge, especially doing it on a budget.

Before
Before

"We did all the decoration ourselves and now we are doing the gardens.

"We did reclaim a lot of stuff and I searched Gumtree and the Ikea bargain corner and local salvage yards. We reused the old cupboards from our kitchen in our utility room. I painted them with green Valspar paint from B&Q and put new copper knobs on the doors and they look great.

"We tried to save and reuse whatever we could.

After
After

"My favourite find was a 100-year-old bath in a salvage yard which cost us £100.

"We paid another £100 to have it re-enamelled and then painted it pink. That has become a main feature in the house," Laura adds.

"I think my blog about the bathroom was one of the things that got us through to the final of the competition.

"We also made our own kitchen table from wooden planks and old Singer sewing machine legs.

"I love it and it is a really nice feature in our room."

The couple also picked up second-hand Victorian fireplaces, costing £45, which they sanded down and repainted, and they now take pride of place in the bedrooms.

Another of Laura's best bargain buys was a pair of second-hand Chesterfield sofas for her lounge which she paid £700 for.

"The sofas are fantastic and you would pay about £2,000 for them new so that was a real saving."

Another money saving approach was to strip back the original floorboards in the bedrooms and paint them white.

A small bedroom was turned into a study with the imaginative use of old plywood for shelves and a desk which the couple made and then cleverly attached to the wall with hinges so it could be stored flat to the wall when not in use.

Another of her best buys were pink tiles for the bathroom which she picked up on eBay.

The couple bought a basic kitchen in Homebase and gave it a designer twist with polished concrete worktops and matching concrete flooring.

Laura says: "It gives such a rich finish and altogether for the worktops and floor it was £2,000 which seems like a lot but for the quality of finish and the look, it really isn't too bad."

Laura's favourite go-to shops for interior bargains are Sostrene Grene in Belfast's Ann Street, H&M Home and Amazon.

While almost every room was completed on a shoestring, her one indulgence was the beautiful patterned William Morris wallpaper in her living room which cost £85 a roll.

The bold dark green colour set against a simple fireplace with reclaimed wooden shelf and log burning stove looks both stylish and cosy.

She says: "That was my biggest extravagance but everything else in the house was a bargain.

"I love a bit of pattern and bold colours. My husband loves white and he let me away with murder when it came to choosing colours. If it had been up to him we would be living in a white box. He has trusted me and thankfully he has been happy with the outcome."

Michael and Laura have worked hard and invested their heart and soul in creating a home which not only looks beautiful but is entirely bespoke.

Laura is thrilled with the end result which she says has achieved exactly what she was hoping for.

She says: "I never wanted a show home and I did want something with a bit of personality in it. I love every room to look a little bit different and as much as grey is very popular right now and it is lovely, I didn't want an all-grey home.

"I love mixing old with new and creating an electric mix and I hope that is what we have achieved. "

Laura posted pictures of her interiors as they progressed on her Instagram blog. Her positive feedback encouraged her to enter the awards when she saw them advertised online.

Finalists were selected by people voting for their favourites with one judge's choice in each category.

She says: "I only have 1,900 followers on Instagram and was up against people who have tens of thousands of followers so I really didn't expect to get anywhere and can only assume I was the judges' choice.

"It feels great that I got in with fewer followers and, whatever happens, we are both looking forward to a lovely weekend in London."

Laura's next project is her garden and she has ambitious plans to create and outdoor kitchen there this summer which she will be keeping her followers posted on.

The awards will be held in London's flagship Habitat store on June 28.

Meanwhile, you can check out Laura's blog on Instagram @Dixiesyard

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