Emma Samms’ home makeover: What a difference a year makes
PUBLISHED: 14:45 13 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:50 13 November 2017
It’s been 12 months of dust and disturbance as Emma Samms renovated her Cotswold home, but was it worth it? You bet it was!
As I write this, I realise that it’s been almost a year to the day since the builders arrived to sort out my house. I say “sort out” because after 20 years of housing my family and me, it was beginning to misbehave in quite a spectacular number of ways:
The ancient plumbing would grumble and moan and leak at the most inconvenient times, the 1970’s wiring, fabulous in its day, had partied too long and too hard and was now dated and exhausted. The house had doggedly refused to accommodate youthful whippersnappers like wifi or satellite television and seemed to be trying to teach me that being cold was good for my constitution.
So the job of dragging my house into the 21st century was tasked to local builder Richard Kelly and his team. Like any good intervention, they arrived en masse and with a no-nonsense approach. Pulling up floorboards, tearing down wallpaper and dragging out huge sections of rusted old pipes, my home became, instantaneously, a building site. I had decided to stay put during the renovation, thinking that there would be enough room for me to find an unaffected corner to live in, but as I moved my little single bed, suitcase of clothes and 2 dogs from room to room, all 3 of us soon tired of living such a nomadic existence.
I’ve talked about the unimaginable amounts of dust produced by construction work to anyone who will listen and also in my most recent article on this subject, so I won’t bang on about that now, but I will just mention that I opened a picture frame yesterday and there was plaster dust inside that, which I think says it all.
The builders left last month and supposedly this is now the fun bit: putting the house back together and decorating and furnishing each room with a fresh eye. After nearly a year of upheaval I’ve had to reinvigorate my nest-building instinct and try to enjoy the process.
Firstly, I had to wipe the dust off every item that I own at least twice (sorry, I said I wasn’t going to go on about the dust) and then I had to decide which I was going to keep and which needed to be replaced. I don’t want to and can’t afford to go through this process again any time soon so this update has to last. My plan is to have the bare bones of the house be completely neutral and timeless, in keeping with the age of the house, but to add colour and a more contemporary feel in easily replaceable furnishings alone. Thus time-proofing the house for years to come.
I’ve always loved the style of the designer Kit Kemp, admiring her lush colours and the eclectic mix of old and modern that she does so well in her Soho and Charlotte Street hotels. Recently I’ve admired the ambience of No.131 Hotel and Restaurant in Cheltenham, who similarly, get the balance of old and new just right. Unfortunately, having spent almost my entire renovation budget on the infrastructure of my house, the expensive look I was hoping to achieve would require some ingenuity and considerably fewer finances than Kit Kemp undoubtedly has to play with.
I started with my hallway. When you open the door of any house you want it to be welcoming and you want it to set the tone for the rest of the house. Previously I had gone for the cosy look, which worked brilliantly at Christmas time but felt a bit dark the rest of the year. A large, old radiator in a cabinet against one wall dominated the eye-line and served no purpose (certainly not heat!) other than to provide a nice shelf for Christmas cards once a year. The mirror above the radiator bounced in a bit of light but the hallway was still dingy and awkward.
I chose two new paint colours for the whole house: a marvellous grey (Dash of Soot by Little Greene) for the majority of the house and a warmer, light brown colour (Mortar, also by Little Greene) for a couple of the bedrooms and the living room. Just changing the paint in the hallway made a huge difference and as I was having the whole heating system replaced I was able to move the radiator to a more discreet position, which gave me the opportunity to take the plaster off that wall, revealing the beautiful stone underneath. I added a more contemporary light fixture from John Lewis and a painting handed down from my father and other than having to find somewhere else to put my cards at Christmas, the hallway was mightily improved.
The fireplace facing you as you walk in the door is, sadly, missing a chimney above it, so could never be operational. I’ve added some little fairy lights in a selection of containers to brighten up what would otherwise be a rather dismal black hole and I was thrilled to find lights that are both battery operated and remote controlled so I don’t have to dig around in the containers to turn them on and off each time.
A nook to the side of the front door, previously just a dumping ground for coats and shopping bags became a point of interest thanks to a gorgeous velvet cushion from HomeSense sitting on a throne of a chair found at Wotton Auctions. The simple frosted glass fixture was from Homebase, the black glass vase and blue paperweight were lucky finds in charity shops.
My living room doesn’t have to try very hard thanks to its massive and beautiful fireplace but I wanted to make it both comfortable and elegant. The only down-lighters in my whole house (I generally despise them) are in this room, but most of the light comes from a selection of table lamps all with gold-lined, black shades. These emit a lovely warm glow, countering the nasty cold light of the new, eco-friendly light bulbs that we must all use these days. The large sofa was bought many years ago from John Lewis but was in too good of a condition to be disposed of, so I’ve updated it with a collection of cushions and throws, inspiring one friend to refer to it as the ‘Game of Thrones’ sofa.
I’m fortunate to have 4 guest bedrooms and I wanted each of them to have their own personality. The largest is often referred to as ‘The Coma Room’ as guests consistently tell me that they sleep better and longer than they usually do. The record was my friend Lisa, who arrived from a business trip in the Far East, went straight to bed and slept for 17 hours straight. This room is more classical in its design. A high, tiger oak bed brought back from the US and soft furnishings sourced from a five star hotel that was undergoing refurbishment.
Another guest bedroom used to be known as The Peach Room because it was predominantly peach. The walls, bedspread and curtains were all a colour that I don’t even like any more, so I decided they had to go. I balked at getting rid of the curtains though. Thermal lined and heavy, they would have cost a fortune to replace, so I came up with a scheme of bright colours to distract the eye. I got lucky at the veritable treasure trove of Painswick Fabrics and found a long length of fabric inspired by the artist Gustav Klimt to drape over the half tester bed giving me all sorts of wonderful colours to work with.
The ceiling in this room is extremely high and most furniture looked dwarfed by it, so I built up the height of the sweet little wardrobe I already had (Wotton Auctions again) using old suitcases and a birdcage (The Malthouse, Stroud). I managed to find a suitable chandelier on Gumtree, which looked enormous when it was sitting on the floor and barely fit in my car, but once in place, fit the proportions of the room perfectly. The chaise is positioned to enjoy the view of the surrounding Cotswold scenery and the artwork is, inevitably, inspired by Gustav Klimt. The biggest problem with this room now is what to call it. ‘The Gustav Klimt Room’ sounds horribly ostentatious, so we find ourselves referring to it as ‘The Room Formerly Known as The Peach Room’, which is obviously a bit of a mouthful. Perhaps we should devise a symbol, as the singer Prince did, and use that instead..
The smallest guest room is up in the attic. Tucked into the eaves of the roof, with huge, hand-cut beams dominating the room and a view of treetops right outside the window, sleeping in that room has the feeling of spending the night in a cosy tree house. The colour scheme of this room was set by two little reindeers that I was given last Christmas and loved so much that I refused to pack them away when I took down the tree in the New Year. In my mind, the reindeer’s bright colours work year-round so I painted a Gumtree chest of drawers, gathered a few charity shop vases and found delightful, Moroccan light fittings that barely illuminate the room, but definitely add to the ambience. The large, carved wooden desk (Wotton Auctions) fits surprisingly well into the corner and looks like the ideal spot for a guest to sit at and write their memoires one day.
The rest of the attic is my daughter’s domain and its bright white walls divided by old beams work well as a more contemporary space.
My 20-year-old son is a medical student and bravely gave me carte blanche to redo his room. It definitely warranted an update as it still looked like a teenager’s room and I needed to make sure it had a much more masculine feel than the rest of the house. I chose warm browns and bronzes and tried to reflect his love of anything vintage. His bathroom has a classic suite from Obsidian and neutral grey wall and floor tiles from Mandarin Stone but the room is brightened by a splash of contemporary colour from a neon blue shelf and bright orange frame on the mirror above.
The master bedroom features a gorgeous, though inoperable, fireplace and more than anything, needed a new headboard for the king sized bed. I thought it was going to be tricky to find a headboard that would work with the sofa at the end of the bed that I’d already had reupholstered with an unusual and dramatic fabric, but miraculously, a couple of months ago, I turned a corner at my beloved Wotton Auctions and there was a headboard, the right size and newly upholstered in the co-ordinating fabric! Extraordinary. And of course the hammer price was a fraction of the price I’d have had to pay for it anywhere else. I’ve included in this article a photograph of one corner of the master bedroom, but that’s all I’m going to show you because, well, it’s my bedroom!
So putting the house back together after all the construction work has been fun but also a huge undertaking. With the builders gone there were still a lot of tasks that I found myself struggling with. For example: just hanging up a picture is a challenge in a house as old as this. The walls are either solid stone, causing the nails to buckle under the strike of a hammer, or lath and plaster, making nails disappear into the wall with just one tap. My lovely electrician Paul Weller came back and helped with a few of these post-construction challenges but the day was saved when my wonderful former handyman Chris Johnson, who had retired three years ago, heroically offered to come out of retirement until the house was completely finished. When I had originally bought the house 20 years ago, it was dated and really quite grim. Chris had gone from room to room, not just painting and decorating, but somehow imbuing each room with his cheery, gentle personality, so it seemed fitting that after a year of trauma the house would once again be soothed by Chris’s skilled and careful attention.
There’s still a few things left to do: there are more pictures to be hung and curtains to be put up and I still have to learn how to reupholster so I can fix a couple of old but much loved chairs, but I no longer need to focus all my attention on this house. I can get back to the half-written screenplay that I abandoned a year ago. I can construct the website that I have planned to promote my artwork and photography and I can have conversations with my friends that aren’t dominated by complaints about dust. And I can rest in the knowledge that my thoroughly updated house will keep me safe and warm and connected to the internet for many years to come. Hooray!
Builders – RAK Construction, Maxet House, Unit 22 Lansdown Industrial Estate, Gloucester Road, Cheltenham, GL51 8PL
Electrician – PW Electrics, Longford, Gloucester
Furniture – Wotton Auction Rooms, Tabernacle Road, Wotton-Under Edge, Glos, GL12 7EB
Bathrooms – Obsidian Kitchens and Bathrooms, 41-47 Fairview Rd, Cheltenham, Glos, GL52 2EJ
Tiles – Mandarin Stone, 16-17 Montpellier Street, Cheltenham, GL50 1SU
Fabric – Painswick Fabrics, New Street, Painswick, Stroud, Glos, GL6 6UN
Lighting – Stroud Lighting Company, Fromeside, Newtons Way, Stroud, Glos GL5 3JX
Furnishings and accessories – Rechercher Ltd, 14 Rotunda Terrace, Montpellier Street, Cheltenham GL50 1SW