It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day…

… and I’m feeling, well, rather tardy actually. You may have noticed my slightly lengthy absence from Stylist HQ of late. I’ve been rather preoccupied with, um, buying and renovating my first home whilst changing jobs simultaneously. So say goodbye to Jo the flat-renting, assistant-home-editor of Woman’s Weekly and greet Joanna (for that is my grown-up name), the WHOLE HOUSE-owning (freehold too), freelance interiors stylist, writer and crafter extraordinaire! Exciting times, friends. Exciting, dusty, paint-pot-laden times. So yes, after numerous altercations with legal folk, we are in, and are the proud owners of our very own patch of Walthamstow, aka (naturally) the House of Love (anyone who was a fan of the 90’s boy band named after the area’s postcode – you gets me? Good.) She’s a rather bijou little two-bed Victorian terrace currently clad in ugly brown pebbledash, with living room, dining room leading through to a tiny kitchen, relatively generous garden, then two beds and a bathroom upstairs and a loft which will one day* house my office and craft workshop (*’one day’ being the next time I’ve got a spare £25k to convert it, that is. So don’t tune in anytime soon for that before-and-after).

But you don’t want to hear me waffling on. You want to see the grand reveal, right? Well here she is:

Living Room:

The cheapo laminate floor throughout the house has now gone and the original floorboards have been (extremely painstakingly) sanded back and restored – more on those another day. The fireplace, too, has been restored – after removing the sheet of marble-effect plastic and breeze blocks that were obscuring it (why?) we now have a hole at least, and are planning to pop a fire basket in there for decorative purposes (unless the chimney actually works). I can’t say too much else about plans for this room as it’s going to be featured in a few months as a makeover in a magazine, so stay tuned! Needless to say, the unfortunate plastic chandelier (which is replicated throughout the entire house) will be being culled very soon.

Dining Room:

At the moment this is the unloved dumping ground for the overspill from other rooms, but eventually I’d like to get a nice big table for in here, possibly an armchair, and a bit of storage for all my art bits and bobs so that the space can double up as my craft room. Am also desperately fighting the compulsion to grab a pickaxe and rip off the ugly vent and plasterboard hiding the original fireplace (or the hole, at least) but common sense tells me to hold off until we can afford the inevitable replastering that this will entail. The funny little door is to our under stairs cupboard – again, this is actually going to feature in another magazine shoot very soon as a before-and-after storage makeover, so all will be revealed (see, told you I’d been busy). Decor-wise I’m very much undecided on this space as I’d also love to completely remodel the kitchen and move the back door from there into the dining room, to free up more space, so until all that’s resolved it’s staying white and neglected. I do like the idea of uniting the two spaces with a continuing design theme though, and am thinking a little something 50’s esque perhaps.


At first glance, it doesn’t look so bad. But it is. It really is. The house was rented out before we moved in and the former owner had clearly spent about a tenner renovating the entire room. It’s badly laid out and unfinished, with bits of it held together with gaffa tape and cupboards so flimsy they may as well be made from polystyrene sheeting. I’m not a fan. Sadly, this is last on the list of makeover projects and will have to wait until funds allow, but in my head, I’ve already totally reconfigured it by boxing in the back door to allow for a large free-standing fridge freezer (yes, a Smeg, natch), adding a window to the back wall so you can actually see the garden and relocating the sink underneath, moving the oven to the left hand wall and generally making it beautiful. Sigh….


Fortunately, the back of the house isn’t blighted with the horrendous pebbledash that’s been vomited all over the front of the property, so at least we can sit here and look at the original brickwork and pretend it looks like this at the front too. So the garden is quite literally a blank canvas – and luckily it’s a south-facing one, too, thus making a lovely little sun trap for those rare moments when it doesn’t rain. The decking is pretty decent, so our plan for the carpark-chic section of garden is to stick a nice big shed down the back, put in a couple of giant raised borders down either side for a mixture of plants and veg/herbs, then just gravel over the offending patches of remaining concrete. Hoping to set up the shed/beds at the end of summer ready for planting up for spring 2013, to transform it into a mini urban oasis.

Main Bedroom:

The even-worse-than-downstairs laminate has also gone, and the floorboards have been painted white up here for a serene vibe. I’ve also got a few sneaky plans for in here, fingers crossed involving an amazing fitted wardrobe set-up, but again I can’t say too much just yet…

Spare Room/Office:

AKA the future hub of Stylist HQ. My office will be based in here, running along the wall in front of the window, with (optimistically) space for a sofa bed the opposite side. We are currently in the middle of removing the woodchip (which we discovered is actually hiding, um, another layer of woodchip. WHY?!) But the result is a rather beautiful natural plaster patina, which we’re thinking of leaving au natural (if I can overlook the various sections that are clearly crumbling away and really need the attention of a grown-up). Again, the floor in here will be painted boards (but is currently a sea of dust and clumps of stripped-off gloss paint).


Like its downstairs companion the kitchen, at first glance this room looked, well, OK. But it wasn’t. Firstly, there was NO shower (shudder), the toilet only flushed once every five hours, the sink pedestal cupboard was falling apart and the door to the room didn’t shut properly (not ideal when there’s a clear sightline from bog to front door). We promptly appointed a pro to get this all rectified, but sadly the three-day timescale originally quoted to have the room turned round in is now entering its third month and is still not complete, due to the unearthing of a string of previous bodge-jobs and the fact that the floor dips by about a foot in the centre. Which pretty much sums up every other task we’ve attempted to undertake so far. Humph.


Ironically, this is the area we have spent far more money on than any other bit of the house – one of the sticking points when we were negotiating the purchase was that it needed a new roof, so pretty much all of our cash has gone on replacing the original tiles and getting it watertight (in case this looks like we’ve also installed windows – we haven’t, this was post-new-membrane, pre-new-tiles). So converting it into my dream work room, complete with office and craft tables, may have to wait a while – but in my head it already looks like photographer Paul Massey’s jaw-droppingly-lovely loft:

Hallway and Landing:

The grubby beige carpet has been whipped out, but the flooring remains bare on the stairs and landing until we’ve worked out what to do with it. The walls are blighted with a not-so-nice textured wallpaper which we’ll be whipping out once all the other rooms are done. The stairwell has what appears to be an original wood panelling on it, covered in 100 years of gloss paint, which I’m hoping when stripped off will reveal a stunning, rough-luxe look (but I won’t be holding my breath).

So that’s it! What would you do if this was your place – I’d love to hear ideas from an outside perspective! I’ll be back again soon with a progress report. Until then, back to stripping window frames…

{Image credits} The lovely white loft, copyright interiors photographer Paul Massey. The ramshackle loft, and all other shots, copyright Joanna Thornhill.


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About Joanna Thornhill

Freelance Interior Stylist, Author, Writer and Crafter working for a range of magazine titles and commercial clients. Author of Home for Now (CICO Books 2014)

20 responses to “It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day…”

  1. Amanda Joy says :

    Congratulations! Can’t wait to see you “move in” to each room! The loft is gorgeous!

    • Stylist's Own (by Joanna Thornhill) says :

      Thanks Amanda – I must stress the loft “after” isn’t how it looks now – it’s how I see it in my head but sadly the gorgeous shot is of another house! It still looks like the ‘before’ pic, apart from it has roof tiles now so is pitch black. It’s on the to-do list!

  2. Elizabeth (@rosalilium_) says :

    I loved reading this. I’m so damn nosy and love house makeovers. We are renting a similar victorian terrace house and I just wish we owned it so we could do it up. some of the design (or lack of) choices are shocking.
    really can’t wait to see your progress!

  3. Sophie Rae says :

    Hi Jo,

    Thought you would like to know that even though I was meant to be dressed an hour ago, i’m still sat here in my pj’s after having just found your blog! I just can’t stop reading! Living in rented flat the size of a shoebox in Ealing, so especially loving the ‘how to decorate without actually decorating’ ideas. Even more so because i’m working for Style at Home mag as editorial assistant so know how great the team are! Will have to dig out the issue you were featured in to have a proper nose!
    Looking forward to seeing what you do to the new house to make it a home : )

    Keep up the good work!

    Sophie x

  4. Victoria Elizabeth Barnes says :

    Lovely!! We are renovating our 1890 Victorian… and loving/hating every moment of it. The dirt is horrifying… but the end product is fantastic! Congratulations.

  5. eloisebarrett says :

    This post reminds me of our first place, we had so much to do but it’s been worth it! We are due to move again soon and I’m going to blog about it. I’m looking forward to seeing more posts about this! Good luck and enjoy!

  6. Adrian says :

    Hi, Just rediscovered your blog. We are waiting to settle on almost exactly the same terrace in Hither Green. We are thinking of knocking through the lounge and dining room. We also want to massively over capitalise and increase our future negative equity with a kitchen diner side return bifold doors extension. We are looking forward to making our family home and having a whole terrace to ourselves. I will be watching your blog closely now. Thanks Adrian (male).

    • Stylist's Own (by Joanna Thornhill) says :

      Thanks, Adrian (male)! Nice to see my boyfriend isn’t the only non-lady reader. We thought of knocking through the lounge/dining room but are now planning to keep them separate as I actually quite like the luxury of having a choice of rooms to sit in, plus double the decorating potential! I’d advise living in it for a while first without doing anything drastic. It’s a constant balancing act between how much money we might add/lose vs how much more happiness it would bring me to do certain things to certain rooms! Just need to find a spare £50k from somewhere then I can get it exactly how I want it – off to rummage down the back of the sofa…

  7. chllondonproperty says :

    I love your house. Its full of so many lovely period features. Curious to know what did you do with the brown-ish pebbledash cladding. I am a compulsive renovator and I am v. nosy too about other like-minded bloggers! Currently renovating my third property and journalling my misadventures. I picked the worse possible time to start remodelling (Olympics!!). Well, best of luck with your project. Love your blog too!

    • Stylist's Own (by Joanna Thornhill) says :

      Thanks for comment – sadly the brown pebbledash remains and is about 967 on the list of things to do, so will be there for some time. Would love to strip it all off but realistically will probably just end up painting it to lower its offensiveness. At the moment, I just try not to look at it when I come in. Why on earth anyone thought that was a sensible thing to do to a charming little house made of pretty London Stock is totally beyond me!

      • chllondonproperty says :

        Sadly that cladding seemed to be in fashion in 1930’s or thereabouts. It hurts me to see how many lovely Tudor (or mock-Tudor) were ‘brutalised’ with this rendering.
        Pebbledash cladding was also used to cover block work, not brickwork. Meaning the bricks underneath were horrible or “spalled” (exfoliated).
        A friend of mine says: whenever in doubt, just paint over! 🙂

  8. littlehouseontheswale says :

    How exciting! It’s not dissimilar to our own recently purchased two-up two-down which I’m blogging about rennovating at (albeit very slowly as there’s a lot to do and not so much time to write about it). We have textured paint the colour of cat sick on the outside of our house instead of pebble dash! Can’t wait to see how you decorate yours.

  9. Brian Turner says :


    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?


  10. Franki says :

    Paul Massey’s loft = the dream loft! I went when Crown were shooting their lookbook a couple of years back. They had it done out in grey and heather and dusky shades of stone with crushed linen bedsheets… sigh.

  11. Fiona says :

    Hi, whilst checking my email before dashing off to work I stumbled across your blog and now I’m late! I LOVE seeing a project in the making and your lovely new home has huge potential…I’m sure your work is well under way and looking forward to seeing your progress in future post:-)
    Have a great week!
    Fiona x

  12. Jen Kitchen (@MomentsofGuffaw) says :

    Hi Joanna,

    My boyf and I have just bought our (first ever, squee!) flat – a one bed, ground floor Victorian conversion – in Tottenham (we were 1st aiming for E17 rather than N17, but actually found ourselves priced out of the ‘stow!)
    It’s currently empty, and has had NO work done on it in the last 40 years. The bonus being no grotty rental ‘improvements’, but the downside being things like no central heating and lethal 70s polystyrene ceiling tiles!

    So we’re about to stumble into a relatively full-on renovation project, searching for inspiration, I stumbled upon your blog and just wanted to say it’s brilliant!
    Totally inspiring, and great to read about interior design stuff mixed in with structural/DIY things – my boyf is a bit of a DIY fanatic, but I’m only really interested with the stage when I can start painting walls and arranging our bits of vintage furniture!

    What would be your top tips going into a renovation project? We have a reasonable, but strict, budget, we’re both freelancers – so have flexible but chaotic lives (as I’m sure you’ll understand) SO lay it on me – what do we need to know?

    Also – in all seriousness – know any good North/East London plumbers/builders/electricians?!

    • Stylist's Own (by Joanna Thornhill) says :

      @momentsofguffaw Hello, thanks for the lovely message! Surprised to hear you were priced out of E17 for N17 – we found the opposite a year ago! Best of luck – it sounds like yours is more of a full-on DIY job than ours was – ours is totally ‘grotty rental improvements’ rather than preserved in time! To be honest if you’re in a one-bed it’s worth trying to do as much as humanly possible before you move in, even if it means stuff in storage for a while – we had a two-week crossover with our old rental and thought that would be ample time to sand/stain all the floors, paint, and they go gleefully shopping for cushions and vases. Needless to say we got about 5% done despite working on it constantly (still not finished the floors 18 months later!) But at least as we have two beds/two reception rooms we can keep shunting things about as we work, which is a HUGE luxury (even though every room is tiny).

      So aside from that I guess generally, work out what your priorities are and what you can realistically do yourself, consider built-in shelves etc for any awkward gaps (if you design it yourself and get it cut from MDF it doesn’t cost so much), don’t rush into paint colours/furniture choices, sign up to Freecycle, and accept that any DIY tasks you undertake yourselves (unless you’re super handy) are going to take approximately 7,000 hours longer than you anticipate. But that may well just be us!! But it’s all worth it in the end as you own actual bricks and mortar in London Town, which is amazing, and will doubtless be adding value with every unfortunate polystyrene ceiling tile you take down!

      Re tradesmen – wanna drop me an email? I may know a couple… jo (at)

      • Jen Kitchen (@MomentsofGuffaw) says :

        Thanks for the advice! All really useful stuff. I think you’re especially right about allowing as much time as possible – doing as much as we can before moving in and especially allowing extra time if we want to do anything ourselves – my dream of arranging cushions by the end of January is now a distant memory!

        Yes, it is funny how the market changes too – when we started properly looking in summer of this year, prices seemed to be literally going up by the week around Walthamstow and Leyton(stone) it was bonkers! Think our new area would have been out of our range too, if it wasn’t for the renovations that needed doing. Here’s to finding our own sets of London bricks and mortar – long may we improve and beautify them!

        Might well be dropping you that email RE tradesmen too – many thanks 😀

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