The art of attraction: Creating a home that sells

with Lorna

This week we chat with Lorna about her home renovation alongside her architect husband, James. 

She reflects on how her experience running an estate agency has influenced their renovation approach.

And, as they prepare for yet another renovation project with two young children in tow, Lorna provides insights into planning, budgeting, and the key aspects of creating a valuable and functional home.



Amy: Welcome to Stories from Site, the podcast for renovation enthusiasts. I’m Amy Dohnalek and together with my co host Jane Middlehurst, we chat with home renovators about the roller coaster that is renovation.

This week we chat with Lorna about her home renovation alongside her architect husband James.

She reflects on how her experience running an estate agency has influenced their renovation approach.

And as they prepare for yet another renovation project with two young children in tow, Lorna provides insights into the key aspects of creating a valuable and functional home.

So welcome to the podcast, Lorna. Great to have you with us. Do you want to start by telling us a bit about your renovation?

Lorna: Yes, gosh, where to start with that. yeah, full, full renovation. We found our flat on Rightmove we did kind of six flat viewings in one day.

Amy: Wow.

Lorna: Which was, yeah, it was good, it was intense, but it was really, really helpful actually to see, kind of, just back to back, see a load of things and then kind of say, actually, you can really compare which one has the most potential, and then we thought, yeah, that’s the one.

So that was great, that was kind of job done quite swiftly. And then, we decided on this one because, mainly because of location. It was five minutes from Peckham Rye Park, five minutes from really amazing high streets and coffee shops and things like that, and it was on a really, really lovely, beautiful, wide tree lined street.

Just had a really nice feel to it, and it was also around the corner from our favourite pub, so obviously that was a win. And then my husband, James, is an architect. So I have a resident architect, whichif I’m honest, he was the one that when we first walked in said, Oh, wow, okay, I can understand and see what we could do here.

But it’s worth Lorna saying, you also have quite a good skill that you’re bringing to the table.

Yeah. So, two years ago, I started my own estate agency, actually, which ties into buying our first flat. It was a horrible experience when we bought. the agents were very unenthusiastic. And didn’t really understand the home, didn’t show us around, kind of just stood there on his phone and, didn’t really say anything. It was just quite bleak and emotionless and, just a real shame. So I thought, why not set up my own agency where, I can create some excitement for people and some meaningful sales, because at the end of the day, it’s your home, it’s your most expensive asset, and it’s your most important asset, and, it should be cared for.

So I set that up, two years ago. And, I’ve got to look around some amazing houses. get inspiration, from looking around and seeing what other people have done. and then understanding from that, what really sells. Different design choices that make a difference, when it comes to marketing and when it comes to price.

Amy: I think that’s a power couple when it comes to renovating.


So you say that, James, your husband, he had an idea for the flat and what you could do. Did you buy into that idea or were there things that you thought, actually, I’m not quite sure?

Lorna: Yeah I mainly bought into most of what he said because I just trust that, he’s done ten years of very, very intense design education and then has a number of years been qualified as well, so

he was saying, we could take what is currently the kitchen, move it upstairs to the lounge and just create one big, kitchen, living, dining space.

And then the, the redundant kitchen becomes a second bedroom. So obviously I was like, yeah, that’s, that’s great. He was really into like bringing in a lot more light into the place. So his idea was to completely smash through the ceiling on the landing and, go into the butterfly roof,

and put a velux in, so you add a lot of ceiling height and you also bring in a huge amount of light. So, obviously I was also on board with that as well. Like, when you got down to colour choices and things like that, obviously, Yeah, all hell would break loose, but

Amy: You’re painting this really idyllic picture.

Lorna: Oh god, oh no, no, no, absolutely not, no, there were,I think I came the closest to tears when we, when he did Smash Down the Ceiling, because he did most of it himself, because obviously we’re, we’re on a budget, so he smashed down the walls, he smashed down the ceiling, and I, I don’t know where I was, I came home, and I tried to walk up the stairs, but they were just, It was just a landslide of rubble.

That was it. My friend came round and had a look and she was like, are you okay? And I was like, don’t know. I’ve got to sleep here tonight. So it was far from idyllic,

Jane: So after all the rubble and knocking everything out and getting the spaces where you wanted to, could you talk a little bit about what happened then in terms of the interior fit out and how you went about that?

Lorna: Yeah, so everything got smashed apart, rebuilt, and then, and once everything was in the right place, you know, all the plumbing had to be redone, all the kitchen plumbing, which involves taking floorboards up, we moved radiators around, electrics then needed to be done.

So once everything, all of those kinds of things were in the right place. We could then focus on the cosmetics, and interior. So the overwhelming memory I have, is of doing the floors.

that involved banging in slithers, slivers,

into all the cracks between each floorboard, nailing them all down, sometimes replacing them. and we did all of this ourselves and it took a long, long time, and a lot of patience. But, you know, I’m a big reality TV fan. There was about five series of Below Deck that I could just stream. I I was just banging into it at the watching Below Deck.

They were great actually.

Jane: and then the worst part was, sanding the floorboards. Oh my God. Industrial sander. It’s like a big lawnmower. That you have to somehow thread this huge sheet of quite heavy duty sandpaper through And then kind of mow over the floors, and every now and then it completely blows up Well, the sandpaper shreds and it kind of ate it it was a horrible moment So you just kind of tentatively doing this, job.

Lorna: It was, yeah, it was awful. And we had to do every single floor. That was maybe one thing James and I didn’t agree on. Actually, I did want carpets in some of the rooms, maybe the bedroom. And he was like, no, absolutely not as floorboards throughout. Okay.

So, and then the stairs, obviously, well, there’s these nooks and crannies and really, really lovely details on the stairs, but it took some, at some points you were just on your hands and knees with a piece of sandpaper and just physically sanding everything. we,

Amy: We have quite a lot of DIY guests on, and I think they often are so enthusiastic about DIY and I have to say, I don’t have the same feeling about it. I think it’s the

patience that you need. It’s

Lorna: hardcore.

Jane: I’m interested to know, what the result was.

Lorna: Yeah. No, really, really happy with the result. I mean, they’re now, they now look like really beautiful wooden floorboards. after sanding and everything, we then painstakingly chose a color to stain them all. And then you treat them, you finish them with a varnish, Yeah, and they came out really well, so really happy with that. And once we’d done that, we got a plasterer and we did try and do it ourselves, but it’s a real skill. So we got someone in the end to do the whole thing. And we just moved out for a week.

And he came in and did it all. And actually I really, I will remember that, walking back in once that was all finished and thinking, oh my god, it is actually now you can see it’s coming together. Because before the walls were all just plasterboard, and it was this real moment of, oh my god, the walls.

Okay, this is quite nice. and the finish line was in sight at that point which was really nice. And then obviously painting, all the walls had to be painted. You start off with white, painting was, was my, was my bag. I do actually like painting. I find it quite therapeutic and

The colour that we used, I think it’s a Farrow and Ball, French Grey, we did the bottom half in a satin sheen and the top half in matte, so the same colour but different types of paint, kind of for look but also then we thought if we have a kid and kid splashes mud on the wall you can wipe it off.

Jane: That is such a top tip. I mean, We’ve spoken about it a lot before in various situations, but we did not have that in our house and our house had a tide mark that just went all, all the way around the white walls was just sticky handprints. and like, you don’t want to feel like you’re living in a bathroom, you know, that it’s sheeny, but like halfway That’s a really nice detail.

I love that.

Lorna: Yeah. It’s really nice. I saw it actually in a house then that I subsequently sold, actually a house in Bonnington Square that had done it as well with the yellow. So I think it’s actually, it’s maybe a, technique that’s growing in popularity and it looks really nice.

It’s so subtle. So you don’t notice it straight away. and then we use that line to hang pictures, so every picture sits on that line, which is also quite nice.

Amy: Yeah, that sounds lovely.

So I guess we’re talking to you about a kind of pivotal moment where you are now about to move house again. I guess I just wondered, one, how you’re feeling about that. And two, are you moving into a project?

Lorna: Yes, we are moving into a project. I am really excited. It’s, an amazing project. I now obviously know the trials and tribulations of doing a project, so that makes me apprehensive. I also know that by that time we will have two under two, two children under two.

of course we didn’t have before, when we were doing our current place. so that’s going to be interesting. I think grandparents will be heavily involved.

Jane: Grandparents,

if you’re listening

Lorna: yeah,

Jane: a call out

Lorna: this is your warning. but, at the same time I think having learnt so much from our first place and, also learning about what you like yourselves. Like, as I say, the colors that we chose or different design elements that we incorporated would do those perhaps differently for our next place, which I think will stay in for a little bit longer. So that makes me excited that we can, kind of employ these newfound learnings to somewhere new.

Jane: Do you think it will be as much hands on as the previous renovation.

Lorna: Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of DIY again. We have maxed out financially just to turn the key. Because, well, A, we, we need the space but B, the location of this place is just out of this world and we just think there is quite a good amount to be made on it. So, budget for this one is very much the, probably the key concern.

What’s good about it is everything roughly is actually already in the right place, so so there’s no moving whole rooms around or anything. But it used to be a shop. So there’s a shop front to the street, there’s then two floors above, which is which will become, do you know what, I tell a lie.

There is a kitchen up there and it needs to be moved, so. Yeah, no, it is a big job. But, so that there will be four bedrooms above and then a lounge in the basement below, this sounds very weird, but we’re going to chop a big hole in the floor of the shop to get the light down into the basement and the connection down into the lounge, obviously put some balustrades up, so it’s not just a big hole in the floor for child A and B to fall down. They will have names. Sorry. That’s. That’s a weird way to refer to my children. But, they, yeah, they won’t, they, obviously that will be safe. But, for this one, I, I think it’s mainly just removing a lot. Removing kitchen, removing walls. There’ll just be a lot to, to get rid of. And then, after that, it’ll be I think it’ll be pretty similar.

Jane: How, long was the previous renovation start to finish? Like, what do you think?

Lorna: Doing the actual work was, was probably 14 or 15 months. To get building control, then sign off. So from actual start to finish, it’s probably more like two and a half years. Building control. Oh my God. It’s, it’s a long, long process that, but but yeah, for the, for the actual work, probably just over a year. And, and this new places, but it’s quite similar to what we’re in now, but just kind of on the steroids, it’s huge. So, it’ll, yeah, it’ll be a bit longer and I will probably be doing a lot less because I’ll be looking after the kids. So,

Jane: Yes. I would be like, I’m, I’m actually quite busy.

Lorna: Yeah! Don’t worry about that, James.

Jane: we’ll pop out.

Lorna: Over to you.

Jane: Yeah.

Lorna: No, we’ve already agreed that he’ll do the knocking down and then I’ll do the painting because he doesn’t have patience for painting, but I quite like it.

Jane: But you’re going to be turning back up to the rubble filled hallway with two, Exactly. pushchair and yeah. demanding milk, so that’ll be that’ll be fun.

Amy: It sounds like it’s going to be an adventure definitely. But I think as well, I, I’m so excited to create a home for our new family, and it’s right round the corner from some best friends of ours. It’s really near to Brockwell Park in Herne Hill. And and Herne Hill High Street. So the, I can see the life, and I’m just going to keep that in my mind as we crawl through a rubble filled existence Yeah. It’s so interesting because I don’t know if it helps knowing what’s in store or whether it’s better to go in blind. I mean, it’s just, it’s a tricky decision, isn’t it?

Lorna: I know I was just thinking that yeah, and I’m trying to be glass half full and thinking Yeah, you know It’s great because we’ve learned so much and we can know and we know what we like and what we don’t like and we can Apply that like the bathroom that we did here. I would not do that the same style again We had a nightmare with the bathroom.

So we’ve learned a lot doing that. But yeah at the same time I you know, the injuries, the emotional turmoil, the decision making, you know, you do, you do know all of that. So, but I’m just trying, I’m just trying to not think about that

and just think, Oh, great. We can choose a new bathroom color.

That’s Yes.

Amy: Yes. I think you’ve got a good strategy.

Jane: It’s much harder when you’re doing DIY and obviously bit by bit, but do you have a strategy for your budgeting? Are you a spreadsheet person? Is it just a pot of money which you’ll be eating through or,

Lorna: Yeah.

Yeah, we, do have a spreadsheet. We, we did this for the last place where we kind of try to roughly assign things. I mean, it’s so difficult because it’s never the case. I mean, you always end up spending more on something or less on something or as you go.

But, but yes, but we do keep a spreadsheet and for every cost we write that down and just so we obviously keep track of what we are spending, as it goes.

And in terms of, which bit you tackle first, is that kind of needs must? Yeah, I think it is needs must just because of having a young family now. Before the strategy was. Knock down, like totally kind of destroy and then rebuild, whereas now it’s a shop with a flat already built above, so we’ll be able to live in the flat above whilst we create the kitchen, dining and the living space in the basement. And then once that’s done. We can then look at converting the kitchen and lounge that’s in the flat upstairs into bedrooms whilst we still live in the two bedrooms that are then above that.

Amy: You’re gonna know every corner of your house really, really well, I think, by the end of it.

Lorna: Yeah,

exactly. with this place, because it was just a one bed, we, we had absolutely no of doing that, so it was just a

Jane: nowhere to hide.

Lorna: nowhere to hide. But luckily in this place there will be.

Jane: Now your tackling a new project has it changed how you look at what you’re going to be doing?

Is there lessons learned from the professional side?

Lorna: Yes, massively. For example, James was talking about making the basement into two bedrooms, then having a kitchen, like dining on, on the ground floor, then the floor above having, another living space, like lounge. Because it’s elevated, it gets light and it’s got a really lovely view over the street.

So this place doesn’t have a Sorry, I should point that out. So there’s absolutely, there’s nothing at the back, so you’re really reliant on the front and the view out the front. So he was saying, actually, for, in terms of living, that would be really, really nice. And then the two bedrooms, there’s two further bedrooms upstairs.

But we decided, actually, that, although that would be really nice in terms of use, for resale, you’re not going to be able to sell that to a family, because, I think most parents would not want to be sleeping upstairs, but their children one, two, three floors down in the basement. It just feels a bit disconnected.

So so yeah, so we decided actually it would be better to make a kind of cozy lounge living space in the basement and bring in light. other ways, and then have all four bedrooms upstairs all together. And I mean generally I think what we were looking for when we bought the current place and what we looked for buying the new place was, was relatively similar because I, I think it’s just, there’s just such a clear blueprint for it with the, with in terms of location, proximity to High Street and green space.

And then, and obviously, an area that you’re going to get the value. I mean, Herne Hill is incredibly popular, so yeah.

Amy: Well, I think we should have you back on after the next one and, we can hear about the next renovation. I

think that

Jane: be so


Lorna: Oh my god, for sure. I would be intrigued to see what kind of state I’m in.

Amy: Yeah. should we schedule it for a year’s time or two years’ time? I don’t know. It’s

Lorna: Yeah, maybe five.

Amy: Oh, fingers crossed. It all, it all goes well. Sounds very exciting.

Lorna: Thank you


Our closing thoughts:

For those buying their first place, this is a massively helpful episode.

Not only is it full of the realities of renovating, but Lorna also shows us the impact that small design changes can have on the re-sale value.



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