A blank canvas: bringing a home to life

with Tamzin

This week we talk to Tamzin who explains why, after renovating previous properties, she chose not to take on a big renovation for her current home.

We discuss the joy of getting creative in your home, being savvy with up-cycling interiors and her process of turning a blank canvas into something special.


Amy: Welcome to Stories from Site, the renovation podcast that digs a little deeper. I’m Amy Dohnalek and together with my co-host Jane Middlehurst we peek behind the curtains of those insta-worthy interiors to bring you the real processes people went through to make their dream homes a reality.

This week we talked to Tamzin, who explains why after renovating previous properties, she chose not to take on a big renovation for her current home.

We discussed the joy of getting creative in your home, being savvy with upcycling interiors, and her process of turning a blank canvas into something special.

So welcome to Stories from Site, I wondered if you could start with talking about what you did to your home.

Tamzin: So we intentionally bought a house that wasn’t gonna be a huge renovation project. We’ve already done one of those, and at the time we had our little boy just turned two. We had a newborn baby. So looking for a sort of more complete house was the aim of the game, really. So basically everything has just been decor, I’d say, and just injecting as much sort of color and pattern and print in to the home as we could just to make it feel more homely..

Amy: I love the sanity of decision there, right

Tamzin: know, I know. I think, yeah, I think having done it once the whole Reno project and, you know, having like lived in your living room for three months with like, you know, a bowl of water and a mattress on the floor. I thought the idea of doing that with two kids just, it wasn’t, it wasn’t appealing. And I think, you know, we did actually look at some sort of Reno houses, things that would’ve had to have been gutted, things that would’ve needed like big extensions.

But actually when we found this house, we thought, no, let’s be sensible we’re just going to pick a nice hopefully easy, easy house. Of course we’ve now like decided we’re gonna start knocking down walls next year, but you know, in the moment it was definitely the right choice.

Jane: So how long ago was that that you moved in?

Tamzin: Well, we started looking in the summer of 2020. Obviously, during that sort of covid period, we had the stamp duty freeze. So it was a perfect time for us to move just cause with the financial saving. And yeah, we actually were looking sort of the central Bristol, Victorian terraced houses.

So the house we’ve ended up with is the absolute opposite of what we wanted, obviously, because you know, It’s just always the way. We actually had a house that we had an offer accepted on that would’ve been like, you know, the Victorian terrace dream. We would’ve had to have put like a rear extension on the back and sides and you know, it would’ve been all been beautiful.

And I actually remember walking around. Many months pregnant and just like crying. Cause I just thought, oh, it’s just so beautiful. This is such a beautiful house. And then the next day this house came up and we thought, oh, let’s just, let’s just go and have a look. And you know, it’s a nineties like suburban estate house just on the outskirts of the city center.

And actually we just, we just loved the space and we thought why go through the hassle of all the renovation when we could actually buy sort of finished space and then just add out own touch to it.

Jane: The house that you ended up with, had it already been extended or was just the house in itself just quite generous in space?

Tamzin: So, I mean, the original footprint is quite generous, but we’ve been very lucky that the previous owners had converted the garage. So we now use that as a kind of playroom come office. And the owners previous to that, so the original purchases of the house, when they bought it off plan they actually added a extension on the back.

In the kitchen, just off the kitchen which we use like the family room, which opens up onto the garden. And I think having moved from our previous house, which was like a fifties house and everything was quite segmented and there was no sort of potential to have that kind of open plan living.

So when we stepped in here, we could see everything was like open and spacious and So, yeah, we were quite lucky with the floor space as it is.

Amy: And can I ask you about your last project do you feel like it taught you a lot or do you think it just kind of cemented the fact that you didn’t wanna do a renovation. Yeah.,

Tamzin: It it taught us so much, you know, it was great. It really was like a house where we gutted the whole thing. Yeah, I think it definitely gave us the confidence to. Sort of think, well, you know, if we did need to do any work in the house, it wouldn’t be a big deal. And I think equally, it, it also did teach us that, renovations are hard and given the sort of family circumstances with two young kids that it, it probably wasn’t the right time for us.

But like I said, we’ve got, we’ve got plans to like knock walls so we’ll see what happens.

Jane: Yeah, talk us through a little bit what you have done in the house so far, andhow you’ve gone about it.

Tamzin: So, yeah, like I said, everything’s been, I guess you could say cosmetic. Again, we were lucky, like, you know, the carpets were in good condition, the bathrooms are in good condition. Just nothing was really to our taste. So one of the first projects we did was the kitchen which, when we moved in it was just a bit cold, you know, there was no pattern, no color.

So we had a really good carcass. So we had a local company come and spray paint the cupboards. Nice bright blue. We added tiled splashback. Yeah, we just sort of made it our own really. We’ve been able to add new tiled floors in the bathrooms, just to give them some personality just using like lot of different paint effects, wallpapers.

Soft furnishings, just anything to inject that bit of like color and personality into the building. Obviously with it being a nineties house, it’s not exactly like crammed full of features but I think you don’t have to have a Victorian house or period property to give, the house character. I think you can give the house character through decor.

It doesn’t have to be humongous transformations that cost a load of money and cause loads of stress. You know, it’s been really fun to actually sort of invest our time in the decor finishes.

Amy: Absolutely, cuz I think sometimes when you are, you are doing the big reno, like by the time you get to the decor you are so, so, tired of making decisions about things that I just, I love your approach that you’re like, actually we get to do the really fun part of renovating.

Tamzin: Yeah, exactly. Someone else has done all the

hard work for us.

Amy: When you decided about this house, did you already have in your mind what you wanted to do in terms of the decoration.

Tamzin: Oh, absolutely not. You know, I think, like I said, we had a three month old baby, so I was just in the total like, what day is it? What time is

it? I have no idea what’s going on. Yeah, so really we actually felt, and I dunno why at the time it was like, oh, it’s move-in ready. It’s fine. We won’t have to do anything.

But I think once you actually get into a space and you just get sort of a feeling from each room, and the overall feeling that we got was that it was just a bit dark and a bit cold and a bit lifeless. So we just really wanted to approach the sort of, revamp, I suppose you could call it with just lots of color and lots of pattern.

That’s just something I’ve always loved textiles and I actually studied it at university, so I just need to be surrounded by that, kinda like prints and textures and things like that. I think it just makes for like a more happy space.

Amy: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, your Instagram feed is so beautiful and just yeah, vibrant and colorful,

it’s amazing.

Tamzin: Oh, thank you so much. I think as I’m going through it, I’m definitely becoming more confident, with finishes and things that I’ll try and experiment with, you know, in terms of paint and wallpapering and, where those things are applied.

You don’t need to restrict yourself to like, right, let’s paint all of our ceilings white. You know, why do that? You can paint them any color you want. You know, you could wallpaper a ceiling, you can just do so many interesting things. And yeah, I just, it’s a fun house.

We’re just really enjoying the whole process, although I don’t think it’s ever gonna be finished. Like, it’s just, there’s always something to sort of tweak and add and, it’s been really fun having this like blank canvas basically to work on.

Jane: That is amazing actually. Yeah. The blank canvas, in terms of your process, are you tinkering in every room at once or did you say, right, we’re gonna focus on the kitchen and get that how we want it, and then we’re gonna move on to a different space.

Tamzin: Oh no, my brain doesn’t work like that. Like I’m always looking around. I actually saw a really good quote yesterday. It was something like, you know, I walk into a space and like instantly I’m like mentally redecorating it. Like I can’t help myself. So my husband’s always telling me off for, you know, doing like 10 projects at a time.

And yeah, I just, I just can’t help it really, I dunno what it is. It’s like an illness. I just cannot stop. Just looking around the room thinking, what could I do next? So yeah, I have to remind my husband that nothing’s ever truly finished.


Jane: When you have those ideas like, ooh, you know, I’d, I’d like to do this. Do you go away? Do you do research? Are you collecting inspiration how do you get it from idea to happening?

Tamzin: I’m not very good with mood boards, I have to say. So I tend to think, right. I think some color blocking would look really fun on the family room wall. And my husband will go for a shower, come back and I’ve like already started like penciling the shapes on the wall, you know, like scratching through all my tester pots to see what’s got.

Yeah, I just have to sort of get it out, you know, just to start the project and obviously I wander off and start a different project and don’t finish it for while. But yeah, I think that’s part of the fun for me. Maybe not for the other people in the house, but for me, I really enjoy that kind of like creative what’s the word?

Like release. I just have to get it out of my brain. I can’t start thinking, oh, I need to go and just research something and make a mood, pretty mood board and you know, it’s in my head. Like, you just need to get it out really to start the process.

Amy: I love that immediacy. I think what’s interesting is before maybe we would look at our white walls and kind of feel like, oh yeah, they have to be white.

But I think now we are seeing the home and the walls especially, and the ceilings like every surface that they can actually do so much more than just be the backdrop for some nice furniture or pictures.

Have you always been attracted to color in your interiors?

Tamzin: Yes, absolutely. I’ve always loved color and I can remember again in our last house, I color drenched the entire wall, ceiling, woodwork all in like a dark blue. And the builders had to come back for something else. What have you done? Oh my goodness. Like they were so like shocked by it and then another one had to come back. Oh, yes, yes, you did.

Tell me about all this blue in your hallway. You know, it’s sort of like controversy. How dare you not have a white hallway? You know, we left these walls plastered perfectly and you just painted them all blue. But yeah, I’ve always enjoyed like print and color, and I think it, you know, with Instagram there’s so much inspiration out there.

It’s sort of like, like a melting pot for creativity and you feel so inspired by others and you kind of build your confidence that way. Almost like through other people’s projects. You kinda like live vicariously through other accounts and you think, actually, do you know what, I’m gonna go for it. I’m gonna add the splash of color to the walls.

Yeah. And just going back to the point you said about having white walls, I don’t necessarily decorate just a, a room anymore. Like you can have so many interesting moments with just like, you know, the inside of an archway. Like the painting, the edge of a doorframe.

There’s so many little moments that you can like add color and interest to now. Whereas previously, you know, you might have added color on the wall, but you probably would’ve just gone all the way around the room job done. But now we’re looking at like skirting boards and, I don’t know, painting your ceiling rose a different color, for example.

Jane: and I think that’s the kinda exciting.I love that it’s this kind of scratching that creative itch, you know, just that there’s creativity inside and it needs to come out and it’s coming out on the walls and in our environment. And it does feel like a slight rebellion. There does feel something liberating about just being, like

this is my house. I can, I can do what I want. I guess when you’re young, your parents will say like, paint your room whatever color, you want. I remember doing that and I painted the most hideous colors.

Like, I didn’t have any sense of what went together. I just went mad and just painted my room and. That felt so liberating. But then you feel like when you become the adult, that you’re not allowed to experiment in that way anymore.

There’s a joy in it and I think somehow we lose that as we get older. And to be brave enough to just in indulge that creativity that we have in ourselves is really nice.

Tamzin: Absolutely.

Amy: Can I just ask you though, because obviously your other half is also living in the house. Did you have to persuade him about any of the projects that you wanted to do? Because I know for me, I tried to do the color in our toilet.

Tamzin: Was it not well received?

Amy: No.

Tamzin: So I have to almost like pitch every single thing and he will always undisputedly, hate the idea. Hates it. And then I give to give him a day just to cool off. And then I say, oh, do you think so? We should do that. And he goes, yeah, sure. Like you always have to say no.

Then I just tend to do it anyway. And then he says, actually, do you know what? I really like that. It’s been like that for like eight years. I know. You know, obviously I discuss it with him, it’s his house too, and I, I, I know what he’s gonna like. I think it’s more the fact that hates the idea of having another project, so he always just shoots down my ideas, just purely because like, no, I don’t do anything else.

But yeah, he always loves it in the end.

Jane: and I think he enjoys having the creative space the kids do as well.

Tamzin: And I think it’s quite fun actually. Like my little boy the other day was saying, oh, you know, we could paint this color and I’d like this in my room. You know, that kind of like creativity is rubbing off on the kids which I like aswell.

Jane: Have you always been confident with choosing those different patterns and knowing how to put them together?

Tamzin: Yeah, I think so. I think, like you said, I’m quite lucky that, you know, I have studied textiles. I’ve worked in the industry producing wallpapers, so, I have worked a lot with like color and pattern and putting together collections and just knowing how things can marry together. Even if, say, for example, they’re not exactly the same sort of design story, they’re still cohesive enough that they work together.

Yeah. So I think what I would say is you can just experiment. You know, people can just try things out. You could buy some, really inexpensive cushion covers, for example, online, bring them into your home. If you don’t like them, send them back. If you love them, think great. What could I add to that?

You know, you can just build it up slowly. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing kind of task. I think these things definitely take a lot of time to put together and the more you do it, your confidence will build and you’ll just become more decisive and assured in your style.

If you see what I mean.

Amy: I feel like there’s a, a general confidence growing around using color, but I think

pattern is still kind of a little bit


Do you know what I mean? So I, I love that you’ve done both, like you’ve married those together.

Tamzin: Hmm.

No, I think, yeah, pattern, I think people are a bit frightened of it and probably using it sort of, on scale. But like I said, you could paint your own patterns as well. You know, it doesn’t have to be restricted to just wallpaper. You do some sort of stripy color blocking, like patterns don’t have to be sort of like big floral patterns.

You can have much smaller, delicate patterns in your home and your decor.

Jane: I love the advice of just starting small because in my head that is, it’s like I, I feel like I’m, you can see my background. I’ve got white walls, just cuz I guess we never really got round to, painting them colors. And in my mind it’s either like, you are like this or you are just like, oh, I’m gonna do it all.

I’m just right.

We’re, we’re gonna do this space and we’re gonna go all out. But actually building your style and what you like through little things and little interventions and then growing it is it feels much easier to, as a kind of way to get into making your house a little bit more vibrant.

Tamzin: Yeah.

Jane: I could try that out for myself.

Tamzin: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the process we went through. Like our living room, for example. We painted it a really sort of like light light green to start with. And then I found this amazing wallpaper, which was a lot darker. And I thought, well, why not take some dark paint around the walls, paint the skirting boards, paint the doors, you know, add a big pattern, rug, some, you know, velvet pattern blinds.

It does sort like tend to spiral and build that way. Yeah, definitely start small and yeah, just see where it takes you.

Amy: I’ve just realized that both me and Jane I’m wearing all black, and you’re wearing all white.

Tamzin: And I’m wearing all leopard print. Yeah, I think I’m definitely starting to dress like my house.


Amy: So let’s start with the, with the cushions and then progress.

I can do that.

Jane: I was gonna say from the practical side of things, are you doing a lot of this yourself, like DIY or do you get people in to help you with certain things?

Tamzin: So the only thing we’ve had to help with would be the tiling. I’m just not confident in doing that. I probably could do it, but I’m just too scared. I think it’s just easier to know that, you know, you’ve got someone really competent and we’ve used a local tile for all of our tiling projects and he’s been amazing.

He’s been so good. Thinking about like the placement and the cuts and, you know, You only really get that I think from experience everything else we’ve just done ourselves. So we did our hallway paneling ourselves. Yeah, just all the sort of more, you know, oh, we did also get the kitchen sprayed as well because again, small baby, we’ve got quite a big kitchen.

I think it’s like 28 cupboards. And I think if we had paint, like, you know, stripped them, primed them, and painted them back in front, we’d probably still be doing it in the evenings. I just don’t think it would’ve ever have been finished and obviously get like a really nice finish with the spray as opposed to just using a roller.

So, yeah, I think that for us was probably like the biggest cost really in the house, was to get those kitchen units resprayed. But he did it in two weeks. I mean, you can’t complain, you know, someone comes in, takes out everything,

comes back and reinstalls it in two weeks, it’s pretty amazing.

Jane: And it feels like you have a new kitchen.

Tamzin: Yeah, Exactly. It feels like, you know, the fitting day was kind of, you get that buzz of having, you know, a new kitchen being installed. So yeah, we were really happy with it.

Jane: Is that a process that you think about when you are starting a project is how to balance those, the effects and, and the, and the cost of doing it.

Tamzin: Yeah, absolutely. And I think from like an environmental perspective as well, like the kitchen cupboards were peeling, you know, the paint was coming off. Maybe we do need a new kitchen in like five, 10 years or whatever. But actually the, the actual body of it was fine. So why go and spend like 20, 30k on a kitchen?

When you could spend 2K on a kitchen, you know, by adding new tiles and,

spraying the cupboards. Likewise in the bathrooms. They’re not to our taste, but they were pretty new. So by adding some tiles pattern and color on the floor, you’ve got that interest. And again, it feels like a newer space by adding the pattern, adding some color on the walls, but without, again, going through the cost of a whole new bathroom.

And I would rather use something until it needs replacing than just, you know, Going out and thinking, right. Get a new bathroom, new kitchen. I just don’t think, you know, not you’re not able to afford it in the first place, but also why be so wasteful? You know, when you can use what you’ve got and like it and change it up.

Yeah, that’s so true. And it’s like, where do those kitchens that aren’t to our taste end up? Yeah, exactly.

Amy: I love that that was a driving force. I think that’s That’s amazing.

Jane: Also really nice for anybody out there looking for homes. It’s that realization that when you’re seeing a home and it’s not quite how you want, but I’ve had that feeling myself. It’s like, but all of this is really good. You know, there’s nothing wrong with any of the stuff here.

But knowing that you can inject and, and tweak without starting again is quite a positive thing when you’re, when you’re looking at houses.

Tamzin: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve gotta sort of see past, you know, what’s there and what it could be. But without like saying, I don’t know, we need a new bath. It’s like, why don’t we just add a new bath panel, or you know, a new shower screen. Like there’s so many sort of things you could do to tweak a space to make it your own, without going through the big cost and the upheaval

Amy: What’s your next project?

Tamzin: So the next project, we are planning to knock down two walls, so our kitchen at the moment leads onto our family room, but it also backs onto the playroom, which was the converted garage. So what we would love to do is take down two walls. So we would have. A mega kitchen, family room, dining area.

So that’s the big plan. That would be the sort of, the big thing that would make it a wow house, if you know what I mean.

So yeah, we’re quite excited about it.

We’re hoping to do that next year. I envision like exposed steel beams new floor throughout like herringbone wooden floor and having our dining table like pushed up against the bifold windows so we can enjoy that kind of indoor outdoor eating. And I think for us, it would just, it just makes so much more sense to how we would use the space. You know, the kids don’t play in the playroom. They want to be with us, so why not, you know, have that bigger space to live in. And then I think, you know, that would be it really for our house.

That would be the sort of, the big thing that would make it a wow house, if you know what I mean.

So yeah, we’re quite excited about it.

Jane: I just wondered if you had any advice for people who are out there looking to do a similar thing to you.

Tamzin: I would say my advice would be, yeah, to say that you can do so much with a tin of paint, you know, you don’t have to be restricted to using it, you know, across a wall.

I’m just a huge advocate for paint wallpaper as well is something that I think is really transformative and just adding as much pattern and color and just layering it up and making it feel cozy and just doing what you love as well, and not trying to emulate someone else’s style. Yeah, just surround yourself with things that you, that you love.

Amy: I think that’s quite a nice um, place to end thank you so much for your time. It’s been

so lovely to talk with you.

Tamzin: Thank you so much for inviting me to do

Amy: this. It’s been really fun.If you’d like to see photos of Tamzin’s home, then head to our website at homenotes.co/storiesfromsite.

There are hundreds of different ways to renovate. If you’ve been wondering which renovation route is right for you, then check out our getting started course and make a plan for your specific project and circumstances. It’ll save you time, money, and stress. Find a link in the show notes below.


Our closing thoughts:

We can all fall into thinking that you have to go for the ‘project’ house to put your own stamp on a place.

But with up-cycling and other economical approaches, it can actually be an easier and more affordable approach.

And arguably more fun!

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