How a single mother juggled home renovation and pregnancy during Covid

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Rebecca Fordham at home with her children Mara, 6, and Reuben, 21 months (Photo: Daniel Lynch)

Whole-home renovations are notoriously stressful: the budget crashing in a matter of months, builders not showing up, the schedule slipping, and the relentless day-to-day decision-making.

Few, however, face the challenges Rebecca Fordham faced when restoring a dilapidated Victorian terraced house in Ferndale Road, near the hustle and bustle of central Brixton, south London.

“I’m used to spinning a lot of plates at the same time,” says Rebecca, a former BBC Newsnight producer who has also worked with organizations such as Unicef, Global Witness and the Jo Cox Foundation, managing multi-million pound budgets. .

“But it was a very stressful experience. I was doing it myself, as a single parent with a young daughter, while also pregnant and during a pandemic. Living in temporary accommodation for the duration of the works, I also homeschooled and managed the construction project.

Completed about a year ago, the home’s frontage and three stories of 1,413 square feet of perfectly designed, flowing living space belie any restoration angst. Thanks to Rebecca’s clever overhaul of the floor plans, the home now features an all-new third floor, four bedrooms and a bright open-plan kitchen and dining area, created from the old narrow kitchen and living room. side return.

Dark engineered wood flooring, an eco-friendly paint palette from littlegreene.com, and a unique art collection gathered from extensive travels around the world are hallmarks of this home, which Rebecca says should be a perfect retreat. practical yet stylish for her growing family. .

The four-bedroom house on Ferndale Road has had a whole new floor added and a new brick facade

Brixton House has had an entire floor added and a new brick facade (Picture: Daniel Lynch)

“I wasn’t pregnant when I bought the house, but I was when I finished, in June 2020, while I was having IVF in Greece,” says Rebecca, who has paid around £935,000 for the house, goes on to spend another £370,000 on its redesign.

Returning to England at the height of the pandemic, she moved into rented accommodation with her daughter, Mara, now six, and oversaw the year-long multidimensional project, which involved removing the ugly cobbles on the facade of the house and replacing it with stock London brick, removing virtually all interior walls, installing two new boutique-style bathrooms and having a new staircase built.

She finally moved in when her second child, Reuben, was 10 months old.

Rebecca's house is a cool mix of contemporary and traditional Victorian features

Rebecca’s home is a cool mix of contemporary and traditional Victorian elements (Picture: Daniel Lynch)

Such a huge undertaking, Rebecca says, was largely driven by a desire to get back to her roots. Although she has a base in west London, she was brought up in and around Brixton and wanted to return.

“When I first saw the house, however, it was rather sad,” she says, “because all of its original character had been lost over the years. The window frames were old and the dark rooms had peeling paint and worn carpets. But it was in a beautiful location, right in front of a leafy green space, and there was nothing overlooked at the back. I immediately saw how I could open it.

Frustratingly, she says, many of her plans were met with resistance from her first group of builders, meaning she had to fight for what she knew worked brilliantly.

A map of the world takes up an entire kitchen wall in the travel-inspired home

A map of the world takes up an entire kitchen wall in the travel-inspired home (Photo: Daniel Lynch)

“I was advised against having black wood framed windows, which are actually beautiful, and told to paper the stairs as just painting them would be too noisy – which happened turned out to be wrong,” says Rebecca. “I really had to stand firm.” Changing builders – to central London-based kbbmaster.com – was one of her best decisions, she says.

Keeping in mind her vision of the home as a cohesive whole has been another key to her success, says Rebecca, who also runs the ethical sleepwear company @talesofthread. Although each room – kitchen/dining room, 24ft 4in long living room and WC on the ground floor, two large bedrooms and a large family bathroom on the first floor, and two further bedrooms and a shower room on the second – should have its own decorative identity, she wanted, she says, “to strike the right balance between 19th century details and a clean, contemporary look”.

A bright and airy bedroom, one of four in the house

A bright and airy bedroom, one of four in the house (Photo: Daniel Lynch)

To that end, she researched and restored Victorian-era plasterwork, cornices and cornices, including a delicate vine detail in the main living space, and even added scalloped wood trim below the interior window sills.

However, to create the light and airy feel of a modern home, she installed Velux windows at the top of the house and oversized windows (probably the largest on the street), as well as folding doors leading from the kitchen in the garden. High insulation factors, state-of-the-art plumbing and green credentials were also on the agenda.

Where possible, she used salvaged Welsh slate for the roof and salvaged terracotta tiles, from norfolkreclamation.co.uk, for the garden border.

Folding kitchen doors open onto a pristine garden

Folding kitchen doors open onto an immaculate garden (Photo: Daniel Lynch)

The interior color scheme has also been meticulously planned. The main palette is white, with a few hues chosen for a bold statement: the stairs, for example, are painted in littlegreene.com’s theatrical lamp black, and the archway between the kitchen and living room in the bright yellow trumpet of the ‘company. This cheerful pigment is used for the woodwork on the top floor, where it contrasts strikingly with the lilac Hortense on a door frame.

The flooring and tiling also give the bedrooms their own distinct look, which Rebecca has spared no expense on. As a perfect counterpoint to the simple white Howdens kitchen, for example, she spent almost £3,000 on the room’s cherry red herringbone floor tiles, from bertandmay.com, brightened again by a huge world map covering one of the walls, “as a way to bring the whole planet closer to children.

Stimulating works of art from around the world also help achieve this goal. In the porcelain blue master bedroom, a wall hanging by Egyptian master textile artisan Wissa Wassef is now a collector’s item. On display in the stairwell are pieces by contemporary Kenyan artist Michael Soi and a mosaic made for Rebecca by a teenage girl in Libya during the Arab Spring.

Plain walls allow artwork from around the world to shine

Plain walls allow artwork from around the world to shine (Photo: Daniel Lynch)

In the living room filled with vintage furniture, Farrow & Ball’s subtle taupe Oxford Stone creates a perfect backdrop for Rebecca’s black and white photography collection, which includes Malian photographer Malike Sidibe’s seminal 1960s photograph of a dancing couple, Christmas Night.

Photographic art displayed in gallery-style black frames

Photographic art displayed in gallery-style black frames (Photo: Daniel Lynch)

But as a working single mom, Rebecca says it’s the practical — but still luxurious — inclusions that bring her great joy. The die-hard multitasker says putting her washing machine on the first floor next to the family bathroom means she can do laundry while keeping an eye on the kids in the bath, with a Victorian Kitchen Maid clothes airer on the top (from castinstyle .co.uk) to hang everything.

It was the perfect family home, but Rebecca has now put the house on the market, for £1,225,000. “I’m moving closer to Clapham, to be closer to my family,” she says. “The house is so beautiful, I wish she could somehow levitate and come with me.”

One of the two new bathrooms with double sinks and skylights

One of two new bathrooms with double sinks and skylights (Photo: Daniel Lynch)

Her stay at this house would, however, continue in a novel she is writing exploring the lives of two south London mothers, inspired in part, she says, by her experience with her mixed-race daughter. Along with themes of origins, belonging and heritage, the book also features local landmarks, such as the community-run Papa’s Park, playground and event space.

Is she planning to undertake another renovation project? It’s a no, said Rebecca. “Clapham is significantly more expensive than Brixton so I doubt I’ll have the money left to do a renovation project,” she says. “Besides, I’m not going to put my family on another project.

“I want to make our lives a little easier this time around.”

Rebecca’s house is for sale via Marsh & Parsons, marshandparsons.co.uk

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