When Sasha and Will Johnson got engaged, they decided to pool their resources and buy a property together.

‘We had both been living in new-build townhouses when we first met,’ says Sasha. ‘We loved the idea of taking on a renovation project, but as it would be our first experience of renovating a property, Will and I weren’t keen on tackling anything that was particularly challenging. We didn’t have a huge budget either, so that was an influencing factor too.’

Fact file

  • The owners: Sasha Johnson, a writer, lives here with her husband Will, an art director at an advertising agency
  • The property: A three-bedroom semi-detached house built in the 1930s
  • The location: Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland
  • What they spent: The couple bought the property for £150,000 in 2009 and have spent around £28,000 extending and renovating it. It has recently been valued at around £180,000

The property

The couple had been living on the outskirts of Bangor. However, they had set their heart on moving somewhere closer to the town centre, ideally near the beach.

‘We were keeping an eye out for houses in this area, but it was my father who actually spotted this property up for sale,’ says Sasha. ‘He had viewed it some years ago and knew that it offered lots of potential, so we arranged a viewing – and fell in love with it instantly.’

Although the interior was dated and somewhat neglected in places, the couple looked beyond its faults.

‘The house had a warm and welcoming feel – we thought it would be the perfect project for us,’ says Sasha.

The plans

Sasha and Will put in an offer and were delighted when the sale was agreed. They enthusiastically started planning how they were going to transform the 1930s property.

‘As we were working to a very tight budget, we tackled a lot of the work ourselves,’ says Sasha. ‘Our evenings and weekends were spent stripping wallpaper and ripping up carpets – there was no more socialising or evenings out with friends.’

In fact, the whole of the interior needed to be stripped back before the couple were able to see what level of structural work was required.

‘The layout turned out to be more restricted than we would have liked, so we decided to make the most of the space by knocking through a wall between the kitchen and dining room and adding an extension to create an open-plan kitchen-diner and living room,’ says Sasha.

The couple hired Darran Crawford of Line Architecture to draw up the plans for the new extension, which was allowed under permitted development rights. They then called in four quotes from local builders for the renovation work, eventually choosing the most competitive price.

Stairway with gallery wall
A random selection of photos and posters adds depth and interest to the light, airy landing. The couple chose to whitewash the stairs rather than fit carpet

The renovation

‘We stayed on site during the work, which started only three weeks after we had moved into the house,’ says Sasha.

The builders knocked through the long, narrow galley kitchen’s dividing wall, leaving the supporting pillar intact.

‘We could have removed the pillar, but the additional expense was beyond our budget,’ Sasha explains. ‘Actually, I’m glad we kept the pillar as it zones off the kitchen from the living and dining areas plus it doubles as a bookcase. Without it, the room would have felt very open.’

A small porch off the kitchen and an outdoor coal shed were also demolished to make way for the new extension.

‘We worked closely with the builders on the extension to achieve the best results,’ says Sasha. ‘It had to meet certain strict standards and regulations. The local Building Control office carried out an inspection at an early stage of the work and noticed that a concrete beam had been installed in the extension where a steel beam was required, so the builders made sure that it was replaced.’

Structural work

Bad weather hindered the structural work but, within a matter of months, the extension was almost complete.

As part of the renovation work on the house, the couple had the internal walls replastered throughout, the flooring in the extension and existing rooms was levelled, a new damp-proof course was put in and the property was rewired.

‘We did have some problems with the plaster on the walls and the ceiling,’ says Sasha. ‘On more than one occasion, we arrived on site to find the plaster lying in a heap on the floor – so the builders worked to put it right.’

The floor levelling also caused a few problems as the original rear area of the house consisted of three rooms – with the addition of the new extension, each floor was at a different level.

‘Our oak flooring fitter insisted that the timber floor wouldn’t be a good job until the floor level was sorted out to his satisfaction, so our builders re-levelled the entire area,’ Sasha explains. ‘We’re glad he insisted, otherwise the new flooring would have moved and warped.’

The bathroom

Further structural work was carried out upstairs in the bathroom, which was an old-fashioned layout comprising a separate WC with an adjacent bathroom. The dividing wall was knocked through to create one large space.

‘I’ve always liked the idea of a hotel-style bathroom with a freestanding bath and contemporary shower plus lots of floor space,’ says Sasha. ‘This new layout has given it a great new lease of life.’

Office area with wooden desk
Originally a Minstrel dressing table by Stag Furniture, this desk is from a local vintage shop called re:store. The couple turned it into a desk by changing the original handles to chunky chrome cup ones from Homebase to make it look like a colonial-style desk

Interior design

Once the building work was complete, Sasha and Will eagerly turned their attention to the rooms’ interior design.

‘I was so happy when the house reached the decorating stage. While the building work was going on, I had found it quite difficult to envisage how it would all turn out,’ Sasha explains. ‘I put together swatches and ideas, then together we drew up room schemes.’

Luckily for Sasha and Will, they share similar tastes in furniture and colour schemes, so they enjoyed browsing for modern and classic furniture as well as searching for unusual pieces online.

‘I love contemporary design, but I prefer to mix and match styles rather than stick to one look,’ says Sasha. ‘When you contrast old with new, it adds interest, texture and personality to a living space.’

Their first job was to paint all the walls white, which lifted the interior and provided a clean, crisp contrast for their furniture.

‘Although Will and I kept some pieces from our previous homes, we sent most of it to local auctions because we wanted to start afresh,’ says Sasha.

The kitchen

They then started shopping around for the units for their new open-plan kitchen. They visited several kitchen showrooms before deciding on a local company in Belfast.

‘They were competitively priced and offered a good range of contemporary kitchens,’ says Sasha. ‘We had set our heart on a high-gloss finish in ivory and chose dark-toned laminate work surfaces as an exciting contrast.’

The living room

The living room at the front of the house was the last room to be decorated. ‘It lay untouched for months. We called it our second garage, because it was filled with all the things from our previous homes,’ Sasha explains. ‘We decorated it in calming neutrals. Although we spend a lot of our time in the open-plan living area, I love to sit and relax in this room.’

While the project wasn’t without its problems, the couple are pleased with the results and feel it was a learning curve too.

‘This was our first renovation project – I can’t believe how well the house has turned out,’ says Sasha. ‘We absolutely love it.’


Building work, including extension and rewiring £16,800
Kitchen, including all appliances £4,500
Bathroom £4,000
Decorating £2,650
TOTAL £27,950