Claire Fitzpatrick was ready to disregard the two-bedroom seaside apartment that she now calls home, without actually visiting it.
‘I’d seen some photographs, and the interior really didn’t appeal to me,’ she admits. ‘The estate agent had to talk me into it, and I only went along because it had a sea view. Of course, as soon as I walked into the main room, I didn’t see the decoration. I went over to the windows, saw the sea, Tynemouth Castle and the Priory, and the view sold me. I thought, “Great, a big project – I’ll love it.”’
Claire had already sold her own property, so needed to buy somewhere quickly. The apartment had recently been reduced from £250,000, bringing it into her price range, which proved to be excellent timing.
‘It had been on the market for a while,’ says Claire, ‘and I don’t think people could see beyond the woodchip on the walls and the dark and dingy kitchen.’
- The owner: Claire Fitzpatrick, who works as a police officer
- The property: A two-bedroom Victorian apartment in a private crescent by the sea. Residents have exclusive use of large private communal gardens
- The location: Tynemouth, North Tyneside
- What she spent: Claire bought the apartment for £207,000 in 2011 and has spent £23,250 on renovating the property. It has recently been valued at £325,000
Planning the design
By the time she was given the keys to it, Claire had firm ideas on how to make the apartment fresher, brighter and a more practical space, beginning by stripping the walls and floors. She also already had a good team to call on for help.
‘Work started on the decorating within two days of me moving in: the living room was tackled first, then the hallway, followed by the master bedroom, guest bedroom and kitchen,’ explains Claire. ‘I am quite impatient and don’t like living in disarray!’
Living on site
At the end of each day, the apartment would be immaculate. ‘The decorator was fabulous; he has done my last four houses and came out of retirement for this one,’ she says. ‘I used to tell him not to worry about tidying up if he was coming back the next day, but he was really old school, and did it every night before he went home.’
Claire’s bedroom became the ‘HQ’, with everything from carpets to work benches stored in there. ‘It was chaos,’ she recalls. ‘One night my son locked himself out of his place, and he and his girlfriend turned up asking to stay. I was sleeping in the spare room and had to clear a path through my bedroom to the bed up against the wall.’
Transforming the living room
The living room, with its high ceilings and tall windows, is enviably large and light, so Claire was determined to enhance those features by using a favourite Laura Ashley wallpaper in silver grey to picture rail height, and combining it with sofas in shades of slate and ash grey. Claire confided in the friend fitting her new panelled doors that there was only one real drawback to the room. ‘I told him, “I hate that fireplace!” He was on his way out, and said, “I’ve got an angle grinder in the van…” Using that, it probably took him about three minutes to transform the fireplace from ornate and over-the-top to a pared-down style that was exactly what I wanted, but afterwards it looked as if there had been a snowstorm in the flat,’ recalls Claire. ‘For a week, the whole room, including both windows, was covered with plaster dust. It was a brave decision, but I’m pleased with the result.’
Reworking the hallway
The previous owners used the hallway as a dining room, but Claire prefers to have it as a transition area, adding to the feeling of space. It’s also a handy spot for a favourite antique chest of drawers. ‘My mother went to auctions at the big farmhouses in Ireland and the furniture was fantastic,’ says Claire. ‘She was buying it left, right and centre for me, and she had a friend who was coming over to England, so arranged for him to meet me on the A69. I hired a van and we pulled into a layby, where he basically emptied his van into mine. The pieces are very large, so I have to take that into account whenever I move.’
Decorating the bedrooms
Both bedrooms have been decorated with this in mind. In the main bedroom, Claire has kept the background simple with neutral walls, flooring and silk curtains, making the antique armoire and sleigh bed all the more imposing. The smaller bedroom faces the North Sea, so to offset the cooler northern light, Claire picked a wallpaper with uplifting colour.
Claire’s chaise longue from Marks & Spencer provides the perfect place to enjoy views across the bay and out to sea
Reconfiguring the kitchen
The initial plan had been to delay tackling the kitchen, but when she realised she could afford to refit it in the first four-month phase of work, Claire decided to press ahead. ‘The existing white kitchen was very cold in appearance, but it was a design that I probably would have chosen myself until I actually lived here and realised how austere it was,’ she admits. ‘It wasn’t a comfortable place to linger.’
Claire reworked the layout to move the sink to the window, and brought the oven and hob together for a more practical arrangement. Muted grey units make for an altogether more elegant look than before, and she decided to team them with warm oak flooring and worktops.
Problems during work
‘When the kitchen was ripped out, we found a beautiful tiny little window, which was probably about two-feet square,’ she says. ‘But because I had already designed the layout, we couldn’t leave it uncovered. It was such a shame because although there is a massive sash window in there, it brought extra light into the kitchen.’
The kitchen fitter had told Claire that it would take a week, but it ended up taking three. ‘There isn’t a straight wall or 90-degree angle in this house,’ she explains. ‘But he had quoted a fixed price and he kept to it. I can put up with work for the length of time it’s meant to take, but when it lasted longer, it was hard living in chaos, with constant dust.’
Replacing the windows
One significant decision was to replace all the windows in the flat last year. ‘They were really old-fashioned, double-glazed units, but the hinges had fallen, the wind blew in and the rain seeped through,’ says Claire. ‘At first I wanted to put in wooden windows, but because the apartment is on the third floor, they would have been difficult to paint without scaffolding. Being on the seafront, the flat is high maintenance, so I decided on uPVC. Luckily, that was an option; everybody thinks that this is a Conservation Area or that these houses are listed, but they’re not.
‘I looked around so many companies because I was so particular,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want to see any of the black rubber seal that goes around edges. Eventually I found a family firm that could do exactly what I wanted. The windows only took two days to fit, and it was summer so the weather held.’
Laura Ashley’s Summer Palace wallpaper gives the guest bedroom wow-factor. Furniture from Claire’s son’s childhood bedroom has been repainted to fit the new space, and the bedside table is from TK Maxx. The mannequin was found at a local closing down sale
Updating the bathroom
The budget didn’t stretch to a full refit for the internal bathroom, so Claire painted the walls a shade of aqua to make it feel fresher. ‘Changing the colour made a difference,’ she says. ‘It’s now just a question of saving up for the new all-marble bathroom with walk-in shower, which I’ve already picked out.’
Spurred on by the success of renovating her own flat, Claire turned her attention to the neglected entrance and stairway. ‘The communal hallway hadn’t been decorated in 26 years, and there was woodchip on all four storeys,’ she says. ‘I can remember thinking that I needed to wait at least until I’d been there a little while before starting to organise the main hallway and stairs, but the other two owners of the three flats don’t live here, so they were happy for me to take it under my wing and look after it. They let me choose the design, carpets and colours and organise it all.’
With all the hard work behind her, the transformation is dramatic. ‘It’s probably the smallest place I have lived in, but it has a real sense of calm,’ says Claire. ‘There are days at work that are so hectic, but I come home and with the private road, the gardens and the sea, it’s so, so quiet. ‘From being all about the view, it’s now all about the apartment. Even today I am really taken aback and think: “Why on earth did I nearly not buy this flat?”.’
|Kitchen units, worktops and fitting||£9,500|
|Communal hall decorating and carpets||£1,200|
Featured image: A grey palette emphasises the elegance of the space. The Josette wallpaper is by Laura Ashley and the carpet from Monkseaton Carpet Centre. The sofas and footstool are from Marks & Spencer