Five years ago, Darren Birch wouldn’t even dare to knock a nail into a wall. But now, after refurbishing three properties, he’s become a serial renovator who relishes a new construction challenge. ‘The first couple of houses I lived in were newbuilds, so they simply needed decorating work doing. It was only when I bought an older property, five years ago, that more extensive work was needed – and that started my interest in interior design,’ he explains. ‘Before, I struggled to hang a picture. These days, though, I’ll have a go at most things, including plumbing.’

Darren also loves the design process. As the owner-manager of an online interiors business with Manchester premise, he has a keen eye for design and can instantly spot a property’s potential. Which is just as well, because when he went to view the terraced house that was to become his home, it was in an horrific state. Floors and ceilings were actually missing in some rooms and the plaster was so badly decayed in places that you could see the bare bricks through it. The house had never had central heating fitted and was no longer connected to water, electricity or gas.

Fact file

  • The owner: Darren Birch, who owns Pad, an interiors gift shop and online store
  • The proprty: A mid-terrace Victorian house with three bedrooms
  • The location: Manchester
  • What he spent: Darren bought the uninhabitable house for £185,000 in 2008 and spent £62,000 on building work and renovations. It is currently worth £270,000

The property

‘It hadn’t been touched for years,’ says Darren, ‘and without any utilities, it wasn’t in a habitable condition – it needed gutting and starting again. I loved it instantly, though. My friends and family were worried when I said I was going to buy it, but to me it was a no-brainer.’ This was because he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the house – plus, the price was right and the location was perfect. He bought it in May 2008 and started work almost immediately.

Remodelled garden to terraced house
Darren employed a landscape gardener to transform his lawnless back garden into an entertaining space with built-in seating, a deck and a fire-pit set into a surface of loose gravel

Design plans

In his previous renovation project, Darren had taken down the supporting wall between the living and dining rooms to open up the downstairs space, but kept the kitchen as a separate room. It had worked so well before, creating such a modern, light living area, that he decided to more or less repeat the design here. ‘The new house had a small lounge linked via a narrow hallway to a dining room and the kitchen at the back. I decided to knock all this through to create one large, open-plan groundfloor living space,’ he explains.

He decided to draw up the plans himself, rather than employ an architect. ‘I contacted a builder I’d used before, who’s fantastic. He has great ideas of his own, so we sat down at the table and came up with a plan.

‘I’m a big fan of open-plan design and I’d feel cheated if, after moving in, I didn’t have to take down at least one wall,’ continues Darren. ‘In fact, I can’t imagine buying a house that didn’t need work doing to it now. I always need to put my own stamp and ideas on a place.’

The initial structural work would involve removing the walls separating the lounge and dining room, and between the dining room and kitchen. This would create a huge open-plan living space. The property needed to be completely replastered, too, and Daren wanted wooden flooring laid throughout the downstairs. Rather than install all new windows, he decided to restore the property’s original sashes and buy hardwood French doors for both the kitchen and dining areas; these would lead out onto the back garden.

The build

Work began by replacing the missing ceilings and floors, and the builder soon took down the walls, installing new supporting beams as a replacement load-bearing structure. ‘The construction work went smoothly,’ recalls Darren, ‘and the beams were installed easily. However, we did find woodworm in the dining room, which meant that some floor joists and part of the floor had to be replaced.’

Darren had his heart set on a black, high-gloss kitchen. ‘I shopped around and ended up with carcasses from Howdens fitted with cupboard doors from B&Q. I wanted to achieve the look of an expensive kitchen on a budget.’

He kept to wood for the flooring throughout the downstairs as planned – matching it to the worktops in the kitchen. White walls set off the black kitchen, dining table, armchairs and sofa in the open-plan space, which works equally as zones and as one large area, perfect for entertaining.

The upstairs was also remodelled to a degree. The bathroom was enlarged slightly by stealing some space from one of the bedrooms. Part of the landing was sacrificed, too, to increase the size of another of the bedrooms.

Monochrome decorated bathroom
Instead of a bath, the bathroom featured an over-sized drencher shower bought from Bathstore, as was the sink. The large-format slate-effect tiles are from Homebase and the whole room was created for £4,000

Interior design

In the master bedroom, Darren uncovered a stunning cast-iron and tiled fireplace that had been boarded over. At some earlier point, it had been covered in thick lime-green paint. ‘I spent days stripping it back,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t believe that anyone had covered it up – it’s beautiful.’ Wanting to make it a focal point, he decided to re-site it downstairs in the living room. Darren then went to specialist Twentieth Century Fires to buy a new log-burner to suit it.

The monochrome theme has been continued throughout the house; the bathroom was refitted with black tiling and white sanitaryware. Darren chose a large shower enclosure with a low-profile tray for a contemporary finish.

The budget

Originally planning to spend £40,000, he ended up having to find an extra £22,000 on top. ‘My budget did go a bit haywire,’ he admits, ‘but I’d decided to stay in this house rather than do it up and move on quickly, as I had done in the past. So I went for the best furniture and appliances I could afford. I told myself – you get one chance to do something like this, so I had to go for the best quality and design I could.

‘I must admit, there wasn’t very much in the way of cost-cutting. The flooring throughout the downstairs is bamboo rather than hardwood, though, which is an economical option and green, too.’

At first, Darren had stayed in rented accommodation while the work was going on. He moved in, though, six months into the project, at a point when the downstairs flooring was still to be laid and the kitchen was only half-completed. ‘During one of my previous projects, I’d lived on-site all through,’ he says. ‘So, actually, to come back to a house with the flooring and bits and pieces to finish wasn’t the end of the world.’

With the work finished, Darren is back to dispensing interiors advice to others. ‘I’ve always had an eye for design,’ he says, ‘although, if you look, not much matches in my house – my two sofas, for example, are totally different styles. But the end result is how I imagined it looking and I’m really enjoying living here.’


Labour and build £13,200
Plastering £4,000
Electrics £3,250
Plumbing £1,000
Central heating £5,000
Bathroom £4,000
Kitchen £8,500
Flooring £3,500
Glazing/doors £8,250
Window blinds £1,500
Decorating £1,600
Wood-burner £1,200
Garden £7,000
TOTAL £62,000