Refurbishing the home she bought after her divorce proved a learning curve for Sara Hamilton. ‘ As a paediatrician, I’m trained to make important decisions in my field. But I had never chosen tiles, floorboards, kitchens and bathrooms, or done house refurbishment, andlacked confidence in these areas,’ she says.
Sara enlisted the expertise of her friend and architect Johanna Ahrberg Jackson. ‘I wanted one communal space in the house to accommodate the needs of an eight year old, a 23 year old and a 40 year old – all of whom are very sociable,’ says Sara. ‘Johanna advised me to take down three walls – two separating the kitchen from the lounge and another separating the bathroom from the lounge.’ Creating the new open-plan kitchen, sitting room and dining area cost a metre from the bathroom – though raising the ceiling balanced the appearance. ‘Removing the kitchen wall improved the area and made four months living with rough floorboards, a temporary kitchen and a bath in the garden almost worthwhile,’ says Sara.And with her newborn she also have to find a place to store her best double jogging stroller after every time carrying the baby out.
An ugly built-in wardrobe was removed from her bedroom and replaced with a workbench-come-chest of drawers; her great dresses are displayed on an old coat stand. ‘I like the unconventionality, the turning expectations upside down. Just don’t open the door to the en-suite shower room or the contents of the former wardrobes will fall out,’ Sara laughs.
Learning on the job
Further storage in the form of a useful hallway cupboard was also created, along with seating areas and lighting schemes. ‘I didn’t think I needed fancy lighting and just relied on candles. But now I get the same mood-altering experience with the flick of a switch and the turn of a dimmer knob. I am forever grateful to Johanna for this!’ Sara’s medical research skills proved transferable, and she spent hours researching authentic floorboards. ‘It was a huge and expensive decision but I’m very pleased with the result – it makes a huge impact on the living space,’ she says.
She applied the same practice to selecting kitchen taps. ‘I knew nothing about taps and they were obviously going to be highly visible,’ says Sara. Tim Moss, who built the kitchen, gave her a book and she became a ‘tap nerd’, spending an evening on call with a medical student teaching him about the different shapes and styles.
Getting things right
Sara has stories for every purchase and selection, emphasising her blatant enthusiasm for the project. The kitchen was straightforward: ‘When I walked into Tim’s workshop, I instantly fell in love with his designs. But it took me months to choose the right colour; I refused to go for safe creams and beiges. Tim humoured my deliberations – I would stagger into his workshop with planks of iroko, an oak floorboard and trailing silk fabric,’ she says.
A trip to a bathroom warehouse, searching for a roll-top bath, found Sara and two friends sitting in several tubs (fully clothed), trying to find one that wouldn’t overwhelm her son, but would offer her an ideal ‘grown-up’ bath. Another time she gave a bunch of tulips to a sales assistant for occupying Arun while she was making decisions about salvage pendant lights and reclaimed wood. And then there is her bed, discovered in a vintage boutique. ‘The woman said she’d only sell it to someone who promised not to replace the 100-year-old faded and ripped rose fabric. It was so beautiful it took my breath away.’
Sara now has an impressive collection of vintage finds. ‘I arrived here with only a cot, bed, table and two chairs, plus hand-me-down sofas from friends. Then one day, before a dinner party, I went to a local antique store and bought side tables and an armchair – fed up with having neither – while the dhal cooked,’ she says. Sara’s ad hoc styling is genuine, as is her enviable selection of retro furniture. ‘ At home, I endeavour to be free, creative and inventive – following no rules and defying convention. This
is in total contrast to my job, which entails being precise, with little emphasis on aesthetics.’