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Renovation Diary: How do we Create an Entrance With Impact?

Catch up with Clare Zerny in part three of her diary about renovating a dated Victorian semi in Suffolk

Houzz UK Contributor. Model and journalist turned pastry chef. On a baking hiatus… More

Slowly but surely things are moving forward; the plans have been finalised and submitted to the local council and all fingers are now firmly crossed. We’ve passed the halfway mark stripping walls, the bathroom has unceremoniously left the building (mostly via the window) and joined the pile in the garden that is fast approaching mountainous. The project is out to tender with several local, recommended building firms and it’s looking positive that we’ll have a decent builder able to start work in the New Year – assuming planning is granted, of course.

More in this series A Victorian Semi Full of Potential I How do we Create a Style for the Kitchen?

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The budget, however, I’m learning is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario; while we have an idea per square metre, until planning is firmed up and detailed drawings are made, the build budget simply can’t be pinned down. But, as we previously learned the hard way, it’s not all about cost; beyond the money matters it’s also about finding a builder we feel comfortable working with – being able to address issues that arise is worth its weight in gold and, let’s face it, there’s no point pretending this project won’t throw up some major stress, considering what a huge investment it is, of both time and money. Mistakes will undoubtedly be made along the way, but in a bid to prevent any major blunders, Ben is currently making me a geeky spreadsheet, so room-by-room, with my trusty scale ruler and drawings, I can start researching and attributing all the design and fittings costs to the project.

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One of the photos Clare has saved to her inspiration mood board (see Clare’s Ideabooks on her profile).

Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here Clare Zerny, a pastry chef, and Ben Sinclair, a sales and marketing director, plus Weanus the cat
Location Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Property A Victorian semi
Size 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom
Architect Beech Architects

So, where to start? The entrance sets the tone of any home, so the hallway seems a sensible place to begin. Along with the walled garden, it was the thing I liked most about the house on first viewing and it’s my mission now to embellish its details, as well as restore those lost to create a notable first impression while retaining the traditional features of a Victorian home.

Despite the all-white, almost blank-canvas décor of the hallway in this home, it makes a stunning entrance and you can’t deny it has impact – together, the panelling, staircase, front door and beautiful tiled floor leave you in no doubt of its Victorian roots. Simplicity at its best.

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See more photos from Clare’s mood board for the hall over at her profile.

Having said all that, in the first two instalments of this diary [links above], I’ve spoken already about being bolder and braver this time and I meant it. So while I do love that crisp white entrance in the photo above, I’m in the mood for colour and pattern and this hallway delivers both in bucketloads.

While there’s inspiration to be had here, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea and it’s probably a pattern too far for me, but it is a good reminder that this project isn’t about following trends, it’s simply about creating a home that we love.

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Before Photo

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Clare and Ben’s hallway before they stripped the walls and ripped up the carpet…

And here is our hallway in its before and current state.

We’ve stripped the walls, lifted the carpet and, after lots of research, removed the non-original wooden feature you can see at the top of the photo in preparation for a more period-appropriate plaster arch. We’ve no idea why or when the original arch was lost, or in fact what was there at all, and with fingers crossed we had a quick nose around next door but sadly we were none the wiser as they have no coving at all. Now, every other spare moment is currently spent scouring the many millions of images of Victorian hallways out there and here on Houzz, getting inspiration and garnering ideas of how to bring our neglected entrance back to life. Might just have to knock on a few more of the neighbours’ doors, too…

Before Photo

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…and how it looks now.

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Clare has created an Ideabook of photos to help her design her dream hall – this is one.

Top of the wish list is a traditional tiled floor; I have eyes out on stalks for the vivid yellow in this hallway – with my rapidly developing mustard obsession I’m won over, and the tying in of colour on the stair runner is a clever detail, too.

Granted, tiles are not the most budget-friendly flooring and for that very reason didn’t make the cut in our last home. This time, however, the original boards have not been treated well; some are missing or broken.

Also, because the new layout has a new corridor – a right turn off the main hallway, running behind the snug and leading past the downstairs loo to the living room in the new extension – we’d be looking at floorboards running in opposite directions where the two corridors meet – perfect excuse to tile over them! [See further down for the new layout plans and check out the current layout here.]

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Another shot from the hall Ideabook Clare has created.

Here’s another genius idea in a similar vein – a strip of colour on the skirting top leads your eye up the staircase, and the coordinating chair and column radiator on a background of classic white panelling is again beautifully simple yet attention-grabbing.

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Panelling is a very tempting addition, too; our house has modest coving and not particularly high ceilings for a Victorian home, so there’s little to draw the eye up – adding panelling and a patterned tiled floor seems like a great way to add interest to the lower areas and create impact.

This staircase looks great with the different tones of grey between the panelling, spindles and stair runner – a really lovely and subtle way of adding interest with one colour.

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The proposed layout for the house (you can see how it’s laid out now in Clare’s previous update).

While we are rearranging the layout downstairs quite significantly, the view from the front door will actually appear undisturbed and, by tiling the hallway floor, it should help to marry the new and old corridors together. Then the kitchen and living room floors will be simpler reclaimed pine boards and the utility a more neutral tile, so the whole downstairs is both an authentic and practical, pet-friendly mix of textures, too.

The snug door (as well as all the others in the house) will be dipped and freed of its orange varnish status, then left bare in understated pine, while the double panelled glass door from the back bedroom will be repurposed to the utility to help let light through to the upper end of the hall.

Before Photo

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What is currently the door to the kitchen in Clare’s house.

The kitchen door, with its red and blue starburst stained glass, seen here, will have a new home, too, as the cloakroom door in the hall. I’m keen on it being repurposed to a location where we can appreciate its lovely old glass on a regular basis. Only the other day, too, while working at the house, it dawned on me that the very same red and blue glass has been used in the front door fanlight – so we’ll be replacing the two plain glass panels in the front door with a stained-glass design to match. This does mean, however, that these primary tones need to be considered when choosing the hallway floor tiles.

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One of Clare’s ‘dream hallway’ photos.

So what works with primary red and blue? Black and white seem an obvious choice and are, of course, a classic Victorian combination, especially in a chequerboard pattern like the one in this hallway, where the floor is the star of the show, supported by the muted tones of the walls and furnishings. But, again, I’d like to push the boundaries a little more and try mixing up the floor tiles with wallpaper or maybe a patterned stair runner on a white-painted staircase.

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Another inspiration photo (see all of Clare’s Ideabooks here).

As the hallway tiles will also continue into the cloakroom – to avoid having two different floorings in such close proximity – they will also dictate the design of the cloakroom, too.

They look beautifully smart in this example and perfectly complement the metro tiles, the lovely old sink with its brass fittings and the matching black toilet seat.

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More inspiration from Clare’s Ideabooks.

For years, I’ve also hankered after a Victorian high-tank water closet like the one in this cloakroom. I love the eclectic mix of these traditional fittings with the statement wallpaper, too. It’s only a small space and one that can afford a slightly bonkers wallpaper – something to keep guests amused while they powder their noses.

Before Photo

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A before photo from the house – see them all here.

Back in the hall, the jury is still out still on whether our staircase – seen here pre-wallpaper strip and carpet removal – is original or not. I’ve never seen a design like this before in a Victorian home and it’s unfortunately not in the best condition either.

The spindles are visibly nailed in as though they were a later addition and the landing section is missing spindles and can’t be lent on safely. We would also need to replicate it for the new section to the loft, so although I’m pained to remove it we’re seriously considering taking the plunge and replacing it all with a new, replicate Victorian pine staircase instead – it’s not only a more cost-effective solution to having a bespoke copy handmade, it can then also be easily continued, matching, all the way to the new loft space.

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Another inspiration photo.

And here’s a great example of the Victorian style of staircase I think would work well. As ours is not the grandest of houses, it doesn’t warrant anything too intricate – classic white spindles and bare pine like this will be the ideal addition.

Before Photo

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Another before shot.

And, lastly, seen here, is a little pet project that I’m determined to reinstate: the old doorbell’s pulley system was still wired up, but sadly clunking away against the pipes that had been added later. Once it was taken down, we realised it in fact rings like the bell of an old grocery shop and is lovelier than any modern doorbell I’ve heard.


You can hear its chime and follow the build in even more detail at Clare’s Instagram page, @renovation_wreck.

Do you have a Victorian home? What is your hallway like – share your photos, tips and experiences in the Comments section.
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