Don’t want to upsize? Here’s one way to stretch a home to fit a growing family

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It took a long time for Michelle Gemmel to fall in love with her home. It regularly popped up on Rightmove when she was house hunting but she dismissed it for being too ugly and too small.

It took a long time for Michelle Gemmel to fall in love with her home. It regularly popped up on Rightmove when she was house hunting but she dismissed it for being too ugly and too small.

The sitting room with photo wall withb pictures in vintage frames

The sitting room with photo wall withb pictures in vintage frames

That’s internet dating for you. Looks can indeed be deceiving and sometimes you have to meet to realise that you are compatible.

“We were renting in Leeds and we wanted to buy here so we had quite a big search area but we couldn’t find anything that was right. This house kept coming up and in the end we decided to view it. Our expectations were low and it was dark and dowdy inside but it still felt good and we fell in love straight away.”

Michelle and husband Rob bought it ten years ago and the longer they have stayed, the deeper their love for the property and the neighbourhood in Rothwell. Although they need a bigger home, they are making every effort not to move.

“We love it here and it’s a peaceful spot with great neighbours and a friendly community so we keep doing work to the house to try and make it work for us as our family grows,” says Michelle.

Michelle's cards which  sell from her Memelou site, www.memelou.com

Michelle's cards which sell from her Memelou site, www.memelou.com

The couple, who now have a toddler, Oliver, two, and four-month-old baby Austin, also work from home, which puts even more pressure on space.

The Gemmels gave the former rental property an initial makeover when they first moved in. They chopped down the tree that was blocking light to the front window and removed the chimney breast in the kitchen so that they could install units and work surfaces. They later converted the loft to create more square footage.

What was a two up, two down now has three bedrooms and a studio space for Michelle. It’s where she designs her own range of greetings cards and prints and where she works as a freelance homeware designer for big name companies.

Her brand, Memelou, was born in 2011 when she gave up her nine-to-five job to pursue her ambition.

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Michelle's cards which  sell from her Memelou site, www.memelou.com

l Michelle's cards which sell from her Memelou site, www.memelou.com

“I had always wanted to design cards but after university my first job was designing swimwear and then I worked in homeware.

“It was a great but I decided to freelance to help make room for Memelou and I am so pleased I did. I wanted to develop my own style and as the cards and prints are quite cute and the aim is to make them fun and happy, working on them is a bit like therapy.”

Michelle’s popular designs are now sold through independent shops and her own website and she is planning to expand into wall stickers, notebooks, mugs and cushions.

Rob, who runs a cleaning company, has also found an outlet for his own creativity. Buying his first home brought out his flair for DIY and he has since tackled everything from making furniture to helping to convert the loft.

l The kitchen with Orla Kiely wallpaper and cupboards painted in Annie Sloan

l The kitchen with Orla Kiely wallpaper and cupboards painted in Annie Sloan

“It was needs must when we moved in but he found he was really handy and now it’s become a hobby. He really enjoys making things and working on the house,” says Michelle.

The loft is now a guest bedroom with bespoke shelving made from scrap wood picked up free of charge from Ikea. The design is something the couple found on Pinterest.

The space just behind the staircase and under the eaves is the studio. Although it is small and narrow, it works well thanks to natural light from the skylight windows and a full-length worktop with storage underneath.

On the first floor, the main bedroom was divided to create an en-suite and a dressing room, though it was left half-finished for years until the couple decided how to decorate. They didn’t want to use wallpaper so Rob eventually came up with the ingenious idea of cladding the dividing wall with recycled wood pallets. He sanded and then painted them with watered down emulsion before nailing them to the stud wall.

He also made the shelves, which Michelle decorated with her favourite mini terrarium and air plant from Cox and Cox.

“That terrarium cost £15 but I have found a Leeds company, Country Baskets, that sell the baubles and you can order air plants separately online, which works out cheaper,” says Michelle, who also likes supporting other makers by shopping on Etsy. For high street homeware, she likes BHS and Next, which she mixes with vintage buys from eBay and the Decoporium at Thorp Arch.

Michelle Gemmel pictured in her office. Picture by Simon Hulme

Michelle Gemmel pictured in her office. Picture by Simon Hulme

Downstairs on the ground floor, the kitchen units they installed when they first moved in have been revamped 
with Annie Sloan paint, while one of the walls has been treated to colourful Orla Kiely wallpaper. The table was donated by Rob’s sister and cut down to fit the space.

The sitting room is also testament to Rob’s talent, with new shelving in the alcoves and a television cabinet that he designed and made from nothing but MDF.

Michelle’s collection of vintage photo frames are grouped together on one wall to great effect. She has another “photo wall” in the kitchen full of prints of her family in Cumbria and Rob’s in St Albans.

“I call it the ‘home wall’ as it reminds us of where we grew up,” she says, mindful that she will soon have to move from her own home.

“We keep thinking what we can do to make it bigger and better but I think we’ve exhausted every possibility. We have a growing family and two businesses here so we know we will have move at some point and that will be heartbreaking.”

Memelou cards and prints by Michelle Gemmel, memelou.com

Michelle, Rob and baby Austin in the converted loft

Michelle, Rob and baby Austin in the converted loft

The main bedroom with stud wall clad in old pallets that Rob painted with watered down emulsion

The main bedroom with stud wall clad in old pallets that Rob painted with watered down emulsion