Tom Howsam spent six years transforming this house in Yarm but it was well worth the wait. Heather Dixon reports. Pictures by Colin Poole.
Tom Howsam thought it would take around a year to renovate a dated 1920s semi and turn it into one of the most contemporary houses in the street. But it took more than six years to complete the house after a series of personal changes and build challenges tipped the time scale into a marathon.
“Everything took longer than expected, but it was worth it in the end,” says Tom, who bought the house with his then partner, Katy Archer. “We were both working full time and fitting this in during weekends and evenings. It took nine months just to strip out all the old fixtures and fittings.”
Tom and Katy had agreed to view the property as a favour to the previous owner’s family, who wanted the house to go to someone who would really appreciate its character and location.
“We had been living with our parents and wanted to buy somewhere of our own, but couldn’t find the right house at the right price,” says Tom. “We hadn’t even considered this one, but once we saw it we realised it was a really good place to live.”
At that point the kitchen was tiny and there was a series of small utility rooms to the back of the property. Tom and Katy wanted to build a small extension to create more space but, after consulting an architect, they changed their minds and agreed to build a five metre wide extension across the full width of the house.
“The architect made us think about the way we wanted to use the space and how we lived generally,” says Tom. “We realised that if we were going to build an extension we may as well take it across the full width of the house.”
A home office was top of the list because, at that time, Tom was running his own business and often worked from home. The couple also wanted an open- plan living area to include the kitchen, dining and sitting room, which would be modern and sociable.
Sliding doors across the full width of the house at the back would link this spacious living area to the garden which, in turn, would be redesigned to include a decked patio, outdoor seating and fire pit as well as a fully insulated garden room that Tom could use as a gym.
“The house has three bedrooms so we wanted to build an extra living space that could have a variety of uses, from a fourth bedroom or teenage den to a child’s playroom or a garden studio,” adds Tom.
It took eight months to get planning consent. While Tom and Katy were waiting they dug the foundations, which had to go to a depth of 2.4 metres so the extension would not be affected by the spreading roots of a willow tree in the corner of the garden.
With the foundations laid and planning consent in place, Tom’s life-long friend Darren of DFB Joinery took over the project. The walls were built to roof level in eight weeks. Once the roof was on and the extension watertight, the original external walls were knocked down to create one large living area.
The entire house was rewired and replumbed by Tom’s father and the walls were skimmed inside and repaired externally where a wisteria growing up the outside had damaged the mortar. Floors were laid in the new area, a new kitchen was fitted and new windows installed before all the fixtures and fittings were completed.
“We deliberately kept the front of the house in the 1920s style but completely transformed it at the back and inside,”says Tom. “The only changes have been to the front door, which needed replacing because it was rotten, and the drive which has only just been paved.”
The build itself was straightforward and the couple moved in when it was habitable but without the finishing touches.
There was still no worktop in the kitchen – just temporary sheets of MDF – only basic furniture and here would be no curtains for a further 18 months.
“For three years we had put everything into the house,” says Tom. “We had no holidays and no spare cash. It ate everything.”
But before they could start work on the interior design, Tom and Katy chose to go their separate ways, though they have remained great friends.
Tom has since continued with the project with some help from interiors specialists.
“I didn’t have the visual skills to be able to move it on so I contacted the Forge Home Interiors and asked them to help me with the soft furnishings, furniture and decor,” says Tom.
Forge Interiors designed a bespoke walnut unit to house Tom’s television and Bang and Olufsen sound system, fitted slate tiles to create a feature wall, sourced wallpapers, fitted panelling in the front sitting room, designed and supplied the fireplace, sourced furniture and light fittings and gave the house the modern interior Tom had always had in mind, but could never have achieved on his own.
“I am fine with the technical and project elements, but I don’t have the eye for interior design,’ he says. “James and Julie at the Forge helped to pull the house together – the old and new parts, and the outside/inside.”
It has taken six times as long as Tom initially expected to complete the renovation, which cost £160,000 but has been well worth the expense. He bought the house in 2009 for £170,000 and it is now worth £450,000.
“I love it here and love the fact that we’ve been able to take a run-down 1920s house and turn it into a light, spacious, modern home,” he says. “It’s rewarding to see people’s reactions when they see the house for the first time. It’s not what people expect when they walk through the door.”