A short career break to start a family turned into a busman’s holiday for interior designer Jemma Kirman.
She ended up juggling her own property project with a demanding domestic life looking after her little boys.
The need to create a bigger home for her three sons prompted a second redesign of her 1930s semi-detached property in Leeds.
“We wanted to stay in the area and worked out that buying a larger house and paying stamp duty would’ve been a lot more expensive than extending what we already had,” says Jemma.
She and husband Tim, a surveyor and adept DIYer, had already renovated the property and had all the skills needed to enlarge and reconfigure the space.
“I’ve always loved property. My dad worked as a quantity surveyor and my mum was a teacher with a love of art and design. I grew up around construction and there was always something happening at home, from new builds to extensions and refurbishments,” adds Jemma.
“I enjoyed watching the transformations taking place and would spend hours planning my bedroom and re-arranging my furniture. I even made my own house out of pallets one year. I planned it to the last detail with individual rooms and plenty of storage.
“As I got older my dad would take me to visit projects he was working on in London and I knew I wanted to be part of that industry.”
The couple began the second reincarnation of their own home by building a single-storey extension to create a spacious kitchen, dining area and cloakroom. They had previously knocked through the dividing wall into what had been a formal dining room to create a large open-plan living space. “That also allowed us to block the kitchen door up, which previously led into the hallway,” adds Jemma, who has a degree in interior design and worked for an architecture practice before taking time out. She and Tim now have their own design business, Kirman and Kirman.
The sitting room at the front of the house has been given over to the boys as a playroom and a place to store their toys. While that might seem extravagant it does mean the rest of the house is clutter- free.
Jemma and Tim also converted the loft space into a large bedroom and demolished the integral garage to make a bigger garden with more room for Ethan, five, Xavier, three, and Luke, two-and-a-half, to play in.
Most of the £42,000 budget went on the structural work so the interiors were done on a shoestring.
“It’s something I’ve done a lot of. I had some buy-to-let properties with my brother and I also stage property for sale so I am used to working with a restricted budget. I honestly believe you can still create something special without spending a fortune,” says Jemma.
Her favourite shopping haunts for bargains include Home Sense, Next, Marks & Spencer, Ikea and the George Home section in Asda.
“It is amazing what you can find if you pick your way round the high street shops and you can find fantastic furniture in charity shops and on Gumtree,” she says.
Her kitchen units are from Yorkshire-based Howdens, which she uses for many of her projects.
“They are really good quality and the carcasses are ready built for you, which saves time and money when you have it installed because the joiner doesn’t have to do as much work,” she says.
The wallpaper was just £8 a roll from B&Q, although Jemma splashed out on the paper in the sitting room, which was from Paris and cost £45 a roll.
“I’m always coming home with rolls of wallpaper and pots of paint, much to my husband’s horror, but I love the fact you can totally change the look of a room that way with very little effort or expense.”
Furniture is a mix of new and vintage buys. The pew that provides seating for the dining table is from a reclamation yard. The fireplace in Ethan’s room was a £15 bargain from Gumtree and looks homely thanks to some log-effect wallpaper from Homebase.
Rather than decorate his bedroom with a theme he might soon tire of, Jemma has framed some Star Wars wallpaper, which can be easily swapped for the next “craze”.
Xavier’s room is brightened by Cath Kidston’s London wallpaper, while Luke’s is decorated with robot stickers.
Storage and usability have been well thought through. There are wooden pegs to hang pyjamas on and an inexpensive Ikea Lack table has been turned into a Lego table.
“It’s a lot easier than playing with Lego on the floor. I just stuck a Lego board on the table top,” says Jemma, whose loft bedroom suite is a sanctuary with more evidence of her creativity. A plain mannequin found in a charity shop has been decorated with découpage and doubles as storage for bags.
Tim has showcased his talents outside in the garden, where he has built two decked areas. The second round of work has future-proofed the property for the Kirmans, who plan to stay there long term.
With her own home transformed, Jemma is getting her property fix from tackling projects for other people. “I love residential work. It’s very creative, especially if there is a tight budget,” she says.
The children’s toys also feel the benefit of her vocation. Jemma couldn’t resist redecorating their doll’s house and customising the mini Ikea kitchen with Habitat and Cath Kidston wallpapers.
“The boys don’t really care how they look but I couldn’t resist making them bespoke,” she says. “The house and the kitchen were crying out for some wallpaper.”