Interior design wasn’t Karen Knox’s first career choice but it was clear early on that she was destined to be a “do’er upper”. She got her first commission at the age of 12 when her brother asked her to redecorate his room.
“As a child, I was always rearranging the furniture and changing the look of my bedroom and I loved using bold colours,” says Karen, who went on to become a professional dancer after studying at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.
She bought her first house at the age of 21 and tackled a full-scale renovation and redesign with the aid of her dad, a joiner. When she sold it three years ago she smashed the ceiling price for the area thanks to its eye-catching good looks.
After helping countless family and friends solve their decorating dilemmas, Leeds-based Karen made interiors her full-time job. Her business, Making Spaces, tackles everything from single rooms to whole house revamps and staging properties for sale.
She’s also become a top blogger with a legion of fans who love following her latest projects and design discoveries on making-spaces.net. They include the impressive redesign of a home office in a day, which cost the client £250, and “before and afters” where she adds personality and style to characterless homes.
“You can have a lovely, bubbly homeowner with a house that doesn’t reflect them at all. The challenge is to create a space that reflects their personality and supports their lifestyle,” she says.
Her own home is a testimony to her skills and her belief that good design doesn’t have to cost a fortune. She and husband Pete bought the 1960s semi five years ago after searching for a family-sized home in North Leeds.
“It wasn’t the best looking house but the space and location ticked all the boxes. I’m so pleased we bought it because it’s a friendly community and we have wonderful neighbours,” she says.
The three-bedroom house had been much loved by long-term owners but had been given a quick makeover by a developer that masked much of the work that needed doing, including rewiring and plumbing.
Karen began the project when she was pregnant with her son Charlie, now four, and took inspiration from the property’s mid-century roots.
“It made sense. The scale of the furniture from that era suits the scale of the rooms,” she says.
The sitting room, which was magnolia, is now off-black, which adds cosiness and drama. The sofa is from Heal’s and the cushions and armchair are from Made.com, both at Redbrick Mill, Batley.
Karen’s love of art is evident everywhere. She sources it from galleries and online at Desenio.co.uk, art.co.uk and posterlounge.co.uk. One of her favourite pictures by artist Lucy McLauchlan has pride of place over the fireplace.
“I’m a massive fan of street art and political art, though Pete feels there’s a bit too much of it in the house,” she admits.
Plants are another obsession. She has 55 houseplants and counting.
“I took to plants and gardening after Charlie was born. I was a stay-at-home mum for a while and it was an outlet that gave me some head space,” she says.
There’s plenty of room for them in the kitchen and dining room, which are semi open plan after the dividing wall was removed. Karen describes the old kitchen as a “disaster. It was dated with black tiles and black worktops. It looked like a “dungeon.”
New cabinets and appliances cost £4,000 from DIY Kitchens in Pontefract and were teamed with white quartz worktops and glass splashbacks. The dining room was painted white, including the chimney breast covered with embossed wallpaper.
“I then decided I didn’t like the paper so we stripped it off and it left a fantastic distressed effect which I love,” she says.
Upstairs, the two double bedrooms have been redecorated and the dark landing is now a light, bright space after Karen got rid of the box room and created an open-plan office and an open-tread birch ply steps leading to the loft extension.
“I could’ve kept the box room and put in some winding stairs up to the loft but it would’ve looked gloomy and awful. Now the landing is one of my favourite spaces. I’ve zoned off the office area with a rug.”
She made the desk with help from her dad and put magnetic plaster on the wall so she can use it as an ideas board. The attic conversion includes a light-filled, Scandi-inspired guest room with a separate shower room. Karen designed the contemporary dormer, which features three full-length windows made and fitted by Huddersfield-based Clearview Doors.
It cost more than a conventional conversion with roof lights but she managed to save money on the fit-out.
The flooring is wide strips of poplar ply, which was much cheaper than timber planks, and the bed and chair are from Ikea.
Most of the furniture in the house is a mix of new and vintage finds from favourite shopping haunts including Redbrick Mill, La Redoute, Maisons du Monde, Ikea and eBay and it is often re-shuffled.
Karen is constantly rearranging and changing the look to create new vignettes that she posts on her blog and on Instagram.
Pete describes the house as a series of photo opportunities but adds: “It’s constantly evolving but I don’t mind. It’s a canvas for Karen’s work.”
* Making Spaces, making-spaces.net and Karen’s blog can be found at blog.making-spaces.net
Dowsing & Reynolds, vintage-style lighting and hardware, dowsingandreynolds.com
Soak bathrooms, soak.com
Tiles – British Ceramic Tile, britishceramictile.com
Made.com and Heal’s at Redbrick Mill, Batley, redbrickmill.co.uk
La Redoute, Laredoute.co.uk
Maisons du Monde, maisonsdumonde.com
DIY Kitchens, diy-kitchens.com