Transformation scene

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Team work helped Nigel and Janice Oxby complete a stunning renovation of this 1920s house. Heather Dixon reports.

A bike ride to a friend’s house became the catalyst of a life-changing decision for Janice and Nigel Oxby, when they spotted an elegant 1920s house for sale en route.

Although they had no intention of moving, and the six-bedroom house in Doncaster was too small downstairs, they couldn’t get it out of their minds.

“The carpets were threadbare, the wallpaper was held together with Sellotape and there was a small sink and shower in what is now the dining room,” recalls Janice. “The lady who owned it had lived in the house since she was five years old and clearly loved it, but it had become too big for her. She wanted to sell it to someone who would love it as much as she did.”

Seeing its potential, Janice and Nigel sold their cottage within a matter of days and moved into their new home, living in it while they renovated it – starting in the top floor and working down while they waited for planning permission to extend the ground floor.

The original kitchen was small for the size of the house, so they knocked out the kitchen and sitting room walls and built a single storey dining kitchen and family area across the full width of the property at the back. They also reduced the six bedrooms to four by turning two of them into a bathroom and dressing room.

“We took the house back to a shell,” says Janice. “I remember coming home one day feeling really fed up only to find the house in chaos, but Nigel had arrived before me, set up the garden table with a pretty cloth and tealights, and served up a takeaway. We had a wonderful candlelit dinner among the rubble.”

These thoughtful pick-me-ups, along with meals out, takeaways and invitations to dinner, kept them going during the year they lived in chaos.

“Everything was so dirty we couldn’t even use the oven,” says Janice. “When it got too much, we just reminded ourselves of the way it would look when it was finished.”

As the rooms were renovated and decorated one by one, Nigel worked – often through the night – to furnish and accessorise them.

“We sold or gave away most of the furniture from the cottage because it was too small for this house,” says Nigel. “We spent a lot of time shopping for furniture which would work in here and buying accessories, which we stored in the garage until we were ready to use them. I’m a great believer in buying things I like when I see them, even if I can’t use them straight away. If you wait until you need something you can never find what you want and end up compromising.”

Among their favourite shopping haunts are local antique fairs, where they buy all kinds of collectables, fabrics and smaller items of furniture.

“I like to group things together,” says Nigel. “I particularly like shiny things. I’m a bit of a magpie. But I always choose something because I know it will work with something else, or because its height or shape is right for a particular corner.”

The eclectic style works well with Janice and Nigel’s love of different styles, ranging from the very modern look of the dining room to the traditional “gentleman’s club” style of the sitting room.

“At first I questioned Nigel’s ideas because I could never quite imagine the end results,” says Janice. “But as time went on I began to realise he knew what he was talking about. He can see things I can’t and put everything together in a way which works. Now I just let him get on with it.”

Just occasionally she tries to put her foot down. When Nigel spotted the sitting room curtains at an antique fair Janice thought they were awful. “They were threadbare, old and very smelly, but he said that if he left without them he would regret it forever. They were so bad they had to be left outside, but eventually we had them lined and once they were hung up they looked fabulous.”

Nigel’s confidence with colours, furniture and accessories is countered by his perfectionism. “I’m always very self-critical,” he says. “I like everything to be just so before people come to visit, and I will make sure it’s perfect once they’ve gone, but while they’re here I’m very laid back and really like people to feel at home.”

Janice and Nigel, who own a hairdressing salon and run an interior design service called Englishman’s Castle, rarely come back from a trip empty-handed, whether they’re at home or abroad, but they always have a strict budget with a small contingency fund “in case Nigel finds something he can’t resist” that they stick to.

“Antiques are cheap at the moment so you can pick up some real bargains,” says Nigel. “It’s easy to get carried away, but you can always find something original and quirky. I think a home should say something about the owner.’


Nigel’s Decorating/renovation tips:

If you like something, buy it – even if you haven’t got a place for it in mind, then store it until you know where it’s going to go.

Create groups of interesting object d’art and collectables to create interesting corners and detail.

Display smaller items in a corner cupboard or a glass-fronted display cabinet to keep them together without cluttering up the room.

Follow your instinct and keep your eye on the goal. A strong colour can look awful halfway through decorating, but fabulous once the furniture is in and the accessories are in place.

Use large pictures to create impact. Always buy bigger than you think – small pictures can look lost on a plain wall.

Useful contacts

Englishman’s Castle, tel: 07729 869194

John Shaw Antiques, tel: 01709 522340

Bawtry Fabrics and Trimmings, tel: 01302 719463

Furniture made by Michael Usher tel: 01302 863536,

Trompe l’oiel artist Mary Daw, tel: 01427 873036

ABC Carpet and Home in New York