Before and After: A Bland, Beige New-Build Apartment’s Budget Transformation Is Incredible
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Name: Hannah Drakeford
Location: Deptford — Southeast London, United Kingdom
Size: 539 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment
Years Lived In: 5 years, owned
I’m an interior and homewares designer and I live on my own in a one-bedroom new-build apartment in Deptford, SE London. When I moved in back in 2017, it was essentially a bland, beige box and I mean beige everything: walls, carpet, kitchen, bathroom. Even back then, before I started working in interior design, I had a well enough established sense of style to know this really wasn’t an environment that could make me happy and set to work turning the place into somewhere I’d be proud to live. Being a new build, the apartment also lacked any kind of quirks or interesting features, so I knew I had my work cut out creating the unique, one-of-a-kind home I was dreaming of.
I’m still very much on a journey and my decor will continue to evolve as I have more and more ideas, but the space I’ve created so far is a genuine expression of my personality and most importantly feels cosy, welcoming, and homely.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style + Inspiration: I adore all things mid-century and my work both as an interior designer and with my homewares is heavily influenced by the use of colors and shapes in the abstract paintings of Auguste Herbin. I always gravitate to bright, bold colors paired with black and white stripes and geometrics.
I spent a lot of time traveling with my previous career in retail design and would always pick things up from anywhere I travelled to (I’ve gathered quite the collection of kimonos from vintage stores across Europe!). I also have a ton of exhibition posters that were previously taped to walls across Paris (such as the Le Corbusier one on my living room shelves). I’m also drawn to weird objects that wouldn’t traditionally be considered home accessories, such as the red letter ‘N’ on my shelves, which was once part of a Wilkinsons shop sign and the neon hoop above the red cabinet in my lounge was originally made as a photoshoot prop for a brand I used to work for.
My head is continuously brimming with ideas for new homewares and furniture designs and I’m always trying to make my budget stretch as far as possible (I was definitely raised thrifty), so I do a lot of upcycling in my home (all documented on my Instagram). I love picking up IKEA pieces for cheap on eBay and then transforming them into something really unique and premium-looking. The red TV cabinet for example started out as a boring, grey IKEA cabinet that I picked up for £20 and my checkerboard bedside table was a basic little glass number I picked up for £5 on Gumtree.
Favorite Element: I really enjoy the view from my living room windows. My flat is on the top floor and I love being at the same height as the birds! Every year seagulls return to nest on the chimney pots opposite and I watch their chicks grow and eventually fly the nest from the comfort of my sofa.
Biggest Challenge: My hallway! I’m always so envious of anyone who lives in a house with a lovely open entrance hall because they can be the most amazing spaces to design. Mine is a weirdly-angled, tight space with no natural light (I can only get decent photos of it on sunny afternoons at a particular point in the day when the light reflects off my coffee table at a certain angle!)
I wanted to create an impact with decor that would set the tone for the rest of the apartment, whilst incorporating storage and using design to make the space feel larger and accentuate the angles of the room.
After a couple of unsatisfactory experiments with color, I ended up painting the whole space back to white and painting black sections at either end of the space that extend onto the ceiling. These work to lengthen the space and give the illusion of higher ceilings as the black effectively disappears. It doesn’t feel dark and oppressive, which I think puts most people off using black in their rooms. Next, I sourced a mid-century sideboard to fit into the recessed area by the front door, added orange flex and polystyrene balls to the pair of vintage Habitat pendants I had hanging in the space (for a little pop of color) and then finished the décor with one of my geometric shapes murals.
Proudest DIY: This is a tough one, but I think I’ll have to go with my bathroom renovation as a whole as it’s the last room I finished. (It used to have beige tiles on the floor and walls, a chrome towel rail, and mahogany-effect laminate on the bath panel and countertop).
The inspiration for this room came from a trip I took to Marrakech a few years ago. The riad we stayed in had the most amazing circle motif tiles in the bathroom and I always knew I had to try and recreate this in some form.
Obviously if budget had allowed, I would’ve loved to rip the entire room out and install the tiles of my dreams, but this really wasn’t an option at the time. Instead, I did some research into the type of paint I could use on all the surfaces I wanted to cover (using one paint for all surfaces to save money) and set to work painting everything white. I added wooden paneling above and below the mirrored cabinets and painted that and the ceiling pink to match the motifs I had hand-painted on the floor tiles and above the bath.
The other elements I think turned out really well in this room are the globe wall lights (secondhand basic bathroom pendant lights, again from eBay). And the faux terrazzo countertop that I painted by hand instead of forking out for the real deal.
It now looks like a little fantasy land in there and it’s so dramatically different to how it used to look. I’m so, so happy with how it ended up!
Budget: I can give examples of some of my upcycle projects and how much it cost to make each piece:
Red TV Cabinet: This started out as a plain grey IKEA Havsta cupboard, which I picked up for £20 on eBay. Process:
- Knocked out the middle panels of the doors and removed the cabinet base
- Primed and painted all elements using Vintro Valentine chalk paint (£25, Ebay).
- Added new feet (£18, Ebay).
- Replaced the door panels with painted garden canes (£5, Ebay), glued into place.
- Added semi-circular handles (laser-cut plywood, Ebay, £9)
- Total spend: £77
Orange Bobble Plant Pot: Grey fibreclay planter, picked up for £10 from B&Q (was discounted as damaged). Process:
- Using air-drying clay (£7, Amazon), I rolled out approx. 70 x 2cm balls
- Painted pot and balls (using a sprayer for an even coat) with orange emulsion (leftover from bedroom ceiling circle).
- Marked out and drilled holes in the pot.
- Screwed in each individual ball (seriously long job!)
- Total spend: £17
Checkerboard Bedside Table: Original ’90s glass table picked up on Gumtree for £5. Process:
- To create a chunkier leg, I cut down a length of plastic drainage pipe (£6, Ebay), unscrewed the top of the top of the table, slotted it on top of the existing leg and screwed back together to secure.
- I created the checkerboard effect using signmaker’s vinyl (which I already had rolls of, but you can buy on eBay).
- Sealed all the vinyl surfaces with a clear, matte varnish (Ronseal Exterior Trade, Crystal Clear) £12, Screwfix.
- Total spend: £23
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? There isn’t really anything unique about the way I use the rooms (apart from the living room/kitchen doubling-up as my office, but that’s not really unique any more). Over the last year however, I’ve been inviting photographers and brands into my apartment to use as a shoot location. It means I really have to keep on top of the cleaning and tidiness, but the shoot days are so much fun! I love helping with the styling of the shots and hosting in general and there’s always an amazing energy in here.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: The hallway is a great example of this, but in addition I’ll mention that when I moved to London, I downsized from a two-bedroom house with a loft and as an inherent hoarder, I’ve learned to adopt a 1-in, 1-out policy every time I buy something new! My storage space is so limited and is always maxed out, so I use the same online marketplaces I buy most of my furniture and accessories from to sell all the stuff I no longer need. Fortunately, I have a decent sized utility cupboard, which houses a few things that I’m either waiting to sell or am too sentimental to part with.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? I’d say the key to creating a home you love would be to not be afraid to trust your instinct and be brave in the design choices you make. There will ultimately be mistakes made along the way, but it’s the only way to learn what kind of a space you really want to live in and it’s so important to create a home that truly makes your heart sing!
- Black paint: Midnight Black (matt emulsion) — Wickes (own brand)
- Vintage Habitat pendants — eBay
- Orange lighting flex and polystyrene balls — Both eBay
- Table arc lamp — Heals sample sale
- Brutalist prints — And+ Studios (discontinued I think?)
- Vintage sideboard — eBay
- Vintage sofa — eBay
- Vintage IKEA shelves — eBay
- Black paint — “Midnight Black” Wickes
- Upcycled IKEA Vittsjo coffee table — eBay
- Upcycled TV cabinet — eBay
- Neon hoop light — Made as a prop for a photoshoot for a fashion brand I used to work for
- Stainless steel desk — Secondhand catering table, eBay
- Rug — eBay
- Honey Pouffe in orange — Happy Barok
- Orange Tapers plant pot (on coffee table) — Hannah Drakeford Design
- Black Wiggle plant pot (on red cabinet) — Hannah Drakeford Design
- Totems Cube Planter (on shelves) — Hannah Drakeford Design
- Le Corbusier art exhibition print (top of shelves) — Removed from a wall in Paris
- Jarpen metal chair —IKEA (discontinued)
- Black and white geometric cushion — Patternity X John Lewis (discontinued)
- Vintage circle print cushion (sofa) — Ebay
- Black semi-circle cushion (sofa) — Dunelm (discontinued)
- Red tufted cushion — Ebay
- White paint (kitchen cabinets and worktop) — Gloss garage floor paint, Ebay
- Begripa handles — IKEA
- Yellow kettle — Kenwood (discontinued)
- Utensil holder — Habitat (discontinued)
- Stripe tea towel — Ebay
- Dark green wall paint (matt) — Naval Knight, Valspar (B&Q)
- Yellow paint (matt) — Simply Brilliant, Valspar
- Blue Paint (matt) — Paradiso, Valspar (used behind bed and on hanging lamp)
- Orange Paint (matt) — Valencia, Good Home (B&Q)
- Atomic pendant light — Vintage store (can’t remember where)
- Vintage bed — Ebay
- Vintage drawers — Inherited from Mum, handles from Ebay
- Vintage mirror (upcycled) — Charity shop
- Bedside table (upcycled) — Gumtree
- Orange lamp — Habitat (discontinued)
- Black and white cushion — IKEA (discontinued)
- Blue cushion — IKEA (discontinued)
- Yellow cushion — Dunelm (discontinued)
- Vintage rattan chair — Taken from the bin room of a shopping centre I used to work in
- Spotty blanket — Habitat (discontinued)
- Stripe bedding — Ebay
- White paint (all surfaces) — V33 Floor and Stairs paint (satin)
- Pink paint (ceiling, murals, paneling) — Lick Pink 03
- Clear varnish (to seal tile murals) — Rocktop Clear Coat
- Black and white ceramic pot — From the souks in Marrakech
- Soap dispenser — John Lewis (discontinued)
- Globe lights — Ebay
- Bath mat — H&M Home (discontinued)
This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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