Client Stories: a lesson in renovation


For many of us, our DIY abilities are limited to hanging up a picture frame or assembling flatpack furniture. But for others, the “I can do it” attitude extends to as far as replastering and reroofing, and even building a new kitchen.

Jo and Alex Skinner, the owners of Paygate Cottage in Laughton, East Sussex, are the perfect example of this. Driven by a desire to save money while creating something special, the couple used much of their own skill (and patience!) to transform a derelict property – which had no central heating or bathroom, and one double socket for power – into the superb family home we see today.

Having bought the house through an auction in 2015, Alex – a carpenter by trade – spent £70,000 making the house habitable, including insulating, patching up the roof, and damp-proofing the walls. Phase two of the project was where the home truly transformed though, with the pair adding an extension which almost doubled the square footage, as well as spending time creating Instagram-worthy interiors but at a fraction of the cost.

Summer’s more temperate weather lends itself well to starting building works at home, with less chance of delays due to rain or having gusty winds blowing through your house. So, with these warmer and drier months approaching, we sat down with Jo and Alex to see what can be learnt from their renovation.

While the couple admittedly had certain things in their favour, such as friends in the trade who could help with groundworks for the extension, many of their takeaways can be implemented by those of us with less useful connections.

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“If you don’t ask, you don’t get”


“If you’re going to buy new appliances, buy in bulk and use a smaller, independent shop because then you might be able to haggle,” says Jo. Through buying a fridge, freezer, and an oven in one go, the couple got £500 taken off the final price – essentially getting themselves a free appliance. And it might be less of an ‘in the know’ secret now, but Facebook Marketplace is also a good source of second-hand goods, with their washing machine costing just £100 from a neighbour.


Alex spent 12-hour days crafting the family’s new Shaker-style kitchen – saving them tens of thousands of pounds – and while this craftsmanship is likely to be out of reach for many of us, there’s aspects of their approach which can certainly be copied. The fabulous oak worktop on the kitchen island was sourced from a local sawmill, but they got it for half price - £100 – because it had a big crack in it. “We put a bit of resin in the crack, sanded it down and then just oiled it – any DIYer could do that,” Alex says confidently.


Similarly, the wood burner in the snug is a non-negotiable for the family in the colder winter months, but it’s a good example of where being cheeky can pay off. Their Morso O4 costs around £2,000 but Alex and Jo got it for closer to £1,000 as it’s ex-display. In Alex’s words, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”; if you fall in love with a piece of furniture in a shop window, it’s always worth asking if it’s for sale and if so, what the best price for it is. This is a mantra which has paid-off throughout the house, with everything from the wood-burner to the bathroom shower door and fittings coming straight off the shop floor.


Reuse and recycle

While Alex and Jo had access to second-hand goods through both their jobs - Jo is a buyer for an interior design company - you might also be able to find steals in unexpected places. As works progress in your home, keep an eye out for things which can be reused elsewhere; Alex made wooden benches from kitchen offcuts, and they avoided having to buy many extra bricks for the extension by retaining those from the knocked-down interior walls. “A young lad fresh from university soaked the bricks and cleaned them with a chisel, which saved us buying new. We only had to buy three bricks for the whole extension,” says Alex.

You’ll likely be spending quite a bit of time at your local tip or recycling centre during the building works, and many of them have areas where too good to waste objects are either given away for free or sold for a small sum. It’s worth a quick look here every time you visit in case someone’s thrown something away which could be of use.

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Hunting around


If you’ve been considering a project for a while, it’s likely you have a Pinterest board or a photo library full of inspiration. This is always a good springboard for your vision, but if you’re being price savvy then definitely be open to more affordable alternatives.


When it came to the kitchen and extension flooring at Paygate Cottage, quotes for solid oak floors were around £6,000 including labour. The pair chose Lalegno RVP, a wood-effect flooring close to £1,800, that looks like the real deal and was “fitted by Jo’s dad and a friend in a couple of evenings,” explains Alex.


With its dark blue panelling, the entrance hall certainly provides the wow-factor as you step into the home, but it’s also a prime example of thinking outside of the box. The panelling may look as if it’s made of timber, but in fact, it’s crafted using MDF and the deep colour certainly has echoes of Farrow & Ball or Little Greene, but it’s just trade paint – cleverly colour-matched at the paint shop.

A self-acclaimed bargain hunter, Jo was always on the lookout for credible alternatives to her vision, and the dazzling star-pattern tiles here were also the result of dedicated searching. Instead of more expensive starred tiles at £58 per square metre, she found a similar pattern from another brand which allowed her to retile the space for £300. A lot more affordable, but still packing a punch.


The second phase of Alex and Jo’s project took just a year and has been a fantastic family home since they finished four years ago. But with the family growing – their son was born just nine months ago – the home is now on the market for £995,000 through our Lewes office (01273 761532).

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