So, I promised you the backstory behind this incredible DIY remodel, didn’t I?
Once I saw Deborah Peterson Milne's before and after pics (she and her husband did the remodel), I had to find out more about how they pulled off such a remarkable transformation. I bet you wondered the same when you saw them, too.
So, as someone who never skips an opportunity to pick a fellow remodeler's brain...
I questioned Deborah about all the hows and whys, and...
She revealed her thoughts on all of them!
My Interview w/ Designer Deborah Peterson Milne
Carla: What prompted you to remodel? Was this a place you intended to stay for awhile, rent out, sell? What was your goal when you started?
Deb: The minute we walked into the home we knew it was a complete remodel. My heart sank and my spouse saw money in the bank. The purchase of this 100 year old flat was definitely made with our heads not with our hearts. For our home search we focused on three things, the area (schools, walkability, postcode) period details & potential. We knew we'd want to sell at some point just not so soon.
Carla: You made a big statement with your look. How did you arrive at what you wanted the space to look like? Did you always have an idea for a home like this? Was the design influenced by the location, the architecture, the layout of the spaces?
Deb: When it comes to interiors, I've been tempted by the 'dark-side' for several years now. British author & style maven Abigail Ahern is one designer responsible for that inspiration. Our Scottish flat was my chance to actually pull this edgy look off. I was sold that dark walls would work for several reasons - 15' ceilings, good light and wood work that I could paint bright white. The architecture is Victorian and when I think of that era, I think of grey fabrics, black shoes & hats. It's obvious no one would move to Scotland for the good weather. Aberdeen is actually nicknamed the grey city; with it's granite buildings and dark skies, it can be a gloomy spot on the map to live. Despite that, I was hoping I achieved not only a feeling of cozy and warmth inside our home but one that was livable & with a young attitude. Our goal was to marry the the old dining room (now kitchen) with the existing lounge as one new large open-plan style of living; let's face it, most home buyers choose to live this way now.
Carla: Were costs and materials a significant influence in the design?
Deb: Yes, yes & yes. Who would not love to go into a project with wild abandon when it comes to making choices? In this case, because we knew this would not be our forever home, and we still own homes in the U.S., we had to be smart about spending. My husband Graham and I had to put the stops on each other often and reel our expectations back to reality. It is easy for us to get caught up in our expectations compared to what is practical. We wanted a high-end look but we did not want to sacrifice walking away with a profit. In the end, we spent just shy of £18,000. ($26,640.) 95% of all materials, including furniture, lighting, accents, were purchased online.
We arrived in Scotland with 22 small boxes of mostly clothes and kitchenware. We had nothing! With Aberdeen being limited with design choices and our budget tight, I was able to get the look we wanted and stay on out of the red. I have to be honest, it's the challenge of the hunt that I enjoy the most. There is something rewarding about not settling for what's easily available. There is a fine line to walk between being a cheapskate and being clever. I do prefer clever!
I have had incredible luck with Ebay, & Gumtree (our version of Craig's List). I found it was cost effective to hire a shipper to pick up and deliver about anything I found from down south, primarily the London area. Personally, there is something exciting about buying things that have a past. I am passionate about mixing old and new. Too much of one and not enough of the other lends a home to be void of character. One of my favorite quotes to live by - "A person with real flair is a gambler at heart.” -- Interior designer Billy Baldwin.
Carla: Approximately how long was your planning stage and then how long was construction? You and your husband did the work yourselves, right?
Deb: Oddly enough the planning stage was a fast one. My wheels started turning of what I wanted in our Scottish home before we left our house in Houston. Although it's old school, I still find an inspiration board a great tool. I would stare at it day in and day out working my ideas into this space. We knew from the start that removing a structural wall was to be our first project. The second was to transform the old dining room into the kitchen and the third installing a new staircase to the upper floor. Because the living room/kitchen would be one large space, we did not want the kitchen to announce itself loudly. The footprint of the flat is quite small which gave us few options; this actually made planning easier. From beginning to end the remodel took us 2 1/2 years. Because we both worked full-time at our careers, we were limited to weekends. If the weekend was a sunny one, the tools were set aside and we were out of the house.
Yes, we are proud to say we did do most of the work ourselves. I tip my hat over & over again to my brilliant husband. Not only for his DIY skills, but also for his unwavering patience. I'd like to say that we knew when to call in the big guns to do work that we were not skilled enough to do. Because of my job in the property management field here, I developed a good relationship with our local contractors. It was those contractors and a talented relative that put the final pieces of this puzzle together for us.
Carla: Okay, all your designer / blogger friends greatly admire what you've done. What has been the reaction of people who might not necessarily be labeled a "design lover"?
Deb: Thank you! I am a gun shy design enthusiast, so to receive any compliment is a thrill. People here are incredibly kind, especially home buyers. I was hesitant about having to show our home to prospective buyers (a practice done here rather than a sales agent) myself for fear of criticism. I can say that once people enter the heart of the flat they are shocked. I suspect that many were expecting not to like it as much as they did. What's been the biggest thrill is getting great kudo's from hip young couples and men. Women are usually the gushers when it comes to properties but I've had several men that didn't want to leave.
What is important to know about the U.K's home buying market is it is totally unique from the U.S. Good or bad, people here look at homes with an open mind & are far less judgmental. If you watch any UK TV show about home buying compared to shows in the states, you'd be amazed. There is little nose turning because your countertops are not granite or you have wallpapered. Buyers actually applaud wallpaper. No stainless steel appliances, no problem. I'm telling you this because I am sure that many would wonder why we would make such bold choices when we knew we'd be selling. We did it because we could.
Carla: Want to share one horror story from the trenches?? Products being discontinued, things backordered, contractors not showing up, cost overruns? Or did everything run smooth as buttah?
Deb: We had very few problems during the process. We look back now and wish we had tiled the kitchen all the way up to the ceiling. The tile was inexpensive but the labour costs were not. That and installing Carrara marble countertops. Again, this is where you had to ask yourself if doing so would attribute to a higher profit when selling? In this case, no. Had we gone that extra mile, it would have bumped the space to grander level.
We had a bit of a learning curve with local contractors. My ideas and choices rolled a few Scottish eyes. The true reward was several gents confessing that I had indeed made the right choice. I actually knew what I was doing!
I also learned that the cheapest quote wasn't the bargain it was on paper. We had one electrician do an extensive amount of damage that was gut wrenching The damage set us back 2 weeks & a fair share of hair loss. Aberdeen is the oil capital of Europe; it is a busy city due to the influx of people in the oil business and those servicing the industry. The rental business is huge here and the demand for skilled contractors makes every one of them worth their weight in gold, black gold. Even with the relationships I built, it was a struggle to get anyone scheduled within a reasonable amount of time. I look back now and realize how important it is to keep those kind of tradesman on your Christmas list. I learned quickly what the common reference of a 'cowboy' builder/contractor meant. You do not want a cowboy remodeling your home.
Good news came in yesterday, we sold our flat for over the asking price. What's incredible, the offer came from an 18 year old young man. Strangely enough I feel honored!
And I feel honored to have Deb share this story with me and all of you!
Now, for all of you who have read this entire Q&A and still haven't taken a good look at all of this flat's before and after shots (and there are many more available to be seen)...