Meet the couple who transformed a pebble-dash property into their dream Devon home
PUBLISHED: 18:37 09 May 2016 | UPDATED: 14:45 17 May 2016
We meet a couple who made the move down from London to transform a home into something very different from its original look
Tsai and Ian Gardner flick through a photo album which details a very special time in their lives. But these newlyweds aren’t showing off their wedding snaps. Instead, the couple have put together a record of the life-changing months they spent turning an ordinary, unloved 1980s, four-bed detached house into their dream home.
The building, on the Mead estate in Thurlestone, South Devon, was the sort of place that only a highly skilled property developer with a massive amount of vision could love. Luckily, Ian managed to persuade partner Tsai that this pebble-dashed, topsy-turvy building she saw before her could be something pretty special.
“This was the first property we saw and it was the worst one we saw,” says Tsai, as she recalls the hectic two weekends the couple spent house-hunting after deciding to move to Devon from London. “Ian had a lot of vision. I looked at it and thought: Oh God! It was a real mess. There was so much stuff on the floors, you could barely see them.”
But there was that view – miles and miles of sea and South Devon countryside, plus the chance to do something quite revolutionary to a house that had spent decades simply blending in. “It was my fag packet idea,” says Ian, 41, a mediator and commercial property developer. “We were in Australia at the time and the details came through from the estate agent. We had the basic layout and I just came up with a few plans.” Was Tsai convinced? “Yes,” she says before Ian adds, laughing: “Really? Totally convinced, were you?” “I was!” says Tsai, 44. “I just don’t think I realised how much work it was until we started pulling out all the central heating. That was a pretty big deal.”
It wasn’t only the heating system that was changed (from oil to electric). The couple completely transformed the layout of the house, turning the dilapidated garage into a bedroom and putting en-suites where wardrobes once were.
The upstairs was made open plan and the kitchen moved. The staircase was ripped out and completely reconstructed using an intricate metalwork design, with the help of local blacksmith Joff Hopper from Metal Pig Forge in Dartington.
The doors, the windows and the floors were altered and that pesky pebble-dash was covered with a fresh-looking, New England-style cladding.
It was hard graft and such dramatic changes raised a few local eyebrows, to say the least. “It took us so long to get planning permission,” says Tsai, as she talks about the objections the couple faced when they first applied to alter the property, which is on an estate full of similar houses. “I think people saw us coming in as second homeowners (the couple have a flat in London, where they both still work) and saw that we wanted to make all these changes.
“In fact, all we’ve helped to do is show what can be done to these houses.”
Tsai explains the planning process slowed things down. The couple had their offer accepted in 2012 and completed on Valentine’s Day in 2013. “We naively thought that we’d put the planning permission in and we’d get started on the work at Easter,” says Tsai. “But, no. It took us until the December to get that permission. “We were getting married in July 2014 and we wanted to host our reception at the house. We only managed to get rid of the builders three days before the wedding - but we did it. We hosted a reception for 40 people here. “It was bonkers, it really was.”
Crazy maybe, but not bad going – wreck to wedding venue in less than 18 months. “I like to get stuff done,” says Tsai, an events manager. “I made sure all the fixtures and fittings were ready to go, so as soon as a room was done – whoosh! - they all went in. “I’ve got so many friends who half do up a house and then don’t finish it until they’re about to sell. You don’t get to enjoy it. “We put our heart and soul into this. I’d never done anything like it before and I loved it. Everything just seemed to fit perfectly.”
The whole process has been a steep learning curve for Tsai. Not only was she a DIY novice, but moving away from the capital took some getting used to. “I was a London girl through and through,” she says. “My family said to me: ‘How are you going to cope with life in the country?’. “I must admit, I was quite lonely when I first came down but meeting people through sport has been my saviour.” Both Tsai and Ian are keen golfers and quickly made friends through the nearby club. The couple also enjoy walking their dogs Bramble and D’fa on the beach and reel off a list of their favourite pubs and restaurants in the area.
Both Tsai and Ian – who used local firms for their renovation project - say they are determined to make the most of everything their new community has to offer. I’m based in Devon full-time now and only pop back to London occasionally,” says Tsai. “We absolutely love it here and I think we’re making a very nice home for ourselves. I feel like we’ve stumbled across a real a gem.”