I moved back to my hometown to transform a fixer-upper
After years of commuting from Shoreham in Sussex to her work in London, interior stylist Maxine was ready to make a big lifestyle change.
“I’d left my role at a magazine to become a freelance stylist and my long-term relationship had come to an end, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to shake things up in my life. I decided to sell my one-bedroom flat – along with pretty much everything I owned – so I could start afresh,” says Maxine. “When I moved out with my dog Teddy, all I had with me was a couple of suitcases of clothes.”
Maxine was able to stay with friends for six months while she saved up a deposit, with a plan to put down permanent roots in her own house. Ideally with a garden for her and Teddy to enjoy.
Today, Maxine calls a beautiful terraced house in Brighton home, every inch of which she’s sprinkled her styling magic on. But getting her home to this stage wasn’t all plain sailing, and there were some twists and turns along the way.
When she started her property search on Rightmove, Maxine knew she wanted to settle in Brighton: “I grew up here, and I have a huge group of friends in the area. We love walking on the South Downs or along the iconic seafront. It’s that perfect mix of city and country life. As people who visit will tell you, this place has an electric feel to it, and it’s like being on holiday all year round,” she says.
Maxine knew she wanted a place with two bedrooms and a garden. As well as that all-important blank canvas she could bring her style to.
“My old flat in Shoreham was sold as a fully renovated property. This time, I wanted to buy a ‘project’ where I could make sure that everything was to my taste, and I could design it to match my needs exactly.”
After researching local house prices, Maxine discovered that the area of Hanover was slightly more affordable than property prices in the centre of Brighton. “I loved the close-knit community feel of the area, and Hanover is packed with Brighton’s iconic multi-coloured houses.”
Maxine viewed several houses in Hanover to get a feel for what was on the market, but it was this two-bedroom house at the top of Hanover that stood out. “I had Rightmove property alerts set up, and when the listing pinged through I knew I had to see it. The house had been uninhabited for seven years and it needed a lot of TLC. I loved that it was situated on a cul-du-sac, so it was nice and quiet. And it was a little bigger than others properties I’d seen too.”
But ultimately it was the feeling that Maxine got about the house when she stepped over the threshold that clinched it. “I brought my mum for the second viewing and just said to her ‘I think this the one’. We went for a coffee after the viewing and – I can’t even put my finger on why – but we both agreed that it just felt like the right place for me to start my new life.”
But she was aware that making over her new home was going to be a big undertaking, so she approached things practically: “Before I got too carried away, I got quotes from local builders, plumbers and roofers for the work that needed doing on the house, so I had a clear idea of what I was getting myself into. That way I had a good idea of what I’d be able to do within my modest budget.”
After many calculations and some back and forth, Maxine’s offer on the house was accepted, and after just a few short months – being a chain-free buyer purchasing a vacant property meant the conveyancing process happened quickly – Maxine and Teddy had the keys to their new home.
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Time to get renovating…
“Although the house needed refurbishing from top to bottom, I had no option but to move in while I saved up for the building works. I lived with the dilapidated windows and no central heating for eight months. But the kitchen was my priority: it was so damp that I would find snails creeping across the tiled floor after a night of rain. It really was quite grim!”
Maxine and her dad did as much work as they could to get her place ready for the builders, including all the messy jobs like stripping off the plaster in the bathroom and ripping out the kitchen units. “I lost count of the number of times we went back and forth to the tip,” says Maxine.
Her builders ripped out the kitchen, bathroom and knocked down a wall between the living room and dining room, installing a huge steel support above. The knock-through flooded her home with light and opened up the space. “The dust was pretty extreme at this point, so I ended up moving in with family for a few weeks to escape the mess!”
One of Maxine’s most satisfying moments during her renovation journey was when the bedroom ceiling-rose was installed: “I had salvaged a Victorian plaster ceiling rose from a skip over 15 years ago, which I’d been carefully storing in my mum’s garage. It was an amazing feeling when it was screwed into the joists, because I felt like I had really put down roots. I added lots of period features in too, like the pretty fireplace in my bedroom, and tiling the hearth.”
Once the work was finished and the freshly plastered walls had dried, Maxine was ready to get to work on decorating her home. “I’d waited a long time to own my own house, and I knew exactly how I wanted to decorate it. I had so many ideas! But once I had paid my builders, I had very little spare cash for all the nice things like sofas or beds, so I bought lots from Brighton’s many second-hand shops,” says Maxine.
One of the areas Maxine invested the bulk of her budget into is built-in storage, to maximise space. ‘It’s only a small two-bedroom house, and I have a lot of photo-shoot props, so everything has to have a place. I built a cupboard under the stairs to stash coats and tools. In the living room alcoves there are two cupboards that hide away things like my WiFi router. And there’s one large unit in the dining room where I store all my vases, glasses and servingware. I did build in a hidden cocktail bar inside too… just because,” she laughs.
One of the last projects that Maxine completed in her home was her urban garden. The once overgrown, unloved patch has been transformed into a colourful patio garden, packed with plants. She started off by hacking back overgrown hedges and laying a lawn. “But as we’re on a hill, whenever it rained my lawn was flooded. It became a waterlogged, muddy patch.”
So she went back to the drawing board, this time drawing inspiration from a trip to Morocco. “After giving up on the idea of a lawn, I decided to create a patio area that echoed the walled gardens I had seen in Marrakesh. I had large hexagonal tiles laid, which are more practical for a garden this size. Then I added a pergola, seating area, and lots of potted plants,” she says.
“In the summer it essentially doubles the footprint of my house. In the mornings I take my cup of coffee outside so I can sit and watch the bees and butterflies. It’s the perfect finishing touch to my home, and this space turned out so much better than I could have imagined.”
Advice for anyone thinking of doing the same?
“I’d always say to shop around for quotes from tradespeople, and always go by word-of-mouth recommendations wherever you can. I have a built a close relationship with my builder. I call him my ‘second dad’ as he is always popping round to help me fix things, no matter how small!” she laughs.
Maxine also tried to save money where she could, by doing some of the DIY jobs herself wherever she was able. “I spent so many weekends and evenings stripping off layers of paint and wallpaper in this house. I just got stuck-in, and it probably saved me thousands of pounds. I also hosted a painting party, and my friends came and painted the bare plaster walls in return for a glass of wine. If I had a DIY idea I wanted to try, I would check online videos and blogs for advice. That’s how I learnt how to tile my staircase risers.”
“I’ve taken my time renovating my house. I never wanted to rush things in case I made an expensive mistake. But let’s be honest – an old house like this is never truly finished, and there is always ongoing maintenance. This year alone I’ve repaired the roof, fixed a window, and sorted out a leak! But I’ve also done lots of fun stuff in here, like decorate my spare bedroom and the living area.
“This house tests my creativity – and my resilience at times – but I just love living here.”
You can follow Maxine’s styling tips and more on Instagram: @maxinebradystyling