How Ugly is Ugly?

It’s very easy when you drive around the same areas repeatedly to not see the buildings you pass by. In the new Channel 4 programme ‘Ugly House to Lovely House,’ George Clark and his team of architects take the eyesores and turn them into individual and unique homes. What I had thought was different about this show was the emphasis on the exterior transformation. I’m not an architect. I’ve always thought that I really only understood how internal spaces worked but watching this programme, I don’t think they’ve gone far enough!

before and after - but they've forgotten the porch and the front door

before and after – but they’ve forgotten the porch and the front door

By definition if your home is referred to as ugly, that’s an opinion based on appearance – so, what is seen from the street. If your house looks ugly from outside then surely that is where you would expect the bulk of the budget – and the attention – to be focused. But no, it’s really just another refurb show. The inside is ripped to bits – and the bulk of the money is spent there – and then the outside is the wrapping that finishes the scheme off. On all three episodes I’ve watched so far, I’ve felt that the exterior didn’t meet expectations. They have local residents giving their opinion of ‘progress so far’ (and of course they can only see what’s happening outside) and their criticism really reflects what I felt to be lacking – a transformation of the defining parts of the house as seen from the street.

neighbouring properties

neighbouring properties

but still with their own touches

but still with their own touches

So let’s strip it back to basics. If you’ve bought a house for reasons other than aesthetics as many of these people did, you’ve bought it because it ticks other boxes: close to children’s schools, affordable, within an easy commute to work, close to family or countryside that you enjoy. At that point, how it looks isn’t the focus. But when you’re living there – and the purchase is just part of the history – aesthetics do become an issue. If you refer to your own house as the ‘ugly house’, then you too have a negative opinion of your own space. And this has an impact on how you feel about living there. Do you love something that you think of as an eyesore? Or does it make you feel protective? Would you defend it if someone told you they thought it was the worst house in the street? Or have you just stopped seeing it? Do you even care anymore?

attention grabbing

attention grabbing

Can you see the apathy building up? It’s so easy to just make do and ignore the things you don’t like. But why should you put up with living in a space that isn’t what you want? Especially since it is probably your largest financial asset.

a modern 'between the wars' house

a modern ‘between the wars’ house

Exterior transformations are not as difficult as one might think. They’re not always straightforward, but none the less changing how the outside of your house presents itself says that you care in BIG capital letters. I changed the colour of my house about 18 months ago – it is now a grape-grey and I’ve had so many positive comments about it. The word most used is LOVE. “I love your colour; I love your house; I love that it’s different to the others, more individual.” I’ve also been told it’s bold and different, but hey I quite like that too!

defining the property with colour

defining the property with colour

highlighting the features you want to accentuate

highlighting the features you want to accentuate

Not every house suits being painted, of course, but changing the colour of the window frames adds a distinctive feel that really opens the windows wide, a bit like mascara on the eyes. And then there are the more remedial approaches – porches and roofline updates, pillars and new front doors. Many of these things come as kits and provided the measurements work can be installed fairly easily by your building contractor which not only cuts down on cost, but allows you to plan exactly how the new exterior will combine with the old. And let’s be honest a transformation will leave traces of the old building intact as with this building below, if you look closely the brickwork around the front door hasn’t been disguised.

simple updates

simple updates

doors and windows - contrast to the house next door

doors and windows – contrast to the house next door

And that’s the point when an exterior refresh has to acknowledge what was there before. Short of tearing down the original structure, you will be working on top of someone else’s vision. It is easier to say ‘what have I got to work with?’ and plan to enhance the bones of the building than it is change a street frontage – especially if it’s in a terrace. Adding porches and incorporating the details gets around this neatly though and again many kits are available for this type of job. The house below already had a porch – but to create a more modern and individual look they’ve opened it up, stripped the wood and enhanced the timbers for a more handcrafted feel.

modern mock tudor

modern mock tudor

Ugly doesn’t have to be the defining feature of you home and transformation isn’t something to be scared of. The resulting property will make you feel so much better about living there and that in itself is reason enough to take the plunge.


The End of An Era

Last week was a very busy week. My ex husband moved house. I thought I was just lending a hand but it turns out I was actively – and emotionally – involved in the process.

wilfs house move

We moved in as a married couple with a one year old son in 1999. We did a loft conversion and created a six bedroom house, three and a half bathroom house. We had another child, a little girl. We redid two of the bathrooms and the kitchen. We replaced missing cornicing and two missing fireplaces. We added stained glass to the front door – and to the back door. We redecorated throughout, refinished floorboards and replaced the carpet. It was during this process that I retrained as an interior designer and throughout my coursework Wilf was my ‘client’ – I used his requirements to act as my brief.


Both of our children started school and developed a wide range of interests. We made wonderful friends in our neighbours. We had lots of parties and many guests from abroad – some staying for months at a time. It was a busy family life in a home that answered the needs of its inhabitants.

I’ve been separated and then divorced from Wilf for nearly eight years and since then I’ve been in and out of that house countless times – my favourite arrivals have always been on Christmas morning with bags of presents, in my pjs (I don’t even own a onesie, but Christmas morning is a tradition: I arrive in pyjama’s.)

Christmas carnage

After I left, I never felt particularly attached to my old home. It was Wilf’s house, the kids were there three nights a week, it was just a part of the scenery, so to speak. But last week packing up, I’ve been in tears countless times. I felt the love that we’d put into it over the years. I saw for the first time, stripped bare, all the work we had done. Without the furniture, the house was still beautiful, a little grubby where picture frames had rubbed the paintwork and where furniture had scuffed the floor but its bones were good; spacious and light and welcoming.

megan's mural

So what was it that caused me to get so upset? I was really surprised at myself. When you start unpacking a home, you unravel the history of the time that you’ve spent there. All of the events that surround the furnishings – the carpet from Turkey, the mirror from Stow-on-the-Wold, the clock from Newark, the painting from New Zealand, all come back to you and the trip down memory lane as you remove them becomes a part of the leaving of that building. It also brings up the milestone memories, the bathtub filled with toys by my son for my daughters first bath; the murals painted for the children by my mother; the measuring wall under the stairs – even the dog was measured on that wall; the first day at school; the birthday parties. It goes very quickly from a family home to simply four walls and looks incredibly unloved. It had no personality, it didn’t look like ‘ours’ anymore – I found that the hardest part. Somehow I wanted the house to know it had done nothing wrong and in thinking that, I found that the memories of living there were also enriched.

wilf's bathroom

the little room

It’s really important to understand how much a part of you your home is. I say so often that you can’t under estimate the impact your surroundings have on you and I suppose because I haven’t lived in that house for eight years I didn’t regard it as my surroundings, but seeing each room undressed made me analyse the progression we had made through that environment as a family. The room that was the catalyst for this was my son’s room. Full to the gunnels of models planes and books about trains, space and birds (it took me two days to box up all the models, destined for deep storage – likely not to be unpacked until he is a father himself!) you would be forgiven for thinking he was 10 years old. He’s nearly eighteen! He’s reading Whitman and Donne not Tintin and Biggles. That room hasn’t grown with him. He was still living surrounded by his childhood – not with the kit of his youth; guitars and amps and computer gadgets. I felt in a way that we had let him down, to look at that room we hadn’t let him grow up, which isn’t the truth at all, but then looks are deceiving and that was what got me thinking. If our homes are to meet our needs they need to be flexible enough to grow with us. They need to accommodate not only the inhabitants but the possessions that hold our memories. And if that’s not possible, it means we need to be brave enough to let go.

railways poster

My final task as Wilf gave back the keys was to put up replacement lampshades. It’s fanciful I know, but when I looked around the naked rooms I got a real sense of the house enduring, of shaking herself off and moving on, ready to receive her new family. I hope they will be very happy there and love the things about her that we loved.

front door