home stories: sustainable home renovation with Alana Miller
Updated: Sep 4
Designing a home and interior with sustainability in mind can take on many forms, especially when you factor in the renovation of a period property. Rarely do such properties give you an easy ride. There are always some hidden surprises lurking behind the layers of wallpaper or the beneath the floorboards, more often that not unwelcome ones. I am yet to meet anyone who has experienced no issues at all when bringing a period property back to life and this weeks home story comes is no exception.
Period properties seduce the romantics (and I include myself in that category), blinded by their character and charm, bewitched by their sense of history, many go head first into restoring these old girls (and yes houses are always feminine in my eyes) so their light shines once more.
This week I'm welcoming Alana to my home stories series ( whom some of you may know as @delve.interiors on Instagram) and her beautiful Edwardian home renovation. A home story we join part way through it's journey, as Alana crafts her home with patience and a keen eye for sourcing just the right preloved and vintage pieces she can find. Alana has an admirable philosophy of slowly creating her home with intention and consideration. With sustainability at the forefront of her vision and the resolve to wait for those special pieces she holds in her minds eye, to show themselves.
Alana's home is not only beautiful to look at ( and she does have a beautiful dark green kitchen, so I was hooked on her style instantly) but her ethical approach to minimising her impact during its renovation by recycling materials and sourcing preloved furnishings is one to be praised. Over to you Alana...
Hello, I’m Alana from Delve Interiors (@delve.interiors). I started my Instagram account a couple of years ago to share my love of home design, but more recently I began using it to record my adventures renovating my Edwardian house in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. I’ve always been passionate about interior design and from an early age I was cutting out clippings from magazines and creating style plans. My first job was for an interior design studio, and I’ve worked in the building industry since then. My day job involves designing and specifying bathrooms for housing developers, but my first love will always be interiors. I’m most known for my love of darker hues but with each house I’ve owned my style has changed and evolved.
I’d always dreamed of owning a character property and when my old girl came on the market I booked a viewing straight away. The house was popular and there’d already been a lot of offers. Thankfully, however, they were all low due to the amount of work that was required so my partner and I managed to secure the house after a bit of negotiation. Letchworth is a sought-after town and one of the only garden cities in the UK. The garden city concept was created by Sir Ebenezer Howard who had a vision for a utopian place where people could live harmoniously together with nature. Housing is built alongside greenbelt, while commerce is kept to certain areas. It makes for a beautiful place to live, with tree lined avenues and large parks dotted around.
I already knew I wanted to create a sustainable home. Not only did it echo the ethos of the town we were about to move to, but it’s a subject I had felt strongly about for some time. As a couple we’re almost exclusively plant based in our diet and had moved to being virtually plastic free. It started with simple swaps years ago and has now become part of everyday life. The challenge with this project was how to change a period home, notoriously draughty and hard to keep heated, into something that was more efficient but keeping the desired style and aesthetic.
Sustainability can mean so many things in the interior design and construction world. When you think of an eco-home you probably think of a turfed roof and heat source pumps, which of course wasn’t likely to be the route I was going down. Being in a heritage-controlled area any exterior changes had to be like-for-like to conform with local planning regulations. I decided to concentrate on making the house more efficient and recycling unwanted building materials and furniture. I wanted to create as little impact as possible but still be able to achieve a beautiful finish without spending a fortune in the process.
Skip ahead to March 2020 and moving day. The pandemic had hit, and it was just as full lockdown was about to begin so we weren’t permitted to have anyone help us and it all had to be done ourselves using a hire vehicle. It was such a knackering day and, I’m not going to lie, the first night in our incredibly dated home was not an easy one. My mental health, not always the strongest, was struggling with the sheer enormity of the task ahead. On top of that the house had been left in quite a state and required a lot of cleaning before it was even vaguely suitable to live in. The biggest thing I learned from this is to try not to focus on everything all at once. Break the jobs down into manageable lists so you can approach the house gradually and not get too overwhelmed.
I already had strong plans and knew what I wanted to achieve as I’d been feverishly ‘pinning’ ideas as soon as I heard the words ‘offer accepted’. However, before I could even pick up a paint brush the major building work and strip out had to commence. The house, like most older properties, was a warren of rooms and I wanted to simplify the layout to make way for a large kitchen/diner and a downstairs toilet. The first week was spent getting quotes and planning the order of work. Learning from previous renovations, I tried to get the dusty stuff out of the way first. There’s no point in decorating half the house only to have it ruined by brick dust when you start knocking down walls. You’ll end up having to repaint scuffs and fill in cracks from resettlement if you’re having steels put in.
The budget didn’t stretch to an architect, so I had to rely on my partner’s photoshop skills to play around with different layouts for the downstairs remodelling. I contacted a building surveyor to find out how to go about removing the walls. Unfortunately, all were supporting walls, so they all had to have a steel put in to support the floor above. Overall budget for the house was already tight so this wasn’t the best news, however getting the structure of the house in place had to take precedence over anything else.
The works started and it seemed every time a wall came down more issues were discovered. Firstly, it was the dangerous wiring. I knew the wiring was old and would need replacing, however a sparking live wire was uncovered so that job had to be brought forward. Then woodworm was discovered, which meant the floor joists had to be exposed so they could be treated. Luckily, it was caught in time, and I didn’t need to replace any.
As the back of the house was being knocked through, I had to replace the rotten single glazed wooden windows. Due to the local planning regs anything external had to be in keeping with the heritage status of the area. The budget didn’t allow for timber windows, so I had to opt for UPVC look-a-likes. I already knew I wanted black windows; however, I didn’t realise what a stir they would cause with our elderly neighbours. Three of them reported me to the heritage group for not having compliant windows. Thankfully I’d already jumped through the relevant hoops and had them signed off. Sorry guys, the black windows are here to stay!
The last job in phase one of the project was replacing the old heating system and radiators with a more efficient system. I had dreams of underfloor heating and heat source pumps for this, however where so much of the budget had been taken up with the structural and remedial side of the refurb I settled on a more efficient boiler and new radiators to help with energy consumption.
I also salvaged any building materials that were able to be recycled or sold. The bricks from the walls that came down will eventually be used to create a reclaimed brick patio in the back garden. I also kept any good timber and sold on anything that I didn’t need that could be used again, which also helped with the budget.
The first phase of the renovation took about eight weeks. Due to lockdown I had to live on site, which was as fun as you can imagine. While the building work was going on my partner and I were furloughed so took the time to strip the wallpaper, remove the old, stained carpets and open up the four fireplaces. Creating four great big holes may sound a bit mad, however, the house had developed damp due to the secondary glazing and blocked fireplaces, something I didn’t know was the cause at the time. By doing this I ended up saving more than £1,000 on fixing what was thought to be a damp issue when in fact it was just a lack of air circulation. I also purchased some chimney sheep . These amazing little pads of wool, made in the Lake District, provide all the insulation you need to stop nasty draughts whistling down the chimney (just don’t forget to remove them before lighting a fire).
I decided to have two working fires, a wood burner designed for eco fuels and a standard combi fire in the living room, with the fireplaces in the bedrooms being decorative. All the fireplace surrounds and the wood burner were second hand from a local supplier.
I spent hours going through their beautiful stock before choosing Edwardian designs to suit the age of the house. Once the major building work was completed it was time for the fun part – decorating and furnishing our blank canvas.
As mentioned previously I wanted to fill the house with as much second-hand furniture as possible. I searched extensively for a kitchen that could be adapted to our space but unfortunately, as the layout was quirky, I had to opt for a solid timber kitchen, ensuring it had come from a sustainable source (you can find all the information here https://www.fsc-uk.org/en-uk/about-fsc/what-is-fsc). The island has a reworked quartz worktop made from unwanted seconds, crushed down and remoulded. The flooring is reclaimed oak parquet, picked up for free from Facebook marketplace. The parquet is an on-going project and a labour of love!
The rest of the house has taken more time to come together. The paint choices have all been from either Farrow & Ball or Little Greene Paint & Paper. This was not only for the rich, deep colours but also for their eco-friendlier approach to paint manufacture, including less volatile organic compounds (low VOC paints). When looking for a paint that is better for the environment look for clay-based pigments as these tend to be free of harmful chemicals. See this article for more information, https://www.standard.co.uk/shopping/esbest/home-garden/best-eco-paints-environmentally-friendly-b75193.html
My colour choices are led by images that inspire me at the time and the period of the house. I’ve already repainted three of the rooms as what I thought would suit just wasn’t working for me. I’ve had great fun being brave with my choices. The darker tones create a cosy, intimate vibe, my favourite colour being the sage green in the guest bedroom. I should also mention that most of the paint was purchased from Facebook marketplace. Many of the popular colours can be found on there, you just have to be patient. I got much of my paint for around £20 a tin, rather than the £50 they cost brand new.
It takes time to create a home using second-hand furniture. A lot of my rooms still aren’t fully furnished because I haven’t found the perfect piece for them yet. I always have a specific item I’m looking for and use Facebook, eBay, and Gumtree to source them. You also get a feel for how much something is worth and if you think you can find it cheaper elsewhere don’t be afraid to keep searching. Much of what I’ve purchased needs a bit of TLC but if you’re happy to put in the work and restore the odd item you end up with a beautiful individual piece for your home. I’ve become pretty handy with a sander and a can of spray paint in the last year!
Instagram has been a huge source of inspiration, not only for the lovely photos but also the people behind the accounts who are always happy to chat. For anyone starting a home renovation I recommend creating an account to record your journey and enjoy the camaraderie and support that’s available online. Please remember it isn’t about the likes and how many followers you have. The community on this platform have been invaluable to me and kept me sane through the tough times, which happen quite a bit, believe me.
Hopefully my home inspires others to have the patience to create a more sustainable way of living that doesn’t have to cost the earth (literally).
I’m far from finished but am proud of what I’ve achieved. I hope you’re enjoying the journey as much as I am and thank you to everyone that has supported me along the way.
Thank you to Alana for sharing her home story, and the realities behind the renovation during the pandemic. Hidden problems, dangerous wiring and neighbour disputes, it certainly had plenty of drama. I love to shop Facebook Marketplace for furniture but had never even thought about it as a source of buying paint, what a great tip.
What I admire about Alana's home is not only her decorative style but her approach to designing it with patience and sustainability in mind. It's not always easy to be patient when you want to finish projects and the temptation can be to buy something that will work for now. Waiting for the perfect pieces has certainly paid off in this home.
If you want to follow Alana's renovation, I for one cant wait to see that parquet floor restored, you can fin her on Instagram HERE