Love Storey


Seeing the potential in a project that had been overlooked by other potential buyers, and working to a strict budget, Ali Kittermaster has remodelled a dated bungalow in the heart of a Kent village into a bright and surprisingly roomy contemporary home

There's something about this time of year that not only inspires a good spring clean but also prompts many of us to have a serious 'de-clutter'. Is there anything as cathartic as attacking an area of the house that has been taunting you for months, joyously separating items into 'bin', 'charity shop' or 'eBay'. Even if you don't enjoy the process, once it's all done and you can admire your efforts, it's hard not to feel the stress melting away. But, there are still some things you have to keep whether you like it or not... We need a place for everything and then, as the expression goes, we can put everything in its place. Ideally.

It takes a certain amount of imagination and vision to see the potential in an unprepossessing 1950s bungalow, to buy that bungalow and - within budget - turn it into a light, bright and gorgeous family home. Anyone, who perhaps viewed this property a couple of years ago and passed it by because of its lack of curb appeal and period features, should look away now... The rest of you, if you're on the hunt for inspiration, need look no further.

"You could say that we've turned this house from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan," says Ali Kittermaster, with a smile. "It was so hard to find a house within the Cranbrook School catchment area that was the right price, and I knew that it would be a real struggle." The house, known at the time as Hedges, had been on the market for about a year before the Kittermaster family - comprising Ali, husband Johnnie, Katie, 16 and Harry, 13 - found it. According to Ali, there had been little interest: "A lovely lady had lived here for many years, so you could say that it was a little dated." Fortunately for Ali, other potential buyers failed to look past the superficial trappings of the bungalow.

"I knew immediately when I viewed the house how I was going to develop the property," says Ali. "I needed to create more living space, an additional bedroom and a studio space for my daughter, Katie. Replacing all the casement windows was central to my plan as these have changed the style and character of the property totally. My draughtsman couldn't understand my need to remove the plastic casement windows but I am glad I stuck to my guns." The windows, which have lovely low sills, allow light to flood in and, on the exterior, have mock shutters, which give the house an attractive colonial feel.

So, how long did the renovation take? "We bought it in January 2016, the builders started in March and we moved in the third week of August, though the house wasn't quite finished. There were a few bits left to do." That sounds like a pretty quick turnaround, considering the extent of the building's transformation. "It could have been quicker, if we'd used a big company and thrown lots of manpower at it," says Ali, "but we wanted to use a local firm, SB10, who had been recommended to us."

Ali and the children house-sat for a little while during the latter stages of the renovation, to save the pennies. "Before that, every time I paid a rent cheque, I thought 'that's a sofa, a light or something'."

Ali and the children house-sat for a little while during the latter stages of the renovation, to save the pennies. "Before that, every time I paid a rent cheque, I thought 'that's a sofa, a light or something'." Her entrepreneurial approach is impressive and evident in a career that has included market research, advertising, work for Warner Brothers looking after brands like Harry Potter and for the last ten years she has worked as a photographer.

Ali's photographs can be seen dotted around the house, adding colour and humour to the relatively blank canvas of Strong White walls. Ali has worked across many of the photographic disciplines including weddings, events and portraiture and ran a sports photography company in Dubai, Capture That, with her friend and business partner. Since returning from Dubai nearly two years ago, Ali has worked as a portrait photographer creating memories for many local families. She also undertakes informal photography for schools in the South East. Most recently Ali has set up in business with fellow photographer, Emily Parton. hh DESIGNS sells a range of fun and contemporary greetings cards and canvases. Many of these cards feature animals from Ali's extensive travels but also the lambs, piglets and cows of the Kentish countryside! A canvas featuring a cheeky giraffe with his tongue sticking out takes pride of place on the kitchen wall.

All of this experience, a creative eye, as well as doing up two other cottages has stood Ali in good stead when renovating their current home, especially as her husband Johnnie has been away, working in Egypt. In fact, it seems that Ali is quite happy to be left to her own devices... "Johnnie's quite traditional, ex-army. So, in his absence, I've been able to do what I want and be a bit girly, which is nice."

It's clear she has a knack for doing up properties: "I enjoy doing it. There isn't a limitless pot of money... so what I love doing is searching for things that cost less, but then perhaps involve a little more work. Like these engineered oak boards which I sanded and waxed myself. Or a little glass door knob that would cost £30 from someone in London - I'd prefer to find a similar item for 10% of the price on Etsy. I love that."

She points out that her sofas are 25 years old, and that at some point she would like a corner sofa, but at the moment the budget won't stretch. "They're the first sofas I bought, on King's Road, when I lived in London. Our dining table is made from scaffolding planks that were used on the project." The vaulted kitchen-living area is clad with routed MDF - although the effect is very similar to tongue and groove - giving it a beach-house feel. Interior designer Ali Wylie suggested this idea as she has used it extensively in her own house.

Apart from being lovely, light and open-plan, what look did Ali have in mind when she started work on the house? "I suppose it's kind of Cape Cod, New England, or perhaps a bit Nordic," says Ali, though she admits she's never been to either place. "I just spot things on Houzz or Pinterest." She's certainly created a contemporary but homely feel, with pops of colour and photographic prints injecting interest and informality to what she and her children jokingly refer to as 'the show home'.

Seated at the breakfast bar-cum-kitchen island, the first thing that catches your eye is a wall of square family photographs: "This is my organic picture wall," says Ali. "As I take more pictures that I like I'll add them to the wall, so eventually the whole wall will be covered in five inch MDF squares." Ali has avoided using frames, as she "hates clutter". A sleek, modern kitchen - in a most subtle pale taupe - from Martins in Hawkhurst, is just the ticket, occupying one wall.

Cleverly, Ali has used a mirror behind the sink, which creates a sense of space as well as giving whoever is at the sink a view of the room behind them. "I used Facebook quite a lot when I was designing the house, rather than making all the decisions on my own," says Ali. "I would sometimes put an idea out there, as Johnnie wasn't around to chat things through, and say: 'So everyone, shall I go with this colour or that colour?' " She asked her friends if she should go for coloured glass or a mirror. "I reckon about 95% went with coloured glass, but it felt like a full stop. So I went with the mirror and I really like it! It reflects the light and makes the area look bigger." Pale, composite worktops also keep the kitchen light and bright.

High up, overhead in the rafters of the living area are five gorgeous metal lampshades: "I bought one of the lampshades on a visit to Cairo, thinking it would be big enough. Poor Johnnie. I said, 'Can you go to the souk next week, and get me four different ones? I don't want them matching.' Then a local electrician wired them up for me." On the wall are two huge photographs of Katie and Harry, standing in a stubble field amongst rolling hills. "That was taken the day before we moved to Dubai," says Ali, who has accompanied her husband to numerous countries, where he works setting up British schools. "It wasn't a planned shoot. We were driving along near Wye, and I thought 'this is Kent for me'. So I took the photos as a little reminder, to hang in our house out there, to remind us of home."

As I cast my eye around their current home, I notice a curious ladder hanging on the wall, next to the kitchen. " The builders had just put up the 4x2 posts as the plan was to use the lofted area as storage but at the very last minute we changed the plan and turned it into an X-box/movie den as well as extra bed space for the overspill of teenagers at the weekends. The space is great and would have otherwise been wasted." The ladder is a French hop-pickers' ladder and is both beautiful as well as functional.

The majority of rooms in the house come off a wide corridor, which runs perpendicular to the front door, from the open-plan living area at one end, to the master bedroom at the other. "I widened the corridor," says Ali, "and revitalised the 1930s doorway by painting the door and replacing the rather ugly bevelled glass on either side with clear glass panels." The modernised doorway works a treat and, as Ali points out, cost a fraction of what it would have done to have a new door and surround.

"This is Harry's room," says Ali, "and he's got his own little en suite. I was determined to get these sliding doors in!" Incidentally, she found the sliding doors and runners on eBay, for a snip, and all of the bathroom fixtures were sourced individually and bought at a discount from either Victoria Plumb, Bath Store or Ikea.

Although Ali has found clever and affordable solutions at every turn, it's clear that she hasn't shied away from making radical changes to the building's layout and, in doing so, has created a practical family home with decent-sized rooms, each with masses of light. "This is Harry's room," says Ali, "and he's got his own little en suite. I was determined to get these sliding doors in!" Incidentally, she found the sliding doors and runners on eBay, for a snip, and all of the bathroom fixtures were sourced individually and bought at a discount from either Victoria Plumb, Bath Store or Ikea.

The sliding door makes optimum use of the available space. Fitted wardrobes, made by the builders and with snazzy leather handles, also provide essential 'de-cluttering' space. Ali's photographs grace the walls, as does the number '10' of a rugby shirt that belonged to Harry's great-grandfather - who was captain of the England rugby team in 1924. Personal touches transform this from a 'show home' into a real, family sanctuary. Katie's room is also remarkably tidy, but with pops of colour including a simple wooden chair that Ali painted pink using spray paint from Halfords. "The pink pom-pom trim on the blinds is a recent addition, but it goes rather well with the chair, don't you think?" says Ali. A selection of pretty mirrors, with painted frames, which Ali refers to as "granny's mirrors", are dotted around the room. Finally, we reach Ali's retreat, the master bedroom.

As well as the lovely, low sash windows, this room has French doors into the garden. There is a sleek, modern en suite, which makes use of the other sliding door and minimal furniture. "The bed was from Feather & Black," says Ali, "and the quote on the wall - as is the 'Boys will be boys' in Harry's room - is by a girlfriend of mine called Leonora Hammond." An ornate mirror is another from 'Granny' but Ali has painted over the gilt with dove grey. "When we went to Dubai, I visited various second-hand shops and bought pretty furniture then took it all to a place where they sprayed everything dove grey." An attractive, plain French set of drawers with a marble top has escaped the spray paint, adding a little natural wood and warmth to the corner of the room.

As we step out of the French doors, into the sunshine, and look at the garden side of the house, with wooden painted sash windows and pretty pale grey shutters, it would be easy to imagine we were in Africa. Mulberry House is a fine example of just what can be achieved with initiative and vision and it's evident the family love their new home, just as Ali loved creating it. "I feel quite sad that I have finished this. I feel bereft!" So, what next? "I'd love to do another house - though then I'd have to sell this one..." For now, it seems, the family will be staying put.

Address Book:

  • To find out more about Ali’s greetings cards and canvases, contact hh DESIGNS at hellohhdesigns@gmail.com / Ali 07864 376144
  • The hop-pickers’ ladder and miscellaneous chairs are from Country Furniture Barns Flimwell 01580 879800 countryfurniturebarn.co.uk
  • DWL (Bi-fold doors) 07725 363178
  • Howarth (windows and doors) 0330 119 2369 windowsanddoors.howarth-timber.co.uk
  • Leonora Hammond (wall stickers) leonorahammond.co.uk
  • Martins of Hawkhurst (kitchen) 01580 753470 martinsofhawkhurst.co.uk
  • SB10 01892 785220 sbten.co.uk
  • Simply Shutters (shutters) 01842 814260 simplyshutters.co.uk
  • Yateley Papers was born out of a shared passion for both traditional block printing techniques and a love of utterly gorgeous desk stationery and home accessories. As well as selling a range of files, boxes, stationery and other paper products, they also run regular hand block-printing workshops 07799 627014 yateleypapers.co.uk
  • Fired Earth 0845 366 0400 firedearth.com