Located on a hill with panoramic views over the city of Bath, Julia Dempster’s nine bedroom Victorian home – all weathered limestone, lofty sash windows and elegant bays – takes some beating. The grand period property was originally built in 1860 as a private residence for a barrister keen to escape the city smog.

However, when interior designer Julia first set foot inside, it had been rented out as offices for an engineering firm. Cosmetically, it had not been touched for 30 years and needed a lot of work.

It was beyond Julia’s budget when it came on the market in early 2012, but when the price was reduced, she took another look and submitted an offer below the asking price. After a weekend of deliberation, the owner accepted.

The Project

  • Name: Julia Dempster
  • Build cost: £600,000 (£777/m²)
  • Build time: 9 months
  • Location: Bath
The staircase viewed from the landing
The staircase viewed from the gallery

Renovation

Before exchanging contracts, Julia commissioned a full structural survey. She knew she needed to replace all of the plumbing and electrics, but was not prepared for the surprise of having to install a steel beam in one of the rooms. Without it, the entire room would have been unsupported.

Julia acted as project manager and hired a group of subcontractors to help her with the project. It took ten skips to gut the interiors — partition walls were removed and rotten floorboards taken up.

With the house emptied, they could replace the original period features. This included reinstating ceiling roses, cornicing and features in the grand hall, as well as restoring floorboards throughout. The fires had been boarded up, but the original cast iron fireplaces behind just needed cleaning up.

They also decided to strip back all the original shutters and doors which took six months — leaving them with sheets in the door openings.

The sitting room
The sitting room with built-in shelves

Design

Throughout the restored home, Julia’s expertise as a designer are evident: from the airy, panelled garden room to the opulent bedroom suites. She also made a decision to use the drawing room as a kitchen, benefitting from the space and views to create a beautiful day-living area with it.

She has combined period grandeur, Victorian charm and contemporary styles to aid a welcoming but fashionable feel.

A copper freestanding bathtub
Homeowner Julia Dempster stands in front of the entrance to her Victorian country house

Budget

Savvy shopping and creating a high-end look with cheaper materials, has been central to Julia’s £777/m² budget. She also converted the basement into a self-contained holiday let to generate an additional income to help with running costs.

By taking on the role of project manager she was able to save thousands, but she also did the following to keep costs down:

  • Scoured the internet for the best deals.
  • Used painted MDF panelling in the bathrooms and garden room to add period charm.
  • Kept the tiles in the entrance hall, rather than replacing them as initially planned.
  • Bought all of her bathroom suites from one company, giving her buying power because of the order size.

Having bought the property in November 2012, the main house was completed by the summer of 2013 — with the basement work starting then. The finished house is now a striking blend of grandeur, period charm and homeliness, and a far cry from the dated office space Julia first purchased.

Our Sponsors