As a child Rebecca Lang would drive her parents mad by constantly moving and rearranging her bedroom furniture – an obsession with making the best use of space which continued into adulthood, when she moved on to reorganising her college digs, and which has finally led to the ultimate: extending and radically remodelling an entire house.

As a single parent with four children, Rebecca decided to give up her career as a dentist and focus instead on developing a property. “When I first bought this house, the intention was to extend and renovate it and then sell it on for a profit,” she explains.

“As the work progressed I began to see the house less as a business venture and more as a home, which would suit us perfectly as a family, so now we’ve decided to stay put. Everything I’ve learnt from this project will be put to good use, though, as I’ve already bought another 1970s house in the area which will undergo a similar makeover.”

Project Details

  • Name: Rebecca Lang
  • Build Cost: £187,000 (£890/m²)
  • Build Time: 4 Months
  • Build Route: Builder and self-managed subcontractors
  • Region: Dorset

Unlike most first-time property developers, Rebecca was not able to keep her head down and simply work through her mistakes. The entire project was aired to the nation on Channel 4’s Property Ladder, which firmly ensured that every detail was revealed and Rebecca’s budget was laid bare and deemed to be totally unrealistic.

“I knew that its location in Poole meant the finishes in this house would have to be absolutely first class,” Rebecca explains. “I’d been looking for somewhere with real potential, and this house was perfectly placed in an up-and-coming road. A lot of people did seem to wonder why I would spend over £400,000 on a house which I intended to gut and virtually rebuild, particularly as it was in such good condition in the first place.”

In fact, Rebecca and the children Emma, Alex, Toby and Jodi moved in and lived in the house for three months. “I thought, here I go again,” laughs Rebecca. “I was moving furniture around and planning where everything would be. It was actually a really valuable lesson to spend time here imagining where walls would go and how they might affect the light and views.”

During this time, Rebecca employed an architect and successfully applied for planning permission. She even wondered at one point whether she could save money by continuing to live in the house during the build, camping out in the lounge, but it soon became apparent that the vast makeover which she had planned for the property would leave little of the existing structure intact.

The boxy four bedroom detached house had already been extended to the front and rear by previous owners, but this time it would be reduced to a bare shell before being extended both upwards and outwards to create an additional bedroom and new family lounge. The hallway would be enlarged and the staircase repositioned to make a stylish and eyecatching modern entrance.

“I’d never really thought of myself as a creative person, so it was a total surprise to find that I’m actually not bad at this kind of thing,” says Rebecca. “People will pay a premium for the contemporary look, and I intended to give the house a real wow factor – despite the fact that I’d only set a fairly limited budget of £150,000 to complete what amounted to an entire rebuild, with a new second storey and a brand new roof.”

As work on the project progressed, Rebecca soon realised that her original budget just was not going to stretch, but she also twigged that the value of the finished property was going to be rather more than she had initially predicted. This gave her the confidence to borrow a further £110,000 to create a glossy finish which would be on par with some of the other luxury designer homes in her exclusive Dorset neighbourhood.

“I believe very strongly in not having other people bring up your children, so this development had to be sandwiched in while the children were at school,” says Rebecca, who rented a local house for the duration of the build. “It meant that I was always available for the school run and could spend time with the children, but the downside was that I had to make up the hours in the evenings. I’d spend half the night sourcing things online and was getting very little sleep, but as project manager I needed to make sure that everything was ordered and that the subcontractors all knew what was expected of them.”

In fact, Rebecca proved to be an extraordinarily good project manager, and succeeded in completing everything within an impressive 16-week timescale. Spurred on to finish the house in time for Christmas she juggled up to 40 people working on site at the same time, which proved chaotic but very productive.

The roof came off, scaffolding went up and a new top storey was constructed which contains two bedrooms and a bathroom, set into the slope of the new roof and lit by rooflights. “The previous roof was too shallow so we needed to take it off and replace it,” Rebecca explains. “I don’t actually like the look of glossy slates, so matt grey concrete roof tiles were the perfect solution for a more modern feel.”

A two storey extension to the front of the house now forms a new family lounge and an extended hallway on the ground floor, with a luxurious bathroom designed to serve the master bedroom upstairs. “At first I considered having my bedroom on its own at the top of the house,” explains Rebecca, but this layout makes the master suite something really special, with a dressing room between the bedroom and bathroom. It actually takes up the entire depth of the house and has its own rear balcony with views of the harbour.”

One of the main requirements was to open the rear of the house to the garden by incorporating a bank of glazed doors in the living and dining areas. These lead onto a new raised deck, orientated south-west, and ensure that the ground floor is flooded with natural light. White walls, plenty of stainless steel and highgloss floor tiles further help to reflect this light, and glass has been used throughout the house, on features such as shower screens in the bathrooms, as well as balustrades and doors.

“I have to admit that I did once walk straight into the sliding glass door between the sitting room and the dining area!” laughs Rebecca. “Its rarely closed, so I just forgot about it. I wanted an open plan layout, but with four children you do sometimes need to separate off different areas and this door seemed like the perfect solution. The sitting room is supposed to be an adult sanctuary, with its modern fireplace and the double reclining love wave chair although the children think that this makes a perfect slide!”

Every detail in the house has been carefully considered and there are a number of quirky features. The funky staircase is clearly visible through a large window beside the front door, and the downlighters inset into the ceilings are square. “I didn’t want round ones like everyone else. The idea was to paint everywhere white to create a blank canvas for things like the lights, the doors and the staircase,” says Rebecca, who also has a soft spot for gadgets, and is particularly pleased with the plasma TVs and the wireless audio system with ceiling speakers.

“One of the most rewarding things has been to discover that the design does actually work as a family home,” she remarks. Even with four children and a new puppy to contend with, the house is definitely managing to hold its own. My ultimate dream would be to build a new house from scratch, but for now I’m more than happy remodelling existing properties and giving them a new lease of life.”

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