Meet Simin Van den Daele

About to embark on her own home renovation project, our founder, Sarah Bell speaks to Simin Van den Daele of The Arbery about the ups and downs of home renovations.
Meet Simin Van den Daele 1

When looking to buy your home, were you specifically looking for a renovation project?

Yes 100%, and this was for several reasons. First, we wanted a period home near Victoria Park in East London, so the only way we could afford to get in the door was to buy a complete wreck! We used to walk down the streets hunting out the dilapidated buildings and badger local estate agents to let us know about upcoming sales. We initially lost out to a property developer but the estate agent called us to say that sale had fallen through so we jumped at the chance. Fortunately, having just fully remodelled and renovated our flat, we weren’t phased by the scale of the task at hand. Another compelling reason for us to buy a crumbling house was the chance to design our home exactly as we wanted it and then decorate a blank canvas, rather than paying for somebody else’s style.

Any tips on how to make a home renovation more affordable?

It all boils down to how much time and effort you want to invest. You can save yourself a huge sum of money by completing all the non-skilled labour yourself. You could take it a step further and learn some skills you’ll need to renovate, such as tiling. I’ve found an enormous variation in price (which does not reflect the variation in quality) for so many materials. I’ve sourced marble worktops for thousands less than the original quote by going directly to a marble yard. My final tip is to strongly focus on where you want to spend the money. You don’t need to buy an expensive bathroom, but good quality taps are a must. Likewise, your kitchen carcasses could be off the shelf from Ikea, but if you install a quality surface and change the doors, the entire kitchen will look bespoke.

How would you describe your interior style?

My style is dictated by a love of colour, pattern and texture with a nod to the traditional English aesthetic and dose of fun. I enjoy seeing changing trends and understanding their evolution, but I now try to avoid buying into them as I have always regretted being swayed by Pinterest or Instagram. I have definitely learnt that whilst I might appreciate a look in a magazine or on my feed, if it’s not personal or sentimental then I won’t enjoy living with it. It takes years of collecting and curating to turn a house into a home and this is what I have been focusing on. I love vintage trinkets, Victorian candlesticks, 19th century lithographs and Persian rugs. All of these pieces work together to build layers in a room, which reflect my personality and tell a story, that’s my interior style.

I noticed you embarked on a few DIY projects! Do you have any tips for making your own soft furnishings?

There are so many entry level projects that people can try in order to add something handmade to their homes. A cushion with a gorgeous fabric remnant is a great place to start, there are loads of tutorials online – I particularly like Curtains are a bit more of a time commitment, but the skills are the same and anyone who can use a sewing machine will be able to follow a tutorial. Another easy DIY project is to reupholster a headboard. You deconstruct the layers and then re-build them using new wadding, hessian and fabric. All you’ll need is an upholstery staple gun; it’s really simple and very transformative.

Were there any nasty surprises along the way?

Fortunately we knew we were buying a complete dump and we expected the worst so nothing came as a surprise. There was a bowing wall, which was considered to be historic, but we had structural supports installed for a few thousand pounds to be safe. One good surprise was finding an old safe built into a chimney-breast after having stripped layers of wallpaper. Sadly it was empty; at least that’s what the locksmith told us…

Do you have any tips for finding unique furniture and vintage items?

Instagram has really exploded with independent sellers sourcing fabulous vintage pieces, a few personal favourites include @mae__studio, @folie_chambre and @pieceslondon_.  Then there are the old faithfuls, eBay and gumtree. When using eBay I always search internationally and in the description, set alerts for specific items and follow sellers who consistently find stunning pieces. I love 1stdibs for inspiration, but it’s often out of my price range so I’ll go and hunt for an equivalent elsewhere online. Another great source is Selency; often the things I find are in France and shipping can be pricey but you will always find something unique.

Top tips for living through a renovation…

Whilst you may want to rush, it is important to understand how you are going to use the rooms and how you want them to flow. You can change a paint colour but you can’t easily move walls so take your time thinking about the layout. If you can live elsewhere when the major dusty work is getting done then you must do so! Keep focusing on the end goal and remind yourself of the progress you’ve made. Take holidays and give yourself a break from it every now and again. In terms of which order to decorate, for me it’s important to have a bedroom and bathroom to retreat to at the end of the day – a functioning kitchen is also high on the agenda. The hallways are the last places to decorate, as they will only get scuffed when the other rooms are being renovated. If you’re unsure on colour schemes, paint the whole house white, then make the decisions when you understand the light of the rooms and the atmosphere you want to achieve.

Follow along at @the_arbery