Renovating on a shoestring: how YouTube helped one couple overhaul their south London flat on a tight budget

Will and Lena Gottelier, in the middle of their tour through this calm, ground-floor flat in south-east London are keen to highlight a section of guttering outside of the kitchen window. “That pipework really is special. Will explains that it was the last task on our renovation list. “And six hours later, Lena went into labor.” “And six hours later Lena went into labor.” The couple saved GBP20,000 by living in a Kidbrooke youth club for two years. They paid just GBP400 per month including bills. However, they settled in Plumstead and bought their one-bed flat for GBP250,000 for 2018. Lena says, “It’s still affordable here and we loved it. Juliet MurphyThe Victorian terraced house had a flat that was not inspiring. The flat was located in a Victorian terraced house. There was some DIY, but not much proper maintenance. It was obvious that the previous owner was also a smoker. Will says that the galley kitchen was small, but the rest of the space felt spacious and the bones were solid. The couple had a modest budget of GBP20,000 and planned to do most of the work themselves. This allowed them to fit it around their careers. Will works part-time at the award-winning studio Architecture for London. In 2016, Becoming X, Will and Lena founded their own architecture research, teaching and teaching practice, Becoming X. Lena says that their passions include experimental preservations where we take existing buildings and create something new. They also love community projects such as the Herbert Road Green Oasis community gardening project that they’ve been working on in Plumstead. Future proofingJuliet MurphyThe couple has worked on many period property projects. Will says, “We knew we’d be very hands-on with this.” They began insulation work on the floorboards when they received the keys in January 2019. The couple’s architectural philosophy is all about being eco-conscious, so insulation was essential. In this case, however, the kitchen was located in the second reception room that opens onto the living area. Will says that the kitchen was in the center of the house, so it was closer to how they wanted to live. They decided to expand the kitchen to enlarge the corridor that used to run alongside it. This transformed a narrow galley-style kitchen into an open-plan space with enough room for a dining table. Lena says, “It’s a great method to make the most out of the space.” Juliet MurphySaving with Ikea & Youtube DIY The couple saved money by purchasing the carcasses for their kitchen cabinets from Ikea. They also used its finance service to add their handmade doors. We love the Victorian style but wanted a modern, minimalist kitchen. Will explains that it is important to choose and select the elements that are most useful for you. The concrete lab micro-cement kit and tutorials were used to create the splashback wall and worktop. Will says, “I don’t know how we would have managed this project without YouTube.” Juliet MurphyThe guest WC is located in the kitchen, followed by the bedroom and bathroom/laundry. Lena says that this layout allows for a social and private space in a small apartment. The couple then divided the remaining work into weekend projects. While others might feel tired at the prospect that they would have to work two days after their day job, the couple was eager to get on with it. Lena says, “We’ve had such a lot of fun, it’s been a joy, more like a pastime,” and that they have saved around GBP20,000 on labour costs by doing almost all the work themselves. Will says that although they did outsource some jobs such as installing new windows, replumbing, and fitting a boiler, “we did not outsource any expert jobs.” Lena Murphy and Will worked together to renovate the communal hall and paint the exterior. They also worked with the landlord and tenant to create a win-win scenario. Lena did all the work, paid for the materials and chose the colours that would best suit their flat’s style. Juliet MurphyDecorating from their heart They removed, restored, and reinstated everything possible, from skirting boards to flooring. They made sure that the more expensive elements such as the black quarry hearth tile and the hardwood sash windows would be durable and easy to maintain. Lena says that they only used colour where it was removable or re-paintable. Juliet MurphyIn furnishing their starter home, they were helped greatly by Plumstead’s central location near London. This makes it easy for them to travel into Kent and Sussex to find vintage bargains. For example, the Danish brass light in their kitchen was sourced on a day trip to Margate. Despite all the hard work and thought that went into this flat, the couple are eager to find their next project. The Modern House will put the flat on the market next month for GBP310,000 They will be leaving with a lot of new skills. “We’ve definitely got more insight into our clients’ perspective now,” says Will. “This flat has made us better as architects. “; @studiobecomingx5 tips to save money on renovations. Lay insulation under the original floorboards so you can enjoy their beauty without the draughts. 2. Maximize your storage space by adapting studwork underneath stairs to create shelves. 3. To unlock the space, you can pay an interior designer or architect if there is a boiler in your bedroom. 4. Do not rush to decorate — it takes time for you to understand how you will use the space. Take it slow. When choosing fixed finishes like tiles, think long-term and don’t let trends influence you. You won’t tire of a timeless, subtle look.