Interiors writer creates stunning garden room from recycled materials05/03/2022
Lisa Dawson is passionate about upcycling, recycling and vintage – so much so she upcycled an entire damp and dreary courtyard out the back of her home.
When the award-winning writer, blogger and author purchased her Georgian detached home in York the space, which is surrounded by four walls, was a selling point, but being dull and sun-starved, it just wasn’t clear what to actually do with it.
Rather than turn it into another room through a costly extension, Lisa decided, with the help of Mike the builder, to transform it into an open-plan garden room for family and friends that wouldn’t look out of place in an upmarket boutique hotel or gastro pub.
With wood beams cut by hand and glass measured to fit once they were in, the huge garden room is not only simply effective as an entirely new space in the home, it also neatly sums up Lisa’s ethos, as detailed in her book Resourceful Living, which celebrates the art of making the most of what you have.
‘The whole aim of the garden room was to show you can use recycled materials and a lot of what you have and it still looks good,’ she says.
It is still filled with the 3m-long floating scaffold shelf that was there before the roof was attached, and is now joined by a bamboo sofa set from eBay for 300 quid and random dining chairs picked up from Facebook Marketplace.
‘I wanted it to be a bit Soho housey, a casual vintage social space,’ she explains. ‘I wanted it to feel like the rest of my house too. I wanted it to challenge me and use what we have. We tried to reuse stuff – there’s even a bit of an old wardrobe in there. I wanted it to feel comfortable and relaxing, plus I wanted it to feel like me and no one else.’
Lisa’s singular approach runs throughout the 1759 five-bed property, which she bought with Joe, a brand director in the motor industry, in 2016 having relocated to York from the South East.
She shuns fast fashion and throwaway trends in place of dream Ligne Roset Togo sofas in Rose Corduroy– a once in a lifetime purchase – and a plate collection from charity and gift shops during travels of yesteryear.
Most of the rooms were white and neutral when she bought the property and it has stayed like that. ‘My core style is pretty much all walls are white, then I like to move things around and can’t be driven by a colour palette. It is important to keep backgrounds white so its sustainable and I can move things around when I want, it doesn’t matter. I quickly put up wallpaper in the beginning but it doesn’t need this, it needs to be a canvas.’
When the original decorating started shortly after purchase Lisa began posting pictures on Instagram and despite no traditional interiors training she soon had a huge following, turning her hobby into a career.
Nowadays she is a hugely successful interiors blogger and Instagrammer, with almost 200,000 followers, but still actively tries to avoid being hooked in by passing fashions.
‘I like to mix good quality investments with sustainable secondhand buys. I think about what I am spending my money on – it has to be fun stuff but a long term choice. I don’t want to buy what is cool and trendy at the time, but in a year it’s gone, so I tell my readers to look from a long term perspective. When looking at buying something, buy an investment or secondhand.’
Lisa says it’s important to identify what you like, rather than what others judge to be right.
‘Really look at what you are buying and think do I really like it or is it because everyone else has it? The first step you should do is go to Pinterest and then create a board and see your theme coming through, that is your core style.’
Entry to the house is through a Farrow and Ball Arsenic front door and into a monochrome hallway with checkerboard black and white Ca Pietra tiles.
‘Black and white checkerboard are timeless – they are classic but add interest. They are a base to the room and I could add anything to them.’
The kitchen was ultra modern but clinical and has been replaced with something both more useable – shelves instead of cupboards: check – and more unusual – rug on parquet flooring: check.
Lisa took the Howdens wall units off and sold them on eBay, keeping the carcass and replacing the front doors with ply from Custom Fronts.
The cupboard fronts have been changing colour a lot, from lilac to black and now to Mylands Myrtle Green.
The Tulip Table and reproduction Cesca chairs are other eBay finds while the Skinny Milk tiles are from Bert & May. She has added a sofa into the kitchen as it is a sociable space and somewhere where people want to spend time, even if they aren’t whipping up a lasagne.
‘You need to work out what you use spaces for and make the most of what you’ve got. When it comes to the courtyard, we didn’t use it enough, it was dark and damp and dingy and didn’t get much sun, which isn’t a problem when covered.’
It may not be slavish to the latest trends but the property is sanguinely stylish – a confident display from someone who knows what they like and isn’t afraid to show it off.
‘Trends are still important [but] social media bombards us with constant ideas and trends. Think about whether or not you really love it before you decide to invest. If you love the colour pink, start small – try a cushion or a throw instead of painting the whole room. If you still love it, then go for it.’
Lisa’s book Resourceful Living is available for £20 from Amazon.
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