Bohemian Elegance

Bohemian Elegance

by Narratives

A full house renovation and a baby in a mere eight months? James and Katy Stevenson Bretton took it all in their stride when they bought a 1920’s Edwardian style townhouse in Hoxton and created a beautiful family home

HOME TRUTHS: THE OWNERS: Katy and James Stevenson Bretton live with their one-year-old son, Arlo

THE PROPERTY: Edwardian style terraced five bedroom house, built early 1920s. The original house was spread over four floors (lower ground, ground, first and second). James and Katy added an additional two floors, a large basement kitchen-diner and loft conversion containing two bedrooms and a bathroom

LOCATION: Hoxton, London

Katy and James’ five bed Hoxton home is an elegant family haven exuding a natural grace. Its purchase, in a very popular area where houses sell like hot cakes, was the result of a canny combination of correct timing, perseverance and good old lady luck.

James and Katy fell in love with the parks, shops and large Edwardian houses in London’s Hoxton, but knew they’d have their work cut out for them if they wanted to buy as the market was moving so quickly. They decided to pin their hopes on a hand written letter, posting copies through the doors on a few chosen streets, and were subsequently elated upon receiving a call a few days later. “Malcolm had owned this house for around 20 years and was looking to move out of London,” Katy explains. “He admitted the place needed a bit of work and we jumped at it, as we were keen to take on a project.” The house had few original features and was in a pretty bad way, needing to be completely updated and restored.

After a couple of viewings and a few emails back and forth, buyer and vendor agreed a price. In the meantime, James and Katy’s house had gone on the market and, in less than a week, sold. In the midst of all of the excitement about buying and selling in such quick succession, they discovered some other happy news. “We had a slight wobble when we found out that I was pregnant,” Katy remembers. “Were we really prepared for a building project and a baby?! But we decided we loved the house and were prepared to make it work.” They got the keys in May 2012 and their builders started on site two weeks later.

In a whirlwind eight months the couple dug out a basement to add a large kitchen-diner and larder, extended into the loft, added two bedrooms and two bathrooms and finished everything to an exceptionally high standard. “It was a roller coaster,” Katy remembers. “Watching them dig out the basement and half expecting the house to come crashing down around us was terrifying; having to make decisions about fittings and colours while the house was still a building site, and having to trust that my instincts were right, was really nerve-wracking.” And of course, Katy was pregnant in the middle of it all. “Having a baby halfway through was pretty daunting. James was pacing the hospital corridors on the phone to the builder while I was in labour.” The day after they got out of hospital Katy was back on site, making sure everything ran to schedule. “Arlo was surprisingly content to spend the first three months of his life strapped to my chest as I walked round a building site talking about stud walls and grouting!” laughs Katy.

And of course, it was all worth it. “Seeing the new kitchen walls go up and our kitchen units being installed was really exciting; then getting to the end and sitting back to enjoy it all has been incredibly rewarding,” says Katy.

James and Katy have filled the house with a bohemian mix of artwork, antiques and vintage items. “I’m a huge fan of rummaging through charity shops, house clearance sales and car boot sales,” Katy says. “I recently got a beautiful old poster of a British Museum exhibition held in the 1970’s from a house clearance shop. You can find the most interesting, unique pieces in these places.”

Katy’s proved that, thanks to her project management background, she is not only a dab hand at planning renovation projects, she also has a keen eye for colour and texture; combining natural textiles and rich earthy tones in a colour scheme that is relaxed, yet bold. The couple are not afraid of colour; the midnight blue walls in Arlo’s room and rich moss green in the bathroom are testament to that. “I love using strong colours to make an impact,” explains Katy. These strong tonal contrasts mix with exquisite traditional pieces and reassuring natural materials to create a sense of calm and elegance. For example, butterfly and bird prints mix with woody tones and earthy greens and browns to create a cool, calm space in the lounge.

Katy demonstrates a gentle awareness of the building’s architecture; preserving, restoring and updating in harmony with it. She explains; “I like to work with and enhance the character and original style of the house. For example we’ve kept the original sash windows and floorboards, and put back fireplaces and cornicing.”

One of the most important design elements for the couple was designing the house around the way they live. “One estate agent recommended that we put one large master bedroom in the loft, rather than a double and a single bedroom. But we knew that we wouldn’t feel happy sleeping on a separate floor to our young baby, so it was more important to create the master bedroom on the same floor as Arlo’s room,” explains Katy. “It also means that when family come to stay they have their own area on the top floor.”

To prevent the loft from only being used as a guest area and a floor of the house that is rarely used, James and Katy built in tons of storage and put their study up there. “It’s now a really useful space. In fact we’re up there most days,” Katy explains. The study is a peaceful space at the top of the house with a desk next to the sash window, overlooking the gardens behind. “It’s perfect for home-working or just escaping from the chaos downstairs.”

The kitchen design is another example of the way the house meets the needs of its young family. “Having a kid changes things. We have friends over for dinner all the time, because otherwise we’d never see them! So we wanted to create a large kitchen-diner where I can cook and talk to our guests at the same time.” Katy incorporated a contemporary design and colour scheme which are offset by the warm tones of the antique wooden table and old church chairs. The open plan room and large windows to the garden mean that when James and Katy are cooking, they can keep an eye on Arlo while he plays. Katy designed a seating area near the large windows so tired parents can relax on the sofa while the children sprint in and out of the garden.

Looking back over the whole project, it’s remarkable how much the Stevenson Bretton’s have achieved. Now a family of three in a house that has been fully renovated and re-designed, the result is refined and romantic, rich in colour and texture, boasting original features and bearing almost no resemblance to the house they bought originally.


The theatre lamp was a cherished wedding present, and the sideboard was bought from a local market. The large print above the sideboard is hand- painted wallpaper mounted on MDF. “Someone was throwing it away after an interior design show so I reclaimed it!” explains Katy. The sheepskin rug came from a farm in Dorset where James and Katy spent a weekend before Arlo was born. “I love that this room feels grown up and elegant. I love sitting with friends having drinks around the log burning stove,” explains Katy.


Cool floor tiles compliment the cream metro tiles with cream grout which line the walls around the worktops. The collection of antique bottles were bought in Somerset. “I love interesting old trinkets and antiques. The old glass bottles were bought at a church fete.” The ‘chop’ picture is by an artist James works with. “James works with all sorts of artists and illustrators so we have collected some wonderful pieces of art over the years.”The kitchen chairs are from an old chapel and were purchased secondhand.


The antique dining table and chairs in the bohemian dining room belonged to James’ grandparents. The art deco mirror was from an antique shop in Southwark. The piano was a wedding present. “We’ve gone for quite an eclectic look in here,” says Katy.


“I love that this room feels dramatic with its high ceilings and strong wall colour, and calm at the same time,” Katy explains. The three matching scatter cushions draw the eye to the bed, inviting you to relax. The original floorboards are stained dark and varnished, and the original cornicing and ceiling are painted white. The white bedspread belonged to James’ grandparents.


The most exciting feature about this room is the very dark blue walls. “I knew that we would be filling the room with bright kid’s things so wanted dark walls to set off rather than compete with all the colours,” Katy explains. The chair belonged to James’ great uncle. The cut out bear on the fireplace was used in a television advert and Arlo’s owl toy is from Sri Lanka, where the couple went on holiday when Katy was pregnant.


The walls are painted in a calming green that helps to create a sense of peacefulness. White metro tiles and dark grey grout line the walls. The chair belonged to James’ great uncle. Katy says of the cast iron roll-top bath “we had to strengthen the floors to take its weight.”


“Everyone always loves the wallpaper in here,” enthuses Katy. “We are really pleased we went with it.” White metro tiles with sand coloured grout line the walls.

  • Photos: Kristy Noble/Narratives
  • Text: Narratives/Hannah Bullivant