As seen on TV: Inside some of the best houses in town
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
From Marshalswick “village” to Markyate and Old Welwyn, the St Albans judges travelled far and wide in their quest to find The Best House in Town. We took a closer look at some of the stand-out homes they visited.
Inviting a group of strangers into your home to pick it apart in front of a national TV audience is not for the faint of heart, so kudos is due to all the homeowners featured in The Best House in Town.
The BBC1 daytime show last week focused on St Albans and – rather controversially, according to some viewers – the surrounding areas.
The judges included Gallery Rouge managing director Kuldip Chohan, Emma Bustamante, the owner of Cositas interiors shop on Holywell Hill, and Olwyn Grint, who runs colour consultancy Tickled Pink Interiors.
St Albans-based interior designer Randa Kort and builder Dean Mason from Creative Construction completed the expert panel.
They were tasked with assessing each home’s functionality, interior design ambition and element of surprise, choosing a winner from each category before announcing an overall champ in Friday’s finale.
Did the best house win? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. We spoke to some of the contenders…
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The top terrace
Being crowned ‘top terrace’ was a great moment for Stuart Beck and Lucy Griffiths, who’ve made huge changes to their St Albans property over the last eight years.
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Back in 2010, the house came complete with a massive bay tree and a dilapidated garage while “ivy was just everywhere,” according to Stuart.
“It had a lovely feel to it though,” he adds. “There was planning permission. We could see the potential.”
Transforming the Victorian two-up two-down into a more spacious, family-friendly home was part of a major lifestyle change for the couple, who were made redundant from their city jobs in 2015, the year their daughter Peggy, now three, was born.
Stuart, 51, has since turned his back on his previous career in marketing and now works from home as an abstract artist.
His work is displayed throughout the 19th century conversion, which blends rustic touches with modern white walls and character-packed upcycling projects.
When a leaflet came through the letter box asking proud homeowners to get in touch, Stuart saw a unique opportunity to promote his wares.
“I’m a new artist; I thought off the back of the telly that might generate a bit more interest.”
So far, so good: “Somebody contacted me last night and said “I love the wings [a painting in the family’s living room], how much is it?”
While former finance worker Lucy, 44, initially didn’t want to be on TV at all, Stuart embraced the experience and enjoyed having the crew around.
“They were lovely - dead upbeat, really television-y. They were buzzing all the time. After a couple of weeks of them in and out all the time, your life changes… and when they left I felt quite down!”
While the couple braced themselves for negativity from the judges, what they didn’t anticipate was the frustration that came from their incorrect assumptions. For example, Dean and Randa’s issue with the position of their TV.
“They said ‘you can’t watch telly from there’, but nobody worked out it’s got a button. It’s on an electronic arm. We were sitting there going ‘use the button!’”
Randa’s comment about shoddy craftsmanship when the hatch in the side of the stairwell wouldn’t slot back in easily also had Stuart shouting at the TV.
“The reason I take it off like that is because I climb in there; it goes right back, because it’s semi dug out - there’s potential to have it as another cellar room.
“She was going ‘oh, the workmanship’s not very good!’ I was again screaming, ‘it’s got to be like that because I’ve got to get in it!’”
The there was bathroom window-gate.
“She was mad on Velux windows wasn’t she?! She was like, ‘oh, there should be a Velux in the bathroom’ – you can’t have a Velux in there because there’s a big beam, you couldn’t fit one in. And also St Albans council – they aren’t going to let you have a window in there without some sort of fight are they?!”
These few small issues aside, Stuart was delighted to win the terraces episode.
“I didn’t really expect to win. It was nice to get that, really, really nice. It’s a bit of a pat on the back.”
An exhibition of Stuart’s abstract art will take place at St Albans’ Nude Tin Can gallery from March 29 to April 11.
The Markyate barn conversion
For one couple, seeing their home on TV had to wait.
Indira Chima and her husband John Coyle had been so busy at work that they weren’t able to watch their ‘wildcard’ episode until 9pm that night – but it was worth the wait.
“We piled into bed with gin and tonics and the dog and we watched it there and we had a scream,” Indira laughs. “We really enjoyed it.”
Not surprisingly, friends had been desperate to share their thoughts on the episode, which aired at 3.45pm.
“My mobile was going bonkers,” admits the counsellor and psychotherapist.
“A colleague said ‘oh, I really like your wardrobe’. I said ‘I don’t want to know! Haven’t seen it, stop talking to me!’”
Indira, 50, admits she was nervous before seeing the show, but felt the judges were “very kind” about the converted barn.
“The nice bit for us was when they were wowed by the entrance and the drive.
“Then they came in the kitchen and they started saying how warm and cosy it was. They were saying really positive things and I looked at my husband and both of us welled up. We did have an emotional reaction to it.
“Then I think Dean the builder said something negative and it brought us back to earth!”
One cause for concern among the judges was the couple’s curtains – or lack thereof.
“That was the one critique and I’m fine with that because we really like not having curtains. So what I’m saying to my friends now is: ‘It’s curtains for me!’”
The only downsides for Indira were that none of the judges picked their property as their favourite wildcard – and their boxer dog, Juno, didn’t get much screen time.
“I was a bit disappointed,” Indira laughs. “I thought they’d use him more because he does make the place look great.”
A silver lining proved to be Randa’s fondness for the kitchen floor, which surprised Indira. “She said she really liked the terracotta floor. I wouldn’t have picked the terracotta floor. She gave it an affirmation. Maybe it’s not so bad! We’re taking a fresh look at our floor!”
Ultimately Indira and John, 51, a buyer for the hotel industry, were glad they allowed their “work in progress” home to star in the show.
“I said, ‘look, was it worth it?’ and he said it was. Because I did incur a bit of a credit card bill, buying the odd Jo Malone candle, the odd throw.
“I said ‘so am I let off the credit card bill?’ and he said ‘yeah’. So we’re not getting divorced!”
The light-filled terrace
A strong contender in the terraces category was Pete Williamson and Alison Berneye’s St Albans two-up two-down, which they transformed beyond recognition in under two years.
“It’s one of the traditional ones which are really small,” says Pete, who’s the director of St Albans-based Zebrano Interiors.
“I’ve opened it all up and extended the back corner and the Velux roof lights let a lot of light in. The back doors are glass so the light just floods in front to back.
“I do it for other people and it’s nice to do it for myself and use it as a showcase.”
Pete, 58, had no reservations about being involved in the show after being put forward by a property finder colleague, saying: “You’ve spent a lot of time on the house – why not show it off if you’re proud of it? I’m always up for doing something a bit different.”
And while Pete had no qualms about seeing himself on TV, Alison, 54, was less keen. “She didn’t like it, no. She said ‘oh, I look awful and my hair’s not right. I’ve got to change that haircut.’”
The judges’ critiquing also received a mixed response from the couple, notably Kuldip’s description of their wall-mounted bicycle as “oppressive” and “too dominant”.
“The gallery owner didn’t like the bike on the wall, did he? And you thought he’d like something like that, he’s supposed to be a bit arty and a bit different.”
The judges commended Alison and Pete’s bravery in taking out a bedroom to create a dressing room, however.
“We just did that without thinking,” says Pete. “If I need to make that back into a bedroom again all I’ve got to do is put a wall back up. A weekend’s work. Why make it nice for someone else? You’re going to live there.”
And much like Stuart and Lucy before them, they too had a TV-related bone to pick with the judges, some of whom weren’t keen on its positioning in their basement.
“They said ‘where’s the TV, where’s the TV?!’ The builder was going, ‘oh, you need it upstairs, I’d have made this another bedroom’ – but we don’t watch a lot of TV and if we do we go down there and watch it.
“We maybe see an hour a day then go to bed. It works for us. It doesn’t work for everyone.
“It’s not good for us all to have the same taste. The spice of life, isn’t it?”