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Name: Ross and Marianna Popejoy, and son, 6-year-old Finn, with dog, Indy
Location: Wanstead — East London, UK
Size: 1025 square feet
Type of Home: 1900 worker’s cottage
Years Lived In: 8 years, owned
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Ross and Marianna Popejoy, who run a creative agency called Happy Ending Agency, bought this narrow but “deceptively spacious” 1900 worker’s cottage in East London’s Wanstead area eight years ago. “We fully renovated the house and did a lot of the work ourselves, so we’ve spent many a weekend learning as we go along, from how to tile a garden path or custom make a moveable kitchen peninsula, to how to plant and care for our two beautiful tree ferns,” Marianna says.
When Ross and Marianna first purchased the cottage, it had three bedrooms and a downstairs bathroom, but part of their renovation included the home’s layout. “We moved the bathroom upstairs into one of the back bedrooms when we renovated the kitchen, turning it into a two-bedroom house,” she says. “It was a compromise, but in our opinion, one of the best decisions that we made, as the downstairs footprint is so much more spacious as a result.”
While the couple’s whole home is gorgeous, it’s the connection between the interiors and nature that make it a particular standout.
“We were always determined to fill our home with natural materials and plants, but as it evolved, the connection between the interiors and the garden became stronger and our home continued to get featured in blogs and magazines as a good example of biophilic design,” Marianna explains. “The more I learned about the concept of biophilia and the positive impact that it can have on our health and well-being, the more I realized that we had incorporated many of the principles into the design of our home without even realizing it, proof that the desire to connect our homes to nature really is innate to all of us.”
“I may have stumbled across the word ‘biophilia’ by chance, but, it was always our intention, in every stage of planning the design of our home, for it to have that clear connection to nature and the natural environment,” Marianna says. “And so, this very happy accident has resulted in a dream career where I can’t quite believe that I get to design people’s indoor and outdoor spaces in line with those biophilic principles that I have now become so passionate about.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Favorite Element: Our favorite room is most definitely the garden room. We deliberately chose natural materials that could be used both indoors and outdoors so that the lines were blurred between the two. We have used a lot of garden materials, such as red cedar fence posts to construct the sliding TV cabinet and banister, which is not only cost-effective but helps to bring the garden into the living space. We’ve used galvanized garden trellis and copper plumbing pipes as a hanging rail around the entire garden and seating area that can be used to hang plants as well as useful cooking utensils and garden tools.
As a result we are completely surrounded by greenery and the smell of timber, which gives the space such a calming feel. Living in East London, we are lucky to have a modest-sized outdoor space that is roughly four by six meters. Wrapping the entire space in one material and painting the raised planters using the same color as the kitchen units has unified the space, making it a usable space for us to enjoy all year-round, whatever the weather.
Biggest Challenge: There have been a few challenges in this house, from awkwardly placed manhole covers to tricky angles and curved walls… but one that we are particularly proud of is the pergola that we built in the garden. In our initial design, it was intended to sit on the left-hand side, but while we were waiting to save up some more money to complete the garden reno, one of our neighbors at the back replaced his fence with a much shorter one to let more light into his garden. Once we were ready to commence with the work we spoke to all of the neighbors around the boundaries of our property to see if they were happy with us either replacing their fence or cladding straight onto theirs.
Understandably, the neighbor at the back didn’t want us to build higher than his brand-new fence, and as the idea right from the start was to wrap the entire space in the same material, at a consistent height, this caused us a big problem in the design. We thought quickly on our feet and switched the pergola to the right-hand side, refacing the back that sits against the neighbor’s fence with some Corten Steel so that the break in material looked intentional, and do you know what? We actually think it has worked out for the better in the end. The industrial Corten Steel has weathered into a deep rust color that complements all of the copper piping in our home and garden perfectly, and the neighbor still gets to enjoy a little more sun. We do love a story that ends well.
Proudest DIY: Whilst renovating, we try to be as sustainable as possible so none of the offcuts of plywood or sawn timber have gone to waste. The plywood offcuts all went into the building of our son Finn’s cabin bed, and the sawn timber larch that we used to make our garden decking has gone on to build the desk space on our landing, which we built using two old repurposed bedside tables.
We also created the outdoor cooking area and bench seating with it… and the rolling veggie trug. We even repurposed the offcuts of gutter pipe that we had into some hanging planters so that we are able to hang and climb greenery up and around the garden. The cladding in our bedroom is made out of leftover pallet wood, too. No wood ever goes to waste in this house, which makes for a pretty chaotic loft space, and we dream of the day when we will eventually have our own workshop that we can store and build from.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? I would definitely say that the ability to move our kitchen island, transforming it from a kitchen into a Pilates studio, is pretty unique. It’s such a simple idea, but it has enabled us to open up the space and use it for Finn and his friends to have a little bit more room to run around and have kitchen discos during lockdown.
We also made the decision to move the bathroom from downstairs into one of the back bedrooms, turning the house from a three-bedroom house to a two-bedroom. The result is a luxuriously sized family bathroom (by UK standards at least). If feels like such a treat and has enabled us to fill it to the brim with plants, making it feel like you’re showering in a jungle every morning… it’s such a great start to the day.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: A bit of an obvious one but good storage has changed our lives. We designed the kitchen and garden room to have floor-to-ceiling cupboards all the way down the entire length of one side, which makes the space feel so much bigger, as everything is hidden away, even the microwave and TV are hidden behind sliding panels. It helps to create such a relaxing feel in the space, as all of the clutter and toys have a place.
We try to make everything that we choose for our home work really hard; even the headboard in our bedroom unhooks so that you can take it out into the garden on a nice day to create a sun lounger or bench cushion. We have countless storage chests and baskets that double up as side tables. We also designed the storage under the stairs so that it doubles up as great little reading nook or spot to take yourself off to if you want to escape the rest of the family and have some quiet time.
Oh and how could we forget the magic that is casters? They’re such a great way to make a space multifunctional; you could add them to a sideboard or a sofa to quickly open up a space. We even put them on our rolling veggie trug in the garden so that it can be easily wheeled out of the way to create more space for Finn to kick a ball around.
Does your home reflect your home country/city in any way? We have been told a number of times that our home has a bit of a Californian feel to it, however it was always our intention for the snug to have a more traditional influence, which is much more in keeping with the age of the property. The heritage color, button-back sofa, and oil paintings are quite traditional, whilst still having those all-important connections to nature through the use of color, imagery, and of course plants. It’s our evening room, and it’s where we like to retreat to at the end of the day, so it feels right that it has a different vibe to the rest of the house.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Bringing seasonal changes into the home is the best way to keep a room looking fresh all year-round and avoid it becoming stagnant or boring. It doesn’t have to cost the earth either… foraging for seasonal wildflowers, foliage, or an oversized fallen branch is a great way to add a statement to a room, whilst also getting you out into nature. And don’t forget seasonal produce either; a rustic bowl of beetroots or artichokes is a great way of bringing in seasonal color to a kitchen, and you can eat them afterwards. Win. Win.
Thanks Ross and Marianna!