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Home truths

Buying a house is an emotive act, fuelled by all kinds of desire - protecting a family, starting a new life, following a dream. Three local Muddy readers open the door to their homes to share their personal stories.



Is there anything more fun than looking around other people’s houses? Er, NO! Every home tells a tale of histories, personal tastes and eccentricities, and we’ve been given the keys to three stunning houses owned by Muddy readers across Herts & Beds. Read on for home and life inspiration, and while you’re at it, go win yourself £500 off your mortgage in our exclusive Reader Treat, whoever you bank with!


“I could see its potential straight away. We completely fell in love with its quirkiness and character.”

Emily Hardy, 26, Shillington (near Hitchin), Herts

We had outgrown our Victorian terrace in Biggleswade (a complete renovation project that we bought in 2016 to get on the property ladder), and wanted more space for our dogs, Molly and Connie, and be nearer to work too. I’ve lived all over Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and my husband, Tom, is from Letchworth so buying in the area was a no-brainer. Although I was in two minds about whether it was the right time to sell, being the curious girl that I am, I was always scrolling through Right Move.

We both grew up in old houses, so a new build was never an option and when I saw this cute 3-bed cottage in the quaint village of Shillington (smack bang between Hitchin and Shefford), I could see its potential straight away and we had to go and see it. We completely fell in love with its quirkiness and character at the viewing and moved in 5 days before Christmas 2018 (and hosted eight people for lunch!).

Initially we were told it was a 1730s cottage, but after moving in our neighbours (we’re semi-detached) said it was much older, so Tom sent off some pictures and samples of our wooden beams to Oxford University to be carbon dated. They came back saying that parts of it were late 1500s!

Unlike our first house, which needed damp proofing and major construction work, everything we’ve done here has been cosmetic. We both love putting our own stamp on things but were both in agreement that anything we did had to be in keeping with the age of the house. I work for a fashion brand doing marketing, styling and photography and developed a passion for interior design during my degree in visual merchandising at London College of Fashion – I’ve been documenting everything on my blog, Home of Hardy.

I’d say our style is cottage-y with a contemporary twist. I’ve got a Singer sewing machine table with a modern top; we’ve upcycled a chest of drawers that belonged to Tom’s grandmother and we even found an old Thomas Crapper cistern in the garden, which we’ve completely restored and are now using in our bathroom! I get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram as well as magazines, but also from my mum, who trained as an interior designer – she’s always giving me tips and ideas about how to do things differently.

We have managed to do a lot of it on a budget, too. We bought our Wren kitchen from eBay for about £450, our matching bath and sink taps for £14 and waited until the tiles we loved went into the sales.

I just love it here. When I come up the drive I feel like I’m home. It’s really cosy and the minute I step through the door I feel relaxed. I think we’ll stay for a couple of years and we’ve talked about maybe having our first child here, but then we’ll probably have to move on for more space – we’re always getting itchy feet! The only thing that puts us off  is the cost – solicitor fees, deposits, mortgage rates and stamp duty – which means a lot of saving, and being in a chain can make it harder to move quickly. Plus the more time we spend in our home, the less we want to leave!



Favourite shops: Most Saturdays we drive into Hitchin which has loads of lovely independent shops. I like Fly9 and Hermitage Rd & Co which have lovely things to style your home with, like candles or unusual pots. Then there’s my favourite florist, Town Garden, where I’m always buying fresh eucalyptus or flowers to brighten up the house with on grey days.

Favourite pubs: I like the Motte and Bailey in Pirton – we can walk there from our house, they love our dogs in there and the food is really good. Or a short drive away is the Crown in Henlow, which is more gastropubby and a bit pricier but the food is lovely and they have a great beer garden in the summer.



“As soon as I walked through the door I could just imagine us living here.”

Pru Murray, 46, Berkhamsted Hertfordshire

We’d been looking for the perfect house for about two years and I know it’s a cliché but everyone always says ‘you know’ when it’s the right one. As soon as I walked through the door of this handsome home I could just imagine us living here. It was a bit of a financial stretch though and half of the garden had been sold off so another house could be built on the land. We had three small children at the time (aged 4, 6 and 7) so we were looking to the future and ummed and ahhed for about six months, but we must have gone back to it three or four times. Then someone else made an offer, but miraculously it fell through, so we thought it was meant to be.

We had another look at our finances and decided we’d be able to make it work if we went for an offset mortgage so that we could put any spare money into it to reduce our monthly payments. We moved in in summer 2013 and in the early days of living here we also spent a lot of time staying at home and enjoying the house rather than taking any lavish holidays etc to keep costs down.

It was the look of the house that attracted me. It has these large rectangular windows, as well as views of the town’s iconic water tower, which looks like a Grand Design, and I could see it as a family home with potential to improve – the previous owners had been there for 20 years. I like the fact that it’s got lots of history too. It was built in 1928 and when we delved into the council records and discovered its original name, we decided to change it back.

We’ve decorated or changed most of the spaces inside but have done it systematically – you need a rest from the chaos of juggling family life with builders being in your house at 8 o’clock in the morning! We started with the living room floor, then moved on to the bedroom and last year we did the kitchen. We’ve also recently finished the garden with two distinct zones: an all-weather astroturf strip for our football and hockey-mad kids and a landscaped flower garden with a hot tub – I know they can be quite polarising but we love it and the kids use it a bit like a swimming pool!

The house just really works for us as it’s got such defined spaces. The children all have their own rooms (there are six bedrooms in total) and it’s got three reception rooms: one for the kids with a secret panelled wall which leads to their Xbox den; a grown-up space (which the kids often invade); and a ‘talking room’ with no TV for occasional chat.

My style has a bit of a mid-century vibe, with country touches and contemporary colours. I get inspiration from the homes supplements in the Sunday papers – I like to pick up on trends and put my own stamp on them. I’ve got some vintage pieces from Returned to Glory and Home and Colonial in Berkhamsted, but also recently bought some lovely yellow velvet cocktail sofas from Homebase for £120.

I think it’s our ‘forever home’ as we’re really settled here and it works for all seasons. It’s covered in beautiful wisteria in May then looks lovely with the twinkly lights at Christmas and I just feel relaxed when I drive up to it.



Favourite café: Black Goo at the top of Home and Colonial in Berkhamsted for it’s bird’s eye view over town, Portuguese custard tarts and bubble and squeak.

Favourite walk: Hockeridge Woods is amazing for bluebells in spring – not many people know about it, but it’s a circular walk which we can do from our house so we can drag the kids along, too.

Favourite pub: We’re spoilt for choice here but I love an oldy worldy pub with a log fire, where you can get half a pint of bitter, like The Lamb in Berkhamsted. It’s just being redeveloped so I’m excited to see what they’ll do with the place.



“I’ve got lots of reminders of home… we completely breathe the Dutch lifestyle in our house”

Alice Calcasola-van der List, 53, Letchworth Garden City

Image: ©PollyABaldwin

We live in a beautiful 1904 house, which is known locally as the Sassoon House because Vidal Sassoon used to live here. I came over to the UK from Holland in 1999. It’s a big property with nine bedrooms and we’ve done a lot of work on it over the 20 years we’ve lived here. It’s a special house for sure and has been a real passion project, trying to do it up while living here with four children and a builder husband so it’s often been a building site! My two eldest daughters grew up here (they’re in their mid 20s now) and my two younger children were actually born here in the house – they were home births.

The children love helping me ‘dress’ the house, which is also my showroom for my floral and interiors business All in One Season. I’ve always styled it in a beautiful contemporary Dutch way and clients come to the house to order flowers or furniture and accessories which I ship over from Holland. Dutch interior style is very different to English – it’s more modern, with big pots of flowers symmetrically displayed on windowsills, lots of layering of soft furnishings with different textures and materials, and we upcycle a lot too. It can be minimal but is not as sparse as Nordic style – that’s where they differ. Dutch style is very distinctive.

Whenever we have Dutch visitors they say ‘it’s just like home, can we move in?’! I’ve also got lots of reminders of home like pairs of clogs, blue Delftware and Dutch house ornaments, as well as some first edition copies of Alice in Wonderland which are very special to me. I’ve got a whole library of things which ‘spark joy’ – I’m a Marie Kondo fan all the way! It’s necessary sometimes to get rid of things and keep only a few items which make you happy.

We’ve built a big veranda on the back, which wraps around the house and we’re still in the process of building a big Dutch barn which will re-house my workshop. Structurally we’ve done as much as we can to the living areas but there are still things to do – it takes time as we have to save up before doing the next bit. We completely breathe the Dutch lifestyle in our house – there’s a big outdoor firepit which we cook on and lots of land, which the children have enjoyed running around in over the years. We grow our flowers in the garden and it works for me commercially too – I have piles of wood stumps and branches which I use for my design work and workshops.

I don’t think I’ll stay here forever. It’s a big property to maintain, with the workshop and courtyard too, and the kids are growing up and starting to move out into their own places. And at some point I need to rest as well!



Favourite café and restaurant: Kite at the Red Hart in Hitchin. The boys who run it, Tom and Ben also set up The Groundworks café and they’re very close to my heart. They’ve done such a great job of building up Groundworks over the years, then bought The Kite which was completely run down and now have 10 chefs working for them. It was a major job restoring it all and I’ve collaborated with them on styling it, too. I know how much hard work they’ve put in so major kudos to them!

Favourite walk: I go for walks a lot around the Greenway in Letchworth. It’s one big loop all around the fields and countryside. And Chicksands Woods too – I love being in the woods.



Habito have crunched the numbers…

  • Average house price£351,870(London £474,601)
  • Increase over last 5 years +30% (London +17%)
  • Cost of a cappuccino £2.75 (London £2.81)

Source: Habito 


We’ve partnered with brilliant, modern, no-fuss mortgage brokers Habito to give a Muddy Herts reader £500 off his or her existing mortgage – no matter which bank or building site the mortgage is with! ENTER HERE, and if you’re thinking of re-mortgaging or buying afresh, say hello to Habito here


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