Grieving mum makes $230,000 after diving into 'upcycling' home renovation

·4-min read

Aussies may treat home renovations like a national sport, but this British woman could teach us a thing or two, revamping her semi-detached home and finding personal solace in the process.

Rather than let her life collapse following the death of her infant son, Surrey-based digital services manager Rachel Verney, 39, transformed her $600,000 (£340,000) three-bedroom home into a haven for modern living through thrifty "upcycling".

So far she has spent $31,000 on home renovations and has increased the value of her home by $229,000 in the four years her family has lived there.

Rachel's new living room is transformed, featuring block primary colours, neon lights, modern furniture. Source: Australscope
Rachel's new living room is transformed, featuring block primary colours, neon lights, modern furniture. Source: Australscope

After the loss of her son Kit at just eight weeks old due to Haemophilus influenza type b, or ‘Hib’, Rachel and her family moved into this property in 2018, in need of a fresh start.

Hib is a bacterial infection with serious complications, including meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia, especially in young children.

Rachel, along with her fiancé Jon, 37, son Rudi, 7, and son Arlo, 4, Kit’s surviving twin brother, upped sticks from Kingston to Surrey, for a fresh start.

“He had Hib, which is one of the serious conditions that babies are vaccinated against at eight weeks old,” Rachel explained. “Luckily his twin Arlo didn’t contract it. It was unimaginably hard.

“We were honestly broken, but our two boys kept us going.”

When they moved in, the property was unrecognisable with décor dating back to the 1960s and 70s.

The old home once looked very different. Source: Australscope
The old home once looked very different. Source: Australscope
The DIY job has even included painting the white goods. Source: Australscope
The DIY job has even included painting the white goods. Source: Australscope

“I’ve never really had much interest in renovations/interiors before but once we moved it gave me something to focus on and distract us.

“Once lockdown started there was more time to think and I found it very difficult.

“That’s when I started carrying out upcycle projects, I found them really really therapeutic and I really got the bug at that point. I can honestly say that discovering upcycling and my passion for interiors saved my mental health.”

The most expensive element of the revamp has been the kitchen as the family got professional help in and spent $12,000, as well as some rewiring around the house.

“It used up all our left over mortgage money so that was another reason we had to learn to do it all on a budget. “Foolishly I had thought it was all cosmetic.”

From curb-side finds to upcycling and repurposing, Rachel is taking a frugal approach to the ongoing home renovation.

Her favourite project to date, her cocktail cabinet, had a particularly interesting journey. “Jon found it curb-side and after checking he bought it home,” she said. “It had cracked glass that he replaced and then I painted it and used some gorgeous floral wallpaper for the backing. “It took me four attempts before I found the pink that was perfect for me, but I learnt a good lesson in persevering.

The exterior of Rachel's home, almost hiding the explosion of colour on the inside. Source: Australscope
The exterior of Rachel's home, almost hiding the explosion of colour on the inside. Source: Australscope

“I’ve never been good with money and I like to change things up frequently so upcycling really helps to keep costs down and means I don’t have to feel guilty ... We upcycled our fireplace for £40 – we ripped out the dated gas fire and we used a cast iron fire that we got for a bargain on eBay, Jon found a fireplace surround in a skip which we cut to size and painted. Most of the money went on the tiles and paint."

For Rachel, repurposing things is important from an environmental perspective as well as "we have so much waste now and I hate the throwaway culture."

Rachel shares her frugal renovation journey on Instagram account The Shoestring Home,

“I have had overwhelming positive responses, 99 per cent of people are very complimentary even if it’s not their style,” she said.

“I do get the occasional troll and some people get really upset about me ‘ painting wood’ when It’s usually chipped peeling iron on veneer.”

Her one piece of advice for would be DIY renovators?

"Prep is key. I've learned that the hard way."

Australscope

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