From born and bred East End stock, a creative duo invite us into their contemporary home and share how Victoria Park, and the local area, proved to be some of their greatest renovation inspirations.
When Natalie Dale and her partner Grant Mitchell laid their eyes on an unloved and lifeless 150-year-old terraced townhouse overlooking the Eastern edge of Victoria Park, they knew they had to have it.
Victoria Park, after all, has been a focal point for many of the couple’s moments and memories. The native 30-something Londoners had their first date in the park back in September 2005 and, catching first date thrills, lost track of time and found themselves locked in, only escaping by climbing over the park’s tall steel railings.
Before they moved to Bow, Dale and Mitchell lived in Hackney Wick: they would run every day in the park or head there for park dates and strolls. Park dates for two turned into family outings for four as the couple now have two young sons, Ethan and Sebastian, in tow.
And Victoria Park is where the four spend their Christmas mornings. ‘It is just part of our life’, Dale concludes in her light Estuary accent. It is fitting that, as Dale and Mitchell reminisce about the central role the park plays in their lives, we sit at the large family kitchen table with the light flooding in from the west-facing window overlooking the golden-hued park.
And Victoria Park featured again when, during a cool October afternoon in 2017, ‘one of those beautiful sunny chilly autumn days’, recalls Dale, that the duo decided they would bid on the dilapidated Victorian home at its upcoming auction. The clincher? ‘You get the most incredible sunsets from the front door looking out onto Victoria Park,’ says Dale, with awe in her voice as if the magic of it will never leave her.
So, it felt like the stars were aligned when the shell of a building that had no kitchen, no running water, and no heating, went up for auction on her 32nd birthday. Competition was stiff (almost 40 others visited the house) but, outbidding all others, they secured their dream home. Birthday wishes can come true.
Alongside Victoria Park’s attraction, another attraction to the area for Dale was that her heritage is rooted in the area: her parents lived half a mile from her new home before they left for Woodford where Dale spent her childhood.
Before their move, however, her father worked at Lesney Toy Matchbox factory in Hackney Wick and her grandfather worked at dry cleaning company, Achille Serre, also in Hackney Wick. Dale’s mother worked in fashion and would visit Roman Road Market in the 1970s for its latest styles. ‘Mum said this was the best market to come to. They always had the newest things,’ Dale adds.
And for Mitchell, although not a native East Londoner rather hailing from Tottenham, he adds that his grandmother, mother, and uncle would also make the journey to Roman Road on market days in the 60s.
Aware of the area’s skills, talents, and offerings, the couple were keen to use them as much as they could when restoring their dilapidated dwelling.
Their builder, Adam Lloyd, was a former neighbour from Hackney Wick and their new window shutters were made by Liam Anderson whose workshop is based there too. Their plasterer, Jason Jewell, is from Bow and has worked on several renovations in the Tredegar Square Conservation area. Their carpenter, John Grant, is from Bethnal Green. And they sourced their new railings from the Beehive Foundry located at the other end of Victoria Park.
As for the fusion of pinks, greens, and dark blue interiors, alongside Instagram and home magazines, the area proved to be another great inspiration, with even the smallest of spots illuminating a lightbulb. For example, a mustard-coloured 1940s silk hat with meshing that Dale spied in Roman Road Market’s Spitalfields Crypt Trust’s shop window was the inspiration for their bedroom curtains. Gunmaker’s Row’s vintage and kitsch lifestyle shop The Peanut Vendor is reflected in their choice of furniture.
The detailed but crumbling cornice adorning the entrance encouraged them to reinstall floral and ornamental cornice inside, seeking advice from their local plasterer on what the house’s original designs might have looked like when it was built in the 1870s. And, of course, Victoria Park was also their muse: the front door is a majestic green; the kitchen units are a rich teal; the hallway is a soft sage.
While it sounds like an expensive endeavour, Dale and Mitchell are keen to add that they played to their strengths to keep costs down. Dale, who followed in her mother’s footsteps and worked in fashion as a freelance fashion stylist, focused on style. As for Mitchell, his degree was in product design and he was heavily involved in the building work, even procuring a black eye or two in the process.
In addition, Dale’s East End roots gave her the edge when on the hunt for the best deal. In a confident and casual manner, she says she always asked for discounts: ‘All they can do is say no and half the time they don’t.’ She also was an avid user of Facebook Market Place and a frequent visitor to Lofty’s in Hackney Wick.
With their home just about finished, Dale is savouring the community in which the family has now embedded themselves. She loves ‘heading down the Roman’. She adds that as a mum with two small children, ‘all the old girls always talk to you. I have always loved going down the Roman Road for that benefit.’ And Sinclairs Pharmacy, a dispenser the family has used over the years, is now finally on their doorstep. For Dale, such family-run businesses turn faceless London into the familiar: ‘It’s small things like that that make it feel less London, more a community.’
Given Dale’s heritage, does Dale feel like she’s returning to her roots? ‘My parents grew up here and so it feels like a return, almost like a boomerang.’ But it was the couple’s ‘overwhelming sense of love for the area’ that made them return. Not just Victoria Park for Dale but also Roman Road: ‘I suppose knowing my mum used to go out there shopping every weekend, that felt really lovely knowing that I would go down there and pick up the hat and things like that.’
She ends with her unequivocal devotion to the area: ‘It was definitely somewhere we both wanted to be. We didn’t look anywhere else, it had to be here.’
To see more of Dale and Grant’s renovation and interior design, visit their Instagram account @our_vickypark_home.
If you enjoyed this, then read our piece about resident and stylist Wojtek van Portek’s Bow flat.
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