He rips things out, demolishes walls, ceilings and floors and she adds cool and contemporary interiors that make the finished renovation property into a gorgeous Instagram-worthy dream home.
You could call this Penarth-based couple Miffy and Gareth Shaw the ultimate Welsh renovation dream team.
This description can be supported by the design and interiors currently in their own three-bed semi-detached home, which beat all the other contenders to secure the title of BBC’s Best House in Town, Cardiff area in 2019.
This couple’s love affair with property, as well as each other, began on their very first date.
Miffy Shaw remembers: “On our first date I went and helped Gareth lay a wooden floor in his bedroom; that was brilliant and I thought ‘I’ve met the one’!”
But with their latest renovation project they almost met their match; a run down house converted, badly, into two flats.
Miffy said of the project that it was “just the thing we love!
“As soon as we got back from holiday we got the keys and we went and had a look at it.”
The lower flat had some quirky layout designs that the couple had to rethink, including the property’s former coal chute that runs from a hole in the front garden down into a small basement.
Plus, there was a toilet and shower off the garden conservatory. Miffy laughed: “It must have been Baltic going to the loo in there! It had to go.”
So the couple incorporated the whole of the conservatory space into the house and created a new lower section of the open-plan kitchen diner.
They then created a loo and utility room in the basement where the period property’s coal chute and storage area used to be.
Miffy said of the upstairs flat: “It had an orange mustardy-peach colour corner bath but that bathroom was one of the most comments I had on Instagram!
“When I put the sink on my Instagram stories, people were saying ‘keep it!’ and it got me thinking ‘I could have done something good with that’ but it had already been skipped, it was gone!”
Miffy added: “There were incredible gaps above all the windows so it was freezing.”
“It all needed ripping out.” She said they had to take the walls and ceiling totally off and replaster.
In fact, Gareth and his team took the whole house back to brick but it wasn’t a random semi-demolition of the house, the couple had a plan of how they wanted the finished home to look.
Their plan included some radical ideas that have become somewhat of a trademark for this visionary property couple.
Old ceilings in some rooms were not just ripped down and replaced; they never went back again in some of the rooms on the top floor.
Instead of a normal ceiling in the master bedroom there’s a vaulted ceiling and a statement roll-top bath on a funky and surprising mezzanine level overlooking the room below.
Miffy said: “Originally we thought about we were going to add the bath to the ensuite but Gareth took the ceilings out and saw that the mezzanine was a pretty cool spot.
“We’ve put a bath in a couple of our bedrooms now for a boutique style and we’ve had one too but it ended up full of clothes, but for me, full of ironing, or I forgot there was a window there as I stepped in!”
The couple are so imaginative and innovative that no space is left redundant.
The house has a number of levels inside, accessed by half-landings, but this quirky flow through the property was used to the couple’s advantage.
For example, one half-landing lost its ceiling and the floor was dropped, Gareth with the sledgehammer again, and is now a cosy study nook with high head room and room for a desk looking out of the window.
Most of the projects Miffy and Gareth take on are not simple makeover projects but they are excited rather than daunted by the scale of some of the work needed to bring the property back to life and give it a dream home makeover structurally and visually.
Miffy said: “When we go to see a wreck we just get excited, it’s like the worse it is the more we get excited and we can obviously see the huge potential to change it.
“When we get home from a property viewing, there’s nothing better than constructing a floorplan, me and Gareth love a good floorplan, it’s what we use to transform a property, that’s all we need!”
After much discussion, ideas and suggestions the couple came up with a plan that suits the space and the proposed typical vendor that is likely to want to live in the updated abode.
For this renovation house in Penarth it was most likely going to be a family so the couple kept this in mind as they reworked the floorplan.
Miffy said: “As we are a family we know how you want to live in it as a family, what makes sense. So where to put a toilet, where would I do my washing, where would the family gather?
“In the past I’ve worked in estate agency so I really try and plan out how it would be lived in by a potential buyer, and what adds value. Then we start knocking out walls, ceilings and floors.”
They have been using scaffolding boards, exposed metal pipework and dark colours for years, before most people were regularly introducing these elements into their homes, but their favourite material to work with is concrete.
Years ago they persuaded a local concrete company to construct a kitchen worktop and bathroom sink and the couple, and the company called Concrete Carrot, have never looked back.
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In fact, Concrete Carrot now supplies concrete sinks to Nandos and has established a range of its own products so any homeowner can have a go themselves at creating a concrete feature in their home.
Now, in every Shaw renovation you will find concrete, Miffy and Gareth can’t hide their delight at using the material in as many different ways as possible.
Miffy said: “It’s just like plastering but I suppose easier because you want it almost a bit messy, that’s the look. It does need practice! Then you have to seal it a few times especially on the floor in the bathroom.
“In this house it’s over most of the wall and bath in the main bathroom and sealed everywhere and Gareth chose it in black, I think it looks wicked!
“You could buy a standard bath and board the outside of it and then use this concrete master plaster straight onto it – it’s like plastering over boards on walls.”
As well as concrete, which is surprisingly versatile and can even bring extra light to a space when sealed and polished as well as adding dramatic texture, the couple like using a mix of natural materials when decorating and dressing all their renovations.
Miffy said: “Our style is that we like raw material and organic, so wood, exposed brick and stone are favourites, we always try and use those elements.
“Gareth does loft conversions as his day job so he’s a bit like a wood elf, we’ve always got a good supply of bits of wood in the garage which we try and make bathroom fittings out of, or tables, or whatever we need, we are very keen on reusing and recycling as much as possible.”
When it comes to interior design for her own home compared to the renovation projects, Miffy is quite laid-back.
She says: “In our own house we like dark and moody and I kind of just designed it how and when I wanted it. There was no particular rule to it or timetable but with this house I wanted to do something I’ve never done before.
“I read the Farrow and Ball book during lockdown and it said about choosing all your colour palettes first and I laughed and said: ‘Gareth, we’ve done our whole house wrong according to Farrow and Ball’!
“So that inspired me to do something different. I’ve got darker in my dark house so this time I want to go really light.
“I picked a handful of colours that I really love and that all blend together, they all work together individually and also with one another. So I picked five colours and did the whole house just with them.”
But when it comes to the interiors style and look of a space, Miffy said it was not just about choosing tonal colours.
She said: “I always tell people to think about different heights as well as colours.
“Also, different textures and different hardness is key – if you’ve got something really hard try putting something really soft against it so they clash and contrast against one another. That way they make each other ‘pop’ than if they were alone.”
Another Shaw interiors favourite is scaffolding planks, being cheap but also bringing chunky texture to a space.
But with this project, Miffy knew she would have to give the boards a special treatment to lighten them to an appropriate shade for the interior scheme in this house, so she lime waxed them.
Miffy said: “I’ve always burnt the boards but now I’m getting a bit bored of this so I’m looking for a different look and because the interior of this house is getting so light – it’s almost a Scandi in places – the whitewashing was necessary.”
In the kitchen diner in the Penarth house you can see Miffy’s careful attention to detail of mixing textures, hardness and surfaces.
There’s an industrial light switch next to a pretty pink tile, there’s a smooth shiny worktop next to rough scaffolding cladding, there’s a hard concrete floor dressed with natural rug and surrounded by a soft leather chair, plants, baskets and knitted throws.
Miffy said she always started thinking about an interiors scheme with one item she desperately wanted to include and then built ideas around that one piece of furniture, that one colour, or that one material, and then builded a board on Pinterest.
Miffy also said to not be afraid to think differently about some pieces.
She said: “I think the tiles in the kitchen are one of my favourite items, I decided not to do it the obvious brickwork or horizontal pattern, I wanted it to be a bit more geometric, I like the lines of it going upwards; I’m into lines at the minute.
“That’s why I love the renovations because I’m doing my most up-to-date favourite things that I wish I could do in my own house.”
Miffy recommended that for a successful renovation project to sell on, the kitchen, main bathroom and main bedroom had to be up to scratch and she should know, the couple have been doing successful renovations for 15 years now and this is their tenth property.
She said: “We started out as first time buyers but wanted Penarth but obviously couldn’t afford much, so we found a little starter house we bought for £89,000.
“We just renovated it ourselves, decorated the house and landscaped the garden for about £12,000, then we sold that and made about £10,000 and we were buzzing. And so it grew from there, looking then for a bigger house and to find another project.
“At the beginning we spent money on the important structural stuff but with the interiors we would buy a lower priced bathroom suite but splash out on a quality addition such as Manderin stone floor and as the bathroom was so small it didn’t cost too much.”
Miffy continues: “As we have grown in experience we have learnt where to invest the money wisely and how to add luxury additions such as tiles or a quality work top on a cheaper kitchen. Use your budget wisely on the things that matter structurally but then add small high quality items.”
What this dream team now produces in a renovated property is clearly successful as this latest project sold without even putting it on the market with an estate agent.
A sign in the window and their growing reputation was all it took to get it sold and hand the keys over to the delighted new owner.
Now the couple have two more projects to dive into, a little doer-upper in Penarth and an apartment that needs an interiors makeover.
But at the same time Miffy and Gareth are now looking for land to build their own home, with top of the ‘must-have’ list being a stream in the garden and surrounded by trees.
This new home, when eventually built, is likely to be funky and probably painted black but will definitely have concrete on show somewhere inside.