LOOSE Women presenter Andrea McLean, 48, realised it was time to improve her privacy when she overheard a neighbour talking about her.
‘I came out to the garden and heard someone saying on their phone: “Yes, I can see her. She’s in the garden in her dressing gown. Yes, her off the telly.” I went straight back in the house again,’ laughs Andrea.
It was 2012, and Andrea had just moved into her five-bedroom, new-build house in Surrey, with her two children, following a divorce. It meant she’d had to leave her previous home, which she’d designed and built with her former husband.
‘The garden was still like every other newbuild — a plain, green square with a little square of patio. And because of the shape of the road, all the other houses overlook my garden.’
Action was required, so Andrea installed higher fence panels, bamboo and taller plants to give herself extra privacy.
She went on a garden design course, came up with plans for everything she wanted, and handed them over to a landscaping company, who made her vision a reality. Canny Andrea even crouched around the garden working out which spot was least overlooked, before installing a barbecue pit and seating area there.
The garden features lots of jasmine, lavender and wisteria. ‘All the plants are white, purple or pink,’ says Andrea. ‘I wanted cool and calm colours in the garden. I treat what I plant the same as if it’s cushion for the house — it’s got to fit.’
Andrea dug another pit in the garden and covered it up with a trampoline top. The result takes up less space than a freestanding trampoline, and it’s safer for smaller children to use as they can’t plunge off the edge.
But the most outstanding addition to her garden is the veranda. Andrea’s original inspiration was to add some coverage from the back door to the garage, in case of rain.
‘But then I thought “there’s no point doing half a job”, and checked regulations about how far out I could build without planning permission. I discovered it could be wide enough to get a sofa in. It lit a little fire in me and it became a project.’
Andrea hit Pinterest for ideas. ‘I made up loads of mood boards of American-style patios,’ she says.
‘But I also grew up in the Caribbean where there are lots of old colonial houses. I like that French colonial style of whitewash, a swing chair, and sitting having a gin and tonic in the garden.’
She’s very pleased with the results. ‘It feels like another room,’ says Andrea. ‘We’re out here from the spring until it gets too cold in the autumn.’
Andrea, who installed her own carpet and did her own tiling in the first flat she owned, then went on to build her own house, is quick to reassure people they shouldn’t be overwhelmed by building projects.
‘All of us can do anything really. Just have a clear idea about what you want and get a few quotes. The more you know, the less you’ll pay.’
It’s not just the garden that’s changed since Andrea moved in. The interior has also undergone an evolution.
‘When I first moved here it was very Cath Kidston. I put a lot of floral wallpaper up. I was really making a statement saying “this is a woman’s house’’.’ All that has changed since entrepreneur Nick Feeney moved in in 2015 — the pair married last year.
They now have an expanded family of Andrea’s son and daughter, Nick’s two daughters, and Jackson, who is a labradoodle despite his appearance.
‘There was a lot of pink and white in the bedroom,’ says Nick of the Andrea’s original décor.
‘Now everything is grey,’ laughs Andrea. ‘I’ve got one Cath Kidston mug left and a tea towel. It’s a bit more neutral now.’
‘It feels very much like a family home,’ she adds. ‘There are lots of nice pictures of happy moments that have gone up.’ A colourful collection of headshots of all the family, done by an online art and photo company, livens up the living room wall.
Unsurprisingly, Andrea’s favourite place in the house is the veranda.
‘There’s no such thing as a dream house. Everything has pros and cons. But if I could pick this porch up and put it by the sea, I’d be very happy. I’d love to live by the sea — I’m sure it’ll happen one day.’
■ Andrea’s new book Confessions Of A Menopausal Woman is out now published by Bantam Press, £14.99. thisgirlisonfire.co.uk