WELCOME to eternal Halloween,’ says Ky Ismet cheerily as he opens the door to his Victorian terrace in South Norwood. The cement-grey pebbledash frontage is the perfect foil for what lies within: an epic emo-revival home that’s been almost entirely furnished with items sourced from charity shops, eBay and Gumtree.
The walls are painted in Farrow & Ball Railings, a moody soft black with blue undertones, that makes the natural woods and numerous house plants pop with colour. Far from feeling cold or compacted, the dark colours hide the corners of the rooms and give the house a cosy feel.
Ky and his husband James Burrow bought the property in 2016 and quickly ditched the magnolia walls and beige carpets. Being staunch goths in their past lives, they sought to create something truly original — a home that’s part-Victorian New England and part-TV show Charmed, in a nod to Ky’s favourite programme.
James places a cup of tea on what I initially thought was an Ouija board beside the leather Chesterfield set (a Gumtree find that only cost a few hundred quid).
‘It’s a spirit board,’ James says, correcting me. ‘I don’t know the difference, but “spirit board” definitely sounds cooler.’
The house was always going to be different. James and Ky are anti ‘fast fashion’ and wanted their new home to be an eco-conscious space with longevity that speaks of their personalities. There are bespoke details everywhere: the framed tarot cards on the living room wall, bottles of Hendrick’s gin repurposed as flower pots and the stag’s head they affectionately call ‘Mumbi’.
‘It’s Bambi’s mum, maybe,’ says James. ‘The whole trend thing — you’re already bored of it by the time you’ve done your house up because you’ve already seen it on Instagram a thousand times.’
Ky adds: ‘Everyone follows trends subconsciously, but when we see maximalist, print-heavy houses everywhere, it makes us want to find our own way even more. If you want to style a room, look at what you wear, what you are into, then think about how you want to style it, how you want it to sound and smell. All these things are important.’
Talking of important, James and Ky created the home fragrance company A House Like This just after buying the property. Befittingly, a huge fan pumps scented candles around the house. While busy growing the company, which has since been featured in publications such as British Vogue and has secured an extensive list of stockists all over the UK, the boys worked on building their dream home with their puppy, Ezra.
The standout items in the living area — which opens into a dining area and well-sized kitchen — were sourced from British Heart Foundation (BHF) shops. This came down to sustainable choices and choosing items that were built to last and don’t cost the earth.
Having been fans of BHF stores since they began renting together, the couple knew it would be the perfect high-street destination to find quality, affordable and unique pieces to suit their interior styling.
When they wanted a statement piece that would enhance the modern gothic feel, as well as draw the eye away from the TV, the solution was an antique dresser, bought from the BHF’s Peterborough store for £30. It features Art Deco styling and was handmade in Britain, with dovetailed construction.
‘We try to spend money on things that last, not flat-pack furniture,’ Ky says. ‘I hate the word second-hand: I prefer second chance or second life.’
James adds: ‘When it comes to charity shops, it’s the thrill of the hunt. Sometimes there is nothing, others we find something amazing.’
The giant grandfather clock, looming Lurch-like in the corner of the dining area, is one such find. They spotted it hidden away in BHF’s Croydon store — a visit to this branch is something of a Saturday tradition for them — having searched for an affordable one for months.
‘It was available on the BHF eBay store and I bid maximum £70 — and forgot about it,’ James says. ‘The next day, I had a message saying we had won — and for £65 — so we went over and got it in an Uber.’
Other great finds include the antique lantern in the living room, nabbed for £18 at an antique fair, an old suitcase (turned into interesting storage space) from a charity shop in Dulwich and an antique bible that was found in a second-hand store. The stag bedside tables in the bedroom were bought by Ky’s mother, Nina, at her local BHF store in Shrewsbury. She sanded them down and covered them in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. A milk pail from an antique shop in Crystal Palace doubles as a plant pot.
The Victorian-style side table in the bathroom was bought from (yep, you guessed it) BHF’s Croydon store — for the bargain price of £5. Ky and James gave it new life with matte black wood paint. They were after a piece to match their Victorian-style clawfoot bath and a place to rest candles — and of course, Ezra’s fancy puppy shampoo.
Outside, the compact garden — once overgrown and blighted by a collapsed shed — has been transformed into a magical extension of the house. With the chic vibe of a boutique hotel, it continues the monochrome colour theme with black-painted fencing and a sheltered seating area with a waterproof perspex roof — which is cleverly hidden with bamboo.
It’s easy to forget we’re in the heart of suburbia. ‘Every space is designed to give you something in different ways — whether you want to relax, feel calm or be stimulated,’ Ky says.
With all of these amazing charity shop finds scattered around their gorgeous and stylish home — aren’t they worried that throngs of bargain-hunters will be inspired to scour BHF stores and beat them to the second-hand treasures?
‘Not at all,’ laughs Ky. ‘We want to spread the word about being conscious about buying. Don’t buy into trends — why should you?’
And James feels agrees, adding: ‘There are so many amazing vintage pieces out there — there is more than enough to go around!’