■ We chat to Celebrity SAS star AJ Odudu about her toughest challenge yet
DETERMINED home hunter AJ Odudu wouldn’t be discouraged when it came to finding her first property — the Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins star and Shared Ownership Week ambassador spent a whole year tracking down the perfect place.
‘At one point I had three months off work and looked at a property every day,’ AJ explains. ‘Everyone was telling me I was being fussy and I should settle — but I knew I wouldn’t be happy doing that. It’s a big investment and you want to be happy where you buy.’
Initially, AJ, 31, looked all over London but found that casting her net so wide wasn’t helpful. She eventually decided to buy in south-east London where many of her friends live. But she had strong ideas about what she wanted from her first home.
‘I wanted something spacious because I have a lot of stuff,’ she says. ‘I’m uplifted by a lot of light, so I wanted big windows, a parking space, a garden and high ceilings.
‘Estate agents said, “You’re not going to find what you want in this area,” but I said, “Oh yes I am.”
‘But in London you have to be quick and on it and see places as they come on to the market.’
AJ says months of looking at homes in various states of repair honed her eye for potential. ‘This place was a mess, the blinds were shut and it was dark, but I knew I wanted to buy it when I saw it. You have to see past all that.’ In fact, AJ ended up buying a home with even more going for it than she was originally looking for.
Her original plan was to buy a two-bedroom flat — but she’s bought a Victorian period conversion with three bedrooms and has been able to line one with wardrobes and turn it into a dressing room.
‘The wallpaper was black, white and grey stripes and it looked like it hadn’t been decorated for a long time. The bathroom was floor-to-ceiling green tiles.’
AJ set about making some changes — she replaced the windows, installed a new boiler and central heating and put in a new kitchen and bathroom. The spacious garden was also thoroughly overhauled. It was overgrown and overrun when AJ moved in. She says: ‘There were foxes rummaging around out there and all sorts of creatures at night.’
She found a landscape gardener who completely transformed the place in five days — clearing the plants and adding a patio, pergola and a large, low-maintenence Astroturf lawn. ‘It has a 25-year guarantee,’ AJ tells us.
‘I had my dad’s 80th birthday party in the garden. There were 80 people in that garden and there was still room to move.’ AJ has decided against installing a hot tub outside but says she may yet add her own mini gym.
Not all the renovation work went smoothly, though. When replacing the boiler, AJ’s builder flooded the downstairs neighbour. He later put his leg through AJ’s living room floor, emerging through her neighbour’s ceiling. And AJ choice of colour scheme — white walls and bright orange — also proved far from straightforward.
‘The amount of places I went to in search of a good quality orange carpet was unbelievable. Orange is one of my favourite colours and because this was my first place I was quite reserved with the wall colours and expressed my energy through the flooring.’ AJ describes her taste in interiors as ‘bold, bright and bubbly’ — as reflected in her décor decisions through out the home.
She has two large, colourful abstract paintings created for her by her artist friend Sophie Tea.
Elsewhere, a light-up flamingo from River Island decorates her dressing room, her living room coffee table is brightened up with colourful coasters and her vibrant orange and blue sofas come from John Lewis.
The flat is now mostly finished — although AJ says she is considering a loft conversion at some point.
The only room left to be completed is the kitchen. AJ wants to install a bespoke larder and bar and turn it into a place for entertaining friends.
‘I have the kitchen table but I need to buy chairs. My dream dining chairs would be custom made by Yinka Ilori,’ she says.
‘The chairs he creates will pay homage to the time I spent growing up in my Nigerian mum’s kitchen, while also injecting loads of fun and colour.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, AJ reckons the year she spent flat hunting was time well spent.
‘It was all worth it,’ she says. ‘It took over my life but I will be here for the foreseeable future. I bought this place as a home to live in.’