Me and my home: Recycling queen

Interior decorator and gardener Michelle Ingram talks to Madeleine Lim about her home in Kensal Rise, west London
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The Independent Online

When I bought the house with my sister Marion in 1996, it was in a pretty tired state. It had been used as two flats, the windows were double glazed, there were gas fires in every room and there were problems with damp and dry rot. But it was cheap, and it had the right amount of space as well as a garden for our children, Felix and Stanley, who were two and three at the time.

When I bought the house with my sister Marion in 1996, it was in a pretty tired state. It had been used as two flats, the windows were double glazed, there were gas fires in every room and there were problems with damp and dry rot. But it was cheap, and it had the right amount of space as well as a garden for our children, Felix and Stanley, who were two and three at the time.

One of the main reasons for living in Kensal Rise was that it was close to the Portobello and Golborne Road areas, where we had lived for many years. The appeal of Kensal Rise is that it was, and still is, a very mixed area, with terrific open spaces such as Queens Park and Roundwood Park.

When we moved in, the priorities were to deal with the fabric of the building, install central heating, reinstate the wooden sash windows and open up a large family kitchen in the back of the house by knocking two rooms together. We put honey-coloured moulded concrete flagstones in the kitchen, which were reasonably priced and easy to maintain. The house also has two reception rooms, which we did think about knocking together, but as the children have grown up I'm pleased now that we kept the separate spaces - it's good to have the occasional private moment.

Over the years the house has evolved into a very personal environment, partly through my work as an interior designer, but mainly because Marion and I have done most of the work ourselves. The back sitting room is where we read and work, the children do their homework and we sometimes watch TV - it's a quiet space for the family. Though it's small, I chose a dark blue paint to make it more cosy and gilded the walls with silver leaf.

We found the fireplace at Willesden Salvage, the mantelpiece is a much-used scaffolding board left behind by the builders, and we waited about six months until we found exactly the right tiles for the hearth. Living with the house as a work in progress has often helped us discover what to do next - it isn't always a planned design scheme. The Victorian origins of the house have guided the restoration of the interiors without dictating them and the furnishings are sympathetic to the period without being dark and oppressive.

This is a family house, and I feel that the house should reflect everyone's lives. I don't think minimalism allows a sense of history to evolve in a home. The walls and mantelpiece are covered with mirrors and paintings bought cheap on the Portobello Road, family and vintage photographs and religious icons found in Italy and India. I bought the mad feathered wreath at an Italian florist's, and the Victorian daybed, which was upholstered by a friend of mine, is covered with a mixture of cushions - some embroidered, some made from fabric bought in Chelsea fabric sales, and some treasured folk-art finds from abroad. My background in textile design means that I get satisfaction from mixing pattern, texture and colour, and my work as a colour consultant means that I'm not afraid of using vibrant colours. I also think lighting is really important: for us this means that the fairy lights stay up all year and we also have several beautiful chandeliers which we discovered in an Italian flea market.

One of the things I enjoy most is sourcing unusual furniture and materials both for the house and for my work as an interior designer. I spend a lot of time at local markets, as well as country auctions in the north of England, looking for good quality country antiques and special objects. I love to re-use old things in a new way - we built a French, peasant-style cupboard/bed from the panelling of a butler's trolley that was ripped out of a house in Chelsea. I was also given a set of special paint rollers in Italy which apply paint in a repeating wallpaper-type pattern which I have used successfully in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

I rarely shop for anything in interiors shops: nearly everything here has been collected, found, recycled or salvaged. Making a lovely space doesn't have to be about shopping in expensive shops. When we re-did the bathroom we kept the awful mirrored tiles from the walls for six years and now have found a use for them as tiling in the front room hearth. I've collected old photographs - which don't cost a lot and can be a good investment - and over time I'm also adding to a crazy collection of porcelain cups and saucers inherited from a German aunt. The house is a reminder of ours and the children's lives, and the things we have found: we made a collage on the fire screen from photographs of the children and pressed flowers found on our travels abroad.

As well as working for private clients, I have recently become involved in designing interiors for social projects. I particularly enjoyed working on improving the communal spaces in a hostel for recovering addicts in East London because the residents were encouraged to make the final choices. I felt that I was enabling them to do what I have done in my own home: reflect a bit of themselves back on to their home environment.

Michelle Ingram Design Consultancy: 07957 584754

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