Mother left struggling to breathe after cowboy builder tore down her house

Chloe Sweden, 42, hired a builder for a £100,000 extension on her house, but he took the money and ran after just a few months of labour

Molly Powell
Thursday 18 May 2023 14:02 BST
Chloe now has a more sustainable lifestyle since getting all of her furniture second hand (Collect/PA Real Life)
Chloe now has a more sustainable lifestyle since getting all of her furniture second hand (Collect/PA Real Life)

A mother was left struggling to breathe after losing £50,000 to a builder who tore down the front and back of her house in a botched extension.

Chloe Sweden, 42, chief executive and founder of Lowr, a platform that encourages sustainability, hired a highly recommended builder to do a £100,000 extension on her 1960s house, but her life “quickly turned into a nightmare” as, after just a few months of labour, he left and never returned.

Chloe, who lives in Hertfordshire with her husband Scott, 42, and their children, Taylor, eight, and Lana, 10, said her family were left “stranded” with their house looking “like a building site”, and it took an additional six months, and £80,000, for a different builder to finish the job.

The mother had five rooms to furnish, and decided to get creative by buying all her furniture second hand and upcycling anything from doctor’s waiting room chairs to bins – she even found a designer sofa, which retailed at £7,000, for £500, as well as a free vintage sideboard, two beds and quirky chairs.

Now Chloe has estimated a saving of £20,000 by buying preloved furniture rather than new – her total spend equated to only around £1,500.

“It was just such a horrific time – I just felt so ill, and like I couldn’t even breathe,” Chloe said.

“I’m just glad we got creative and just about managed to afford furniture, but most of it was free.”

In 2018, Chloe and husband Scott decided to extend the back, front and side of their 1960s house, using a builder who was highly recommended by a friend.

The immense renovation came with a price tag of £100,000 and the pair paid half of it upfront so the builder could buy materials.

But the job “quickly turned into a nightmare” when Chloe and her husband had reservations about the builder’s methods.

She explained: “He tore down the front of our house and he tore down the back of our house.

“Then, he went away and never came back – we were totally stranded in what looked like a building site.”

Chloe tried contacting the builder multiple times, and never had a response, despite giving him £50,000.

(PA Real Life)

She said: “We tried contacting the police, but because we paid in cash, they said there was nothing they could do really.

“It was awful because we had people on site, and they were saying, ‘You need to pay us’ and I was like, ‘I’ve paid your boss’.

“They didn’t believe me, and they started screaming, and told me I’m never seeing that money ever again.”

Chloe had to make changes to her original plan to be able to afford to pay a different builder to finish the job.

She said: “It devalued our house, we had to find a builder who was willing to finish the job, which a lot of builders did not want to do.

“It really dragged on – we were living in a building site, with two quite young kids, we just had to create a shell of what we were going to build.

“We also realised we weren’t going to be able to afford to furnish it.”

After the build was finally completed six months later, costing an additional £80,000, Chloe had to furnish two bedrooms, a bathroom, a dining area and a playroom.

Determined to keep costs as low as possible, she furnished the entirety of her new extension, and the rest of the house, second hand by scouring Facebook Marketplace and charity shops for bargains.


She explained: “We went online every day to try and find things – we repurposed everything we could get our hands on – we even have an old bin as a side table.

“We did whatever we could do to get things cheaply.

“Literally everything in the house is second hand – we spent around £1,500 on furniture, but I think we saved up to £20,000 as we had to get beds and sofas which tend to be the most expensive.”

Despite the stressful ordeal, Chloe’s search for second-hand pieces opened her eyes to the uniqueness of preloved furniture, and it allowed her to get creative with her interior design.

She explained how her house looks now: “It’s a modern, boxy, 1960s house, but the beauty of adding in unique and second-hand items is that it makes it a bit more eclectic.

“So it’s not really of one period – it’s got a kind of mid-century vibe, but mixed in with lots of other different styles.

“And that was really important to us because then that doesn’t date over time and it’s much more cost effective – if you mix lots of different styles up, you don’t get bored with it.”

Chloe managed to bag herself items such as the designer sofa for £500 and her free vintage sideboard.

Chloe described some of her favourite bargains: “I love the sideboard – it was second hand, we were going to pay the guy some money, and then it wouldn’t fit into the car, so we had to hire a van so he let us have it for free – I think he pitied us.

“It’s just so beautiful and so much nicer than anything you can buy nowadays.

“I love the dining table – we bought that from a family who, when we went over there, gave us coffee and cake and told us all about the family events that they had held around it.”

Looking back on the last few years, Chloe is glad she turned the negative experience with a builder into a positive, as it showed her the importance of sustainability.

She said: “It’s shown me how important it is to be sustainable – you’re not creating any new waste, none of it is going into landfill as it doesn’t come with packaging.

“We’ve also gone vegan to be more sustainable.

“I don’t think people always think about furniture in terms of their carbon footprint and sustainability – older pieces are built to last and you can save a huge amount of time and money.

“I think having more awareness and appreciation for second-hand things is really important.”

Chloe also feels like she has learned a lot from this experience. She explained: “I know now to haggle, shop around, tell my story, and ask where things come from.

“With a builder, we’ve had bits and bobs done around the house since then, but it’s really hard to find someone – you can’t always go off recommendations – I think it’s important to trust your gut.”

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