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Four years into renovating his ‘forever home’ – a 30-bedroom ex naval residence in Plymouth - we’re delighted that interiors influencer Greg Penn aka @manwithahammer, (as he’s known to his 190,000+ Instagram followers). has chosen our luxury switches and sockets as the finishing touch to his rooms. We caught up with Greg as he was midway through his next project – the renovation of his kitchen and living room.
What attracted you to ‘Admirals House’ and the Plymouth area? Can you give us a brief history of the house?
I moved from Yorkshire to Devon with work and was looking right across the south coast of Devon. Realising prices for a lot of Devon were a good chunk higher than I was used to, Plymouth at the time was a bit more affordable, and having spent some time there I started to fall in love with the city. Its coast line is beautiful and full of fascinating history too, given its naval connections. You’re also close to Dartmoor and just over the Tamar is Cornwall.
Admirals had been on the market for a long time. I initially dismissed it as it was way out of budget. But having spent time looking elsewhere, I kept coming back to it. I viewed it, made a very low offer (which was all I could afford) assuming they’d say no so I could forget about it and move on… to my surprise (and panic) they said yes!
The house itself was built in 1804 for the senior officer at the (ex) Royal Naval Hospital, Captain Richard Creyke. The architect was Daniel Alexander Asher, most famous for designing Dartmoor prison. It spans roughly 30 rooms across 5 floors.
My style is… constantly evolving (haha!). The first thing I did when I knew the house was going to be mine was to start researching Georgian styles and interiors, and learning what I could as I knew the approach taken with my last house wouldn’t quite work. I have always been a massive fan of colour, and for Admirals, patterns too, especially patterns that are period appropriate such as chinoiserie, so quite traditional, but updating them with a more modern twist. I love incorporating old and antique pieces amongst the new too and hope it feels relaxed and comfortable.
You describe yourself as a self-confessed amateur with regards to DIY. What has been your biggest challenge to date in the house?
Blimey – I could write a very long list as the scale here means everything takes a very long time working single handed. There are 60 windows and 100 internal doors, and I think with that in mind the biggest single ongoing challenge is the woodwork. There’s a lot of it, and it hasn’t been sympathetically handled with the Navy slapping layer after layer of paint on it. Stripping it back is a hard, monotonous and time consuming process, but it’s the only way to ensure a great finish and it feels good knowing it won’t need doing for another 100 years.
At what stage of the overall renovation of the house did you start to think about the electrics and fittings?
Well, I’ve lived here from day one too, so it has to be a liveable house whilst I’m working on it, and I knew the whole place needed rewiring, I work room at a time, on one floor…. and then each floor when done is linked to a new consumer unit… sometimes needs thinking about quite early in the project and especially for the major rooms. In my instance the open(ish) plan kitchen and living room, as I wanted something that looked traditional in terms of the switches, but had smart functionality making a big space, with lots of different types of lighting, easy to use.
Do you have any advice for people who are undertaking their own renovations, small or large, with regards to electrics? Are there any things they might forget? Did you get any advice from anybody?
Obviously electrics aren’t to be trifled with and it’s the sort of thing that has potentially lethal concequences if you get it wrong. I’ve been fortunate to find an electrician who I’ve worked alongside for the whole project. He understands where I want everything and allows me to do a lot of the labouring before he gets here, such as lifting all the floorboards and marking everything out, which means he does the bits he enjoys and is qualified to do, and my labour reduces my bill significantly!
Having gone through the process, is there anything you would do differently?
In my circumstances, not really. Had it been an option, it would have been amazing to have designed and had the whole house redone, all in one go with whole house smart functionality, but it’s just not realistic here.
We obviously worked with you initially on the magnificent oval entrance hall and formal dining room area of ‘Admirals’. When you first started thinking about the room space, what was your inspiration?
Well, I’d fallen in love with the chinoiserie paper I used. It’s a digital replica of an 18th century hand painted Chinese paper. There are no repeats right around the room, and with the oval walls if feels as if you’re walking into an enchanted forest!
Well, a lot of the switches I removed (lots were damaged and not working) were beautiful old toggle switches. I was keen to keep the look of these, but definitely wanted to be able to dim all the lighting to suit the mood and use of the room, so Wandsworth return-to-centre dimmable toggle switches were the perfect replacement. As for the finish, the house still retains a lot of original brassware in the hinges and door knobs and the hand finished antique brass blends in beautifully with it, looking like it’s always been there (despite the house predating the lightbulb by some 75 years!).
Well, when peeling back the very old carpet, I was thrilled to find the remains of what was once a foot operated bell push. I’d been told stories from people who remember going to formal dinners with the ‘Admiral’ and the switch was positioned under the foot of the host. They could never work out how it was done, when the second the last diner had finished their dish, with seemingly no signal, staff would swoop into the room and clear the table ready for the next course. I’ve been working on a little secret something to reimagine that with Wandsworth in my own special way!
How do you envisage the lighting working to make the two rooms a cohesive space, when the doors are thrown open?
With all the lighting in there connected to a smart control that I can personalise to my hearts content through an app on my phone, being able to set moods and brightness independently on the 8 differing light sources in the space, depending on what I’m doing, with buttons (or even voice commands) able to change all the lights in one go effortlessly, it’ll ensure the room is perfectly lit, no matter what I’m doing!
It was absolutely fascinating to be able to see (and even have a go) at the whole process happening before my eyes from start to finish. Going from great big brass sheets, to beautifully assembled units was remarkable. The precision and engineering that goes into something you rarely give much thought to is extraordinary and really made me appreciate the care and attention that goes into even the tiniest little brass clip!
With everything being made in house, to exacting standards, just as it has been for many decades, with multi generations of the same family having worked with Wandsworth, it really does come through in the quality of the product. And because you make it all in house, it means you’re able to personalise where required which has allowed us to create something really special for the kitchen here at Admirals House.
You can follow Greg’s interiors journey on Instagram @manwithahammer. If you love the looks that Greg is achieving at the Admirals House and want to echo his choice of switches and sockets in your own home you can shop online here or call a member of our customer services team if you’re looking for a bespoke option.