My Happy Home: Tommy Walsh Interview

As part of our interview series, My Happy Home, we sit down with Tommy Walsh to find out his best home bargain, what he considers to be the worst ever décor trend, and the practical features he’d add to his dream home.

London-based Tommy is an English presenter and celebrity builder best known for his DIY shows such as Ground Force, Tommy Walsh’s Eco House and Challenge Tommy Walsh. Most recently, the building legend also joined Homes Under The Hammer, presenting alongside Martin Roberts, and is helping households reclaim their space on BBC One’s Clean It, Fix It.

What makes you happiest at home?

TW: After a long hard day, it would be to come home, get in the shower and have something nice to eat made by my wife. I would then sit down, watch West Ham with a couple of cold beers, relax and then go to bed. It’s a simple pleasure really.

We also spend a lot of time in the garden. My kids and I are really close. I rebuilt a house across the road from where we live and it’s now where my daughter and her husband live. They got married in 2020 and I changed it for them from a two-bedroom terrace to a three-bedroom, two-bathroom open-plan house. It’s got lots of glass, an oak staircase, and a beautiful kitchen. She’s just given me my first grandson, Albie.

We’ve got a great big stone dining table that I put outside on the terrace, and we often sit out there and have big Italian-style family dinners. We love entertaining and spending time together.

What is the best home bargain you’ve ever snapped up?

TW: I bought a beautiful antique marble fireplace — a big one — with a cast iron insert for our main reception room. I had one made to match for our second reception room, which we call the piano room because it’s where my wife plays the piano. That was quite a good deal. I also made my own coffee table, side table and dining table all out of granite and polished stainless steel to match. It’s all very contemporary, but that worked out to be around 40 or 30 per cent cheaper than if I had it made by someone else. We do a lot of entertaining, so everyone enjoys the space.

Tommy with Clean It, Fix It’s Maxine Dwyer and Asher Edwards

BBC/Curve Media Ltd/Gary Moyes

Tell us about your favourite memory at home

TW: It has to be my daughter getting married in our garden. We’ve got quite a big garden for a London home — it’s 100 foot long. Due to the pandemic, we had to cancel my daughter’s big wedding plans. She asked me if we could do the wedding in the garden instead, so I gave it a bit of a makeover.

It’s a split-level garden with a terrace at the bottom. We had the marquee at the top on the raised area and the lower level was where we put the bar area and stools. Everything flowed so well. My daughter coming down the stairs in her wedding dress with her husband is something that will stay with me forever. It was a sensational day.

What is the best decorating advice you have ever received?

TW: You should always start at the top and work your way down, and start at the back and work your way forward. If you don’t have the advantage of a back entrance, then you need to do the garden first. You don’t want to decorate your home and then carry dirt through your newly-painted interiors when landscaping your outside space. It’s like following common sense really.

If you’re not as experienced with decorating, my advice is to start at the top in a room that is less important. As you work your way down the house, your ability will hopefully improve. Once you get to the bottom, you’ll be a pretty handy DIY decorator.

And don’t forget: it is far better to finish your timber work in eggshell paint than full gloss. Because full gloss is shiny, it will show any detail or damage when the sun shines. Eggshell has a flat finish, so it won’t show any of the faults in the woodwork. A classy finish is an eggshell finish.

charlie dimmock and tommy walsh working on a garden a ground force project

Charlie Dimmock and Tommy Walsh working on a garden project for Ground Force, which aired on BBC between 1997 and 2005

Jason Smalley Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Where do you shop for the best homewares?

TW: It’s a bit hard to say really because my wife usually goes out to buy accessories, such as cushions and lamps, these are usually smaller businesses that give you something more bespoke. We also love popping to Dunelm — you can find lots of great things at good value.

If you could have a snoop around anyone’s house, whose would it be and why?

TW: Well I won’t say Boris Johnson’s flat above 10 Downing Street because there’s the question over who paid for the decorating…

I’ve done Buckingham Palace, but I’d like to look at the family’s private suite at Windsor Castle, especially after the fire. My wife has been to Windsor and looked at all the public areas, but I’d love to look at the private rooms. I imagine there would be some quality workmanship in the rooms. And I’d love to see if there are any empty Coke bottles or crisp packets lying on the floor!

windsor castle

Charlie HardingGetty Images

What is your most treasured possession at home? Why is it so special?

TW: I just asked my wife and she said her. So I’ll have to say my wife Marie is my most treasured possession.

What would your perfect night at home look like?

TW: I’m the BBQ king when it comes to entertaining, so it would be to sit down with some lovely food, cocktails and drinks. It would start at around 12pm and finish at a sensible time, around 9pm or 10pm. At least that way you still get up early the following morning.

What does your outdoor space mean to you?

TW: It means the world to me. I love to sit outside and read. I’m away a lot for work, but when I’m home, I love to enjoy the garden space. I might be a landscaper and a builder, but the pandemic really brought it home for me. Even if it’s just a simple cleverly designed balcony, at least you have somewhere to sit outside with a glass of something to drink. Too many people with balconies don’t use them properly, but I think we’ll see a major change in that.

What room do you spend most of your time in at home? And how do you decorate this space?

TW: It would have to be the lower ground floor because we’ve got eating, cooking and socialising all in one space. The two beautiful reception rooms upstairs don’t really get used much, because everyone likes to commune in this big area.

I designed the back doors, which are strong crittall doors and they let in so much natural light. The doors on the lower ground floor open out onto the terrace, so it works really well, and there’s no need to go anywhere else other than the bathroom or the bedroom.

On our floor, we’ve got a huge triple-aspect bedroom with three large windows. We’ve also got our own bathroom, which used to be a large bedroom. When it came to designing this space, I imported a huge rock of marble from Italy. Once it was shipped over, I had it cut and polished to fit the bathroom. Instead of tiles, we have sheets of marble on both the walls and floor. We had to get a crane to take the window out in order to fit the marble in! It’s very different, but it just looks superb.

What would top your list for the worst decor trend?

TW: Historically, it would be decorative plaster. That was a big trend in the late 1970s, which thankfully is no longer in fashion. As well as this, polystyrene tiles, cornices and ceiling roses are another pet hate of mine. I also don’t like colours and textures that don’t go well together. For example, if someone makes something too busy I don’t like it. I like the background to be painted in a white or off-white as it lets the furniture and accessories become the eye candy.

Natural light is the most important thing in any home and you’ve got to do whatever you can to enhance it. I really do believe that bad décor can be detrimental to our mental health.

If you could design your dream home, what things would you want to include?

TW: I’ve done that in our home to a degree and replaced the original features, including the sash windows and cornice work. I also did a show called Tommy’s Eco House where I designed and built an eco house using off-the-shelf products. That was interesting because they originally spoke to us about installing a lift for less able people to get up to the second floor. I thought it was ridiculous and suggested that we just made the door sizes wider so that people with wheelchairs could get around on the ground floor. We decided to keep it all open-plan with under-floor heating. The most important thing is to insulate a home really well, plus have efficient heating. They are all features I would have. If I were to design something, I would make sure it’s a practical home, not just aesthetically pleasing.

You can catch up on Clean It, Fix it on BBC iPlayer.

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