Clapham's 90 inch-wide narrow house transformed into a luxury family home
Ruth Bloomfield meets a couple who rose to the ultimate design challenge and made a family des res out of a house just 7ft 7in wide
© All pictures by Richard Chivers
At just a smidgen over 90in wide, Tom and Sarah Tidbury's house is not quite skinny enough to make the Guinness Book of Records. That honour goes to a terrace on the island of Great Cumbrae, off the North Ayrshire coast of Scotland, which measures 37in at the front — though The Wedge, as it is known, spreads to 22ft wide as it moves back from the road.
'People can't believe how big the house is once you get inside. I didn't think of it as a forever home at first - but now I love it'
For Tom and Sarah, transforming the period London house they bought in 2009 has presented some design challenges — particularly now, as the first property they purchased as a couple is soon to become their first family house. As well as its shape — slim but deep — it was not in their dream location. But it is in Clapham, where many of their friends live, and only a few minutes' walk from the station and all the shops and bars. And it was a good price.
"We started off looking at one-bedroom flats, and they were so expensive," said Sarah. "Then Tom found this house which we could buy for the same price. But because it is five to seven minutes' walk further out, at the time it wasn't a popular bit of Clapham.' The couple, who are both now 31, bought the property for £430,000, after Tom sold the flat he owned in West Norwood.
Initally, with not much money to spare, he painted the place, put down new carpets, and they moved in. The dimensions of their new home were far from impressive: 7ft 7in across and with just 721 square feet of space spread over three floors. It had three bedrooms but all were cramped, and there was only one bathroom.
It did have a garden, which was also long and thin, but this was largely taken over by a studio built by the previous owners, leaving Tom and Sarah with little more than a small patio.
At the start of last year, they were ready to remodel their house and Tom got in touch with an old schoolfriend, Tristan Wigfall, who had become an architect and is now a partner at the alma-nac practice (alma-nac.com). "We always knew it was possible to extend it because ours was the only one in the terrace that had not been extended," said Sarah.
Widening was not possible so Wigfall drew up plans for a three storey extension, giving them extra room on each floor. This would provide space for a dining area in their kitchen/living room, an enlarged master bedroom, and a new bedroom on the top floor.
The property is within a conservation area and a conventional-shaped threefloor extension was not possible because the new roof line would have been visible from the street. So Wigfall created a unique "ski slope" roof at the back of the house, which allowed them to maximise space without upsetting the planners.
This means that the new upper rooms have partly pitched ceilings and are lit by Velux windows.
The garden studio was taken down to enlarge the available outside space. So although the new dining room has been built over what was the patio, Tom and Sarah have gained space in the rear garden. In all, they increased their floorspace by just over a third, and turned a three-bedroom property into a four-bedroom one with two bathrooms.
"We call it the Tardis," said Sarah. "People who come to see it can't believe how big it is once you get inside."
Now the front door leads directly into the main living room and kitchen. Because the property has been elongated, there is space for four distinct zones: a lobby with floor to ceiling shelving for books and other possessions, a living room, a grey-painted Shaker-style kitchen and the new dining area with glass doors overlooking the garden.
The garden has had a makeover, too, with raised beds on either side, a pebbled central walkway, and a decked area at the back.
Upstairs, one of the original bedrooms remains at the front of the house. A cloakroom has been turned into space for boiler and washing machine. At the back is the enlarged master bedroom, which is now a good-size double, and also large enough for a dressing area and a shower room. It has a pitched roof to the garden, and Wigfall has added built-in storage in the eaves, tucked neatly behind the bed.
On the top floor, where once there was just one bedroom there are now two, plus a second bathroom. To maximise space a tiny balcony, previously little used as it overlooks the street, has been filled in for more storage, while a new loft area also gives much-needed space for possessions.
And the stairway is now bright with new roof lights. The project cost a total of around £90,000 and was carried out between April and August last year, while Tom and Sarah, along with their cat, Arnold, stayed with Sarah's parents.
The house is now valued at £750,000 to £800,000, which partly reflects the fact that after four years their previously unfashionable area is now well on the up, with new cafés and boutiques.
Not that they are thinking of moving. "We didn't really think of it as a forever home when we bought it," said Sarah, who is five months pregnant). "But now I really love it here. "Plus we know we are so lucky to be able to afford to have a house in London."