A black and white design masterclass:how one interior designer transformed an old school house flat into a cool loft apartment – adding £300k in value

A warehouse-style flat in an old East End school was given drama and style with a new black kitchen, white floorboards and glazed doors throwing natural light throughout.

Exposed brick, glass-brick walls and wood floors: the once-exciting Nineties warehouse looked dated, but it was just what interior designer Laura Lakin, 31, was searching for. One of nine bidders, she put in her offer on the 880sq ft flat in a Victorian former school building in east London — and won.

Half English and half French, Lakin studied languages and film at university in Newcastle, later going into PR for Walt Disney and buying a small flat in west London. She saved to fund her year-long diploma in architectural interior design at the prestigious Inchbald School.

After that, she did up a house with her brother, an architect. But she really wanted to showcase her own ideas in a flat of her own in a cool area.

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New look: a black and white colour scheme with engineered oak floorboards throughout to pull everything together

The market was on fire in east London, where most of the warehouse-type properties for sale were to be found, and everyone was after one. After losing out on a couple, Lakin spotted the school conversion online. A huge, well-built brick building with high ceilings and big metal windows, its many classrooms were converted to lofts in the Nineties. The second-floor flat Lakin managed to buy had been rented out for years.

The oblong space had a bedroom at one end and a kitchen with no windows at the other. In the middle, carved up by an awkward and pointless curved wall, was a narrow second bedroom and a living room. The flat had wood-effect laminate floors and an entire wall of windows, but the dividers took the light away. Lakin fell in love with those high ceilings and tall windows. The building wasn’t listed, but she went to see the planners to check regulations for the big changes she wanted to make.

At one end she wanted a bedroom and bathroom for a flatmate. In the middle, she envisaged a big, dramatic kitchen and living space. At the other end would be a glamorous bedroom for her with its own en-suite.

Ambitiously, she wanted to squeeze in a guest bathroom, too. She needed a fire door and a sprinkler system, but the rest was left up to her.

Builders began gutting the place in October 2014 and in four months, the flat was transformed. New walls went in, with high-up glazing in the wall to the friend’s bedroom. The friend’s bathroom, while small, has a distressed mirror behind the bath, plus bespoke, full-length linen shower curtains lined in plastic, and glamorous modern fittings.

At the other end, Lakin’s own suite is cool and white. Beneath the soaring ceiling is a white four-poster, while bespoke linen blinds in a big print add their pop of colour.

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Monochrome works its magic: the living space, in the centre of the flat, with the all-black kitchen running along the back wall making a smart counterpoint to the rest of the room, which is white and light (Juliet Murphy)

CREATING FLOW

Beyond a glazed door, the walk-through en-suite bathroom has Carrara marble shower tiles and all fittings, from rainwater shower head to taps, are matt black. This bathroom connects by a second, lockable door to the extra washroom.

Everything can be opened to create flow. To carve out the extra space Lakin made the hall minimal but stylish, painted almost-black. In the big, central living area, the kitchen takes up the whole back wall and is all black — black marble, black cooker hood, black cooker, black units. It’s both smart and a great counterpoint to the rest of the room, which is white and light.

Engineered white oak floorboards throughout pull everything together, while big, modern pendant lamps create focus and drama in the high voids — and avoid the fussy clutter of table lamps.

Storage goes right up to the ceiling wherever possible. Smart steel switch plates and industrial radiators complete a look that counterpoints light and dark so well. Judicious use of luxurious touches, such as the black marble splash back, the white marble in her bathroom, and costly black fittings, really works. “Use luxury where you see and enjoy it every day,” says Lakin. “Then it really pays off.”

WHAT IT COST

The flat cost £500,000 in 2011; £90,000 was spent, excluding designer’s fees. The flat is valued now at £845,000.

LAURA LAKIN'S TIPS

  • Don’t follow trends. You want a practical design that works for your lifestyle and works for the space.
  • Make some rooms calmer and quieter — bathrooms for example.
  • Dark paint in a small space, such as a hall, creates drama.
  • Pendant lamps by the bed maximise bedside table space and look glamorous.
  • Shower curtains needn’t be boring. Have some made in material you love.
  • Pay for a good sofa. It’s always on view. A bad sofa ruins a room.
  • If you can’t have an open fire, an electric fire that resembles a log-burning stove works well.

GET THE LOOK

Design: by Laura Lakin 
White oak floor: Havwoods 
Nero marble splashback: from Chiltern Marble 
Black cooker: Siemens 
Black sink: by Franke 
Table: Maisons du Monde 
Sofa: Graham and Green 
All fabric: from Romo 
Black-and-white rug in living area: Ikea 
Four-poster bed: Get Laid Beds 
Black matt fittings in master bathroom: Dornbracht 
Carrara marble tiles: from Fired Earth 
Steel switch plates: from Mr Resistor 
Lamps: from Holloways of Ludlow 


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