A marriage of style

A husband-and-wife architect team turned a warren of run-down offices in a Georgian building into a fabulous modern home
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Architects Stephen Quinn and Elise Ovanessoff bought their five-storey Georgian house near Montagu Square four years ago, when it was still being used as offices by a firm of accountants.

As an architect specialising in refurbishing and converting historic buildings, Stephen knew that turning a warren of run-down workspaces back into a functioning family home would be a challenge with a big bill at the end — and was not surprised to find that the final cost for construction work was £400,000.

“I’d say it was one of the hardest projects I’ve ever done, and because Elise and I are both architects we were very demanding about how we should build our home. Working on it together sometimes became a bit fraught. A second serious obstacle was creating a functioning space for a family of five within the restrictions imposed by it being a listed building.

“The first crucial step was applying for planning permission for change of use back to residential — which luckily was not a problem — and at the same time applying for listed-buildings consent to make alterations to the historic fabric, which largely had to be retained.”

They wanted to create three to four bedrooms, an office for Stephen’s architectural practice, a workroom for Elise (who makes mixed-media artworks when she is not looking after their three young children, aged three, five and seven) and a living and eating space. They wanted also to create two flats to rent out to provide extra income.

Architects Stephen Quinn and Elise Ovanessoff and their three young children
Architects Stephen Quinn and Elise Ovanessoff and their three young children
The family occupies the lower three floors of the house and lets out the top two to tenants. The basement functions as Stephen’s office and Elise’s workspace, while the ground floor has three bedrooms and a family bathroom. The kitchen and knocked-through sitting room occupy the next floor up and are the grandest and lightest rooms in the house.

Stephen and Elise originally wanted an en-suite bathroom for their bedroom but since they were not allowed by the conservation officers to divide up the bedroom, Elise instead designed a compact bathroom on its own little platform, which is open on both sides but screened off from the rest of the room. On one side the unit supports the sink and shower and on the other it acts as a bedhead. Most ingeniously, it has extending, sliding drawers on either side, so it also functions as extra storage space for clothes and accessories.

The other big problem in the conversion was how the family would access and move between their three floors, given that the main, original “house staircase” had to remain for communal use for access to the two flats on the upper floors. They installed a compact staircase that runs from the back of Stephen’s office in the basement all the way up into the kitchen. Its central squared block has been pierced with small rectangular alcoves to display some of Elise’s delicate applied artworks, which deliver an amazing impact. It is, according to Stephen, the main decorative statement in the house “and is about as decorative as we get”.

At the top, the staircase leads on to a small landing and into the kitchen, which is full pf light thanks to an almost solid wall of glass overlooking a small decked terrace. The kitchen is a seamless display of stainless-steel work surfaces and glossy white lacquered cabinetry, clean and modern yet allowing the original Georgian details, such as the internal wooden shutters, mouldings and ceiling cornices, to shine through. “Our aim was always to allow the beauty of the historic fabric to speak for itself,” says Stephen.

Stephen created a modern family bathroom while maintaining the fabric of the Georgian building
Stephen created a modern family bathroom while maintaining the fabric of the Georgian building
The perfectly proportioned sitting room is sparsely furnished with pale-grey upholstered sofas and chairs and a few items of bespoke furniture designed by the couple; the walls are painted in shades of grey white. Sadly, the fireplace had been ripped out years ago but rather than attempt to recreate it, Stephen has designed a slim oak shelf to echo the bleached oak floorboards. It is a perfect marriage of styles, with the new enhancing the old and the old enhancing the new.

Where to get the look

* Stephen Quinn Works Architecture: 020 7224 8750; www.worksarchitecture.com
* Elise’s artworks: 020 7224 8722
* Sofas by EDRA: www.edra.com
* Sanitaryware from CP Hart: 020 7902 1000; www.cphart.com
* Glass cube pendant light fittings by Itre: www.itresrl.com
* Stainless-steel worktops supplied by K & S Engineering: 020 7274 2215; www.infokse.com
* Kitchen stools from Hemsley Associates: 020 8998 4559
* Bathroom tiles by Ceramic Tile Distribution: 01132 389500
* Construction work carried out by DFA Projects: www.dfaprojects.com

Pictures by Luke Caulfield

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