They found an Arts & Crafts house in Chiswick on the market and bought it for £1.15 million. It needed work, but that was fine. Jon could handle it — he had an interior design company that fitted out shops, including handbag retailer Radley, and Vivienne Westwood. Gail worked in the City. It was 2008.
The pair moved into the period, semi-detached house just as the housing market crashed. Jon's firm was hit by the cancellation of a major contract and Gail discovered that she was pregnant.
All the rooms needed work, but the worst was the kitchen which was small, dark, "tatty" and on two levels with an ageing brick lean-to leading out to the garden As both Jon and Gail were working flat out they could not handle the work themselves so they hired a company to start the renovations. However, neither of them was happy with the firm, so Jon wound up his ailing interiors company in 2009 and took over the project himself, designing a kitchen extension and steering it through the planning process.
Planning consent was granted and in 2010 Jon, using his background in shop fitting and product design, hired a team of builders to work with him.
The extension of the "side return" — the passage leading from the side kitchen door along the length of the house to the garden — gave the couple a bigger kitchen, which was lighter, too, with its skylights and bi-fold doors. A second extension became a utility room, laundry room and cloakroom.
Avoid the classic mistake of extensions
Rather than go down the glass-wall route, they kept the back wall of the house, using the bare brick wall between living room and kitchen to add atmosphere and texture.
The extension itself is built of reclaimed brick and avoids the frequent mistake of so many extensions, namely looking like a glass box add-on.
The extension added about 200sq ft to the house, with the kitchen, new boiler and floor-levelling costing about £140,000. The revalued price of the house was £1.55 million.
Jon says: "The project wasn't cheap but we wanted quality." He was used to designing joinery and drew up his own plans for a made-to-measure kitchen of high-grade plywood made of layers of birch and topped with solid core Formica — materials usually used in commercial projects — to give a white gloss appearance. Jon says: "They are incredibly tough, which is why they work in retail."
Jon, 41, and Gail, 42, now have two children, George, three, and Grace, 13 months. In hindsight, they admit they should have moved out while the work was done. Jon says: "We had a makeshift kitchen in the hall with a microwave and kettle, and had lots of take-out meals."
They camped out with dust as their constant nightmare for three months. Gail says they should have rented, but the big plus was that Jon found his future career. Gail says: "I could see he was falling in love with designing the kitchen and extension. He was in his element working with the builders and the planners. He found it so much more interesting than working with shops."
Jon set up a firm (hamiltonking.com) and his first customer was a property developer whom he met through a business contact. To drum up business he designed leaflets and did a local mail drop. This led to a job with a neighbour and many more projects.
An unexpected benefit
In January Gail was able to leave the City to spend more time with the children and help the new business, saying it's funny how things turn out. Jon admits that it was absolutely dire losing his business.
"Gail had no choice but to continue working and I felt pretty bad about that. But with hard work and a hell of a lot of pushing, it worked out in all respects. And the kitchen transformed our living space — and our lives."
Photographs by John Lawrence