Clever conversions: Dalston bible factory was the answer to our prayers

Uncovering steel beams and tracking down stunning lighting systems was all part of the joy of renovating a spectacular, double-height warehouse home in Dalston.
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Deborah Collins and her husband Kieran O’Keeffe decided to spend big money refurbishing their Dalston warehouse apartment last year, after they realised how rapidly the area was changing. 

They have lived in the 1,500sq ft Victorian warehouse conversion since 2004. It was originally built as a Bible printing factory, and the couple bought it for £275,000. Since then, Dalston has become a hip place to live and socialise, with new nightclubs, bars, cafés and restaurants opening seemingly all the time. 

“We were so excited by all the culture coming into Dalston, says Collins. “The area has changed beyond recognition which means we never have to travel anywhere to go out and have fun. So last year we thought, ‘Since we’re obviously going to stay here forever, let’s turn it into the home of our dreams’.”

Both are busy professionals. O’Keeffe, 45, is a tech entrepreneur whose company MobileWebAdz was ranked by the Sunday Times as one of the top five fastest growing UK tech companies last year, while Collins, 37, works for a US research company in Holborn. Both of them work long, hard office hours — so coming home to a lovely big open space with lots of light was top of the list.


Deborah Collins and Kieran O'Keeffe (above left) have lived in their factory-style warehouse home since 2004

The couple hired Michelle Chaplin Interiors to project manage the work and moved out while it was done. It took 12 weeks. The brief was simple: “We wanted to retain and enhance the industrial character of the building and we wanted to keep all the sunlight.” 

Nothing structural was done but the entire first floor was opened up and all the existing appliances and fittings were ripped out, revealing original steel girders and beams — perfect for the industrial chic look they were seeking. With a new kitchen, two shower rooms and a sophisticated lighting system on the list, the initial £60,000 budget quickly doubled. 

Lighting, by John Cullen, was the single most expensive thing at £15,000 but the couple don’t begrudge a penny. “We had no idea what impact the lighting could have,” says Collins. “At first we weren’t sure, but once we saw how it looked, we were thrilled. When we switch on the low-level LEDs lining the original staircase from the front door up to the living space, it looks absolutely magical.” 

The second biggest job was installing a massive galvanised steel staircase, which leads up to the mezzanine home office. “Now it’s there we use the mezzanine space all the time, which we never did before,” adds Collins.


The mezzanine home office has provided an additional new space that is already well used

The new kitchen was designed by Chantel Elshout. It has smart Siemens appliances and sleek anthracite laminated units under concrete-style composite work surfaces, concealing oodles of storage and an ingenious sliding bin system with four compartments. The reclaimed teak table and galvanised steel Tolix chairs complete the warehouse vibe.
O’Keeffe and Collins also wanted to employ some of the local craftsmen for which the area is famous, and commissioned design studio, Kemp London, to make a metal media unit, a coffee table and an “Up the Kingdom” neon sign, in honour of the Irish football club that O’Keeffe supports.

“The area has such a strong design and artistic reputation that we wanted to acknowledge it. We’re surrounded by artists, photographers and even a tailor living here. You can watch them working from the window,” says Collins. The windows look directly out on to an immaculate small communal garden which is right in the middle of the private gated development. 

To achieve an open wet room effect in the two bathrooms at a fraction of what a real wet room would cost, they had the floor beneath the shower raised several centimetres. The space has been tiled with Porcelanosa ceramic tiles, some of which are wavy to create lovely, fluid lines. 

Collins says they don’t miss having a bath, preferring to shower up to three times a day. “But what I love most about living here is that waking up is so peaceful every day. I come from the countryside in Ireland, and it’s just as quiet and tranquil here. It’s hard to believe such tranquillity could exist in central London.”

WHERE TO GET THE LOOK: Images by Simon Maxwell

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