The Shepherd's Bush cube house

How do you turn a traditional Victorian terrace house into a bright and funky family home and two rental flats worth three times what it cost to build? Think outside the box, says Ruth Bloomfield.
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Picture perfect: See the photos of how Matt and Sophie White transformed their Victorian terrace in Shepherd's Bush into a contemporary cube. Images: Simon Maxwell.

Matt and Sophie White's house is unmissable - a contemporary white render cube with a large central window, sitting amid workaday red-brick Victorian terrace houses. But this house, though a serious statement in clean lines and minimalist architecture, is very much a family home. The front door buzzer has an LED display that flashes "Hello".

The fun continues in the kitchen, where shelves bear dozens of neatly aligned white mugs, each decorated with a single letter repeatedly spelling out "I don't have OCD". And while white is the prevailing interior colour, one of the many built-in cupboards opens to display a gilded drinks cabinet with a neon sign which reads "Boo!" Surprises with a more practical purpose are found around the house. The upstairs bathroom has a laundry chute to the basement utility room two floors below. It's no surprise to discover that Matt, 41, is an architect. But he was careful not to design a home that "felt too architected".

"We did, however, want it to feel bigger than it actually is, and we wanted it to be easy to live in, and every room had to be lit by natural light," he adds.

He and Sophie added colour to the mix for their children - Mia, seven, Daisy, five, and three-year-old Arthur. "And there's a lot of colour," says Sophie, gesturing at the lime green glass kitchen splashbacks. But as well as being colourful, fun and very easy to live in, this family house is also a good investment for the Whites - it is now worth three times what it cost to build.

A waiting game


Take a tour of the White family home that took 18 months to complete and is now worth three times what it cost to build

The couple married nine years ago and bought a Victorian end-of-terrace house in Shepherd's Bush with a large, L-shaped garden. However, only the portion of the garden at the back of the house was part of the freehold. The biggest section, to the side of the property, was being sold with a "possessory title".

This meant that although it had been treated as part of the property for many years, it could, technically, have been taken away if the original owner had come forward to claim it. Because of the complication, the newlyweds got a good deal, buying for £408,000 and with no competition. By 2007, enough time had elapsed for them to formally take full ownership of the whole site.

In the meantime, Matt, who has worked at Foster + Partners and Make, and is the founding partner of Matt Architecture, drew up plans for the site. At the end of 2007 he was granted planning permission to convert the property into two flats and build a new family house on the land. A two year pause followed as the family went to the Middle East where Matt had work to do. In 2010 they returned, living in a rented property, and the terrace house was converted into a pair of two-bedroom flats the Whites could rent out. In autumn 2011, the couple began to build their home, taking 18 months. It has three top-floor bedrooms, an open plan living room/kitchen on the ground floor and a large games room in the basement, plus a fourth bedroom, utility room and a small study.

To make the most of natural light the house is south facing. Concrete floors overlaid with timber absorb heat during the day and reflect it at night. The property is super-insulated and low-energy LED lighting is used throughout. There are also rainwater recycling and heat recovery systems.

Clever storage includes the living room chandelier, from After Noah, an inverted pyramid of wine glasses which comes in handy for parties. An instant hot water tap "saves us two minutes every morning", and a master switch at the front door means all the lights can be switched off in one go.

Sophie, 40, managing partner at Matt Architecture, was keen on the cosiness of an open fire, and their bio gel model gives real flames without having to buy logs or clean grates. The bedrooms have skylights fitted with electronic blinds. A smart glass system from Pro Display is used in the central stairwell which is lit by a double-height window. A remote control turns the glass from clear to frosted for privacy. Coloured LED lighting in the hall fills the window at night with whatever hue the family fancies.

Natural light from the atrium floods the basement and there is a small, walled outdoor space for the children, with a climbing wall. The basement can be closed off from the rest of the house, so that when the kids become teenagers "and only talk to us to ask for money, we can shut the door", jokes Matt.

Building the 1,711 sq ft home cost £550,000, excluding site, and it is valued today at £1.5 million to £2 million.


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