From basement to super-room: 10ft extension doubles the value of this Islington family home

This couple turned a tired Victorian house in Islington into a live-work family home - with an extension of just 10 feet.
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Married architects David Appleton and Nicole Weiner are a perfect example of how to make money work hard at home. For, although glossy magazines tempt us with dazzling pictures of infinity pools and gorgeous furniture, what most Londoners actually want is a bit of re-jigging, to make better use of what they’ve already got: more light in a dingy basement, an extra loo for when parents stay, and — always — more storage. In architecture, where even a small change can make a huge difference, making it cost-effective is still vital.


David and Nicole met in 1994 while students at Cambridge. Together in London they worked in a few practices, before Nicole became pregnant with their eldest child, Alice, in 2004. Living in a top-floor maisonette in Islington, north London, they needed more space, but young architects don’t earn much.

“The house two doors down was on the market,” says Nicole, 41. “We spotted it from our balcony. It was like a bedsit with an overgrown garden and the station was right at the end of the garden, which put a lot of people off.”

They watched the four-storey Victorian terrace property stay on the market for two years. Then, when Alice was one, they made an offer and bought it.

“The floorboards had carpet glued to them and then laminate glued on top of that, so it was squidgy when you walked on it,” says David. 

The structure, however, was sound, and the couple could see that if they rented out the basement, their mortgage would work out about the same as they’d been paying on their maisonette. So that’s what they did, and set up their office in a bedroom upstairs.


Architects David Appleton and Nicole Weiner in their transformed kitchen in Islington

Establishing a new unity

The raised ground floor, once a gracious double drawing room with folding doors and lovely cornices, had been divided into two with a clumsy kitchen built slap across the dividing wall. “So there was no flow,” says David. “They had even put different floors in each half.” 

The room was opened and reunited, with new oak floorboards running right through and a streamlined kitchen in the back half. A window was punched through the hall wall so you can see diagonally out to the garden, while a long, lacquered bench was put down one side, allowing for a much wider table than would be the case if chairs were used. Double-stacked Ikea cupboard carcasses were fixed on the chimney wall, with tall bespoke doors fitted over them. This creates more space than you can shake a stick at — and it’s all full.

But in 2008, when Isaac came along, he also needed a room, and kicked his parents out of their office. For a couple of years the couple rented one in Clerkenwell, reclaiming the basement two years later and putting in a planning application to reconfigure it. In terraces, overlooking can make planning permission for extensions more tricky, but their proposal was so modest that it was waved straight through.

This is where architects earn their keep. The couple only extended just under 10 feet, across the old light-well. This would have been within permitted development rights, but because they put a terrace on top to use every inch of space, they needed planning permission. On the end of the extension they put a huge double sliding door, which has more glass than four bi-folding doors and looks neater. Instead of a concrete slab under the extension they put a cheaper, sprung wooden floor to match the rest of the basement, though they ramped up its insulation. 


Multi-purpose super-room: the couple's office has an acoustic door so the children can practice their music

Welcoming warmth

Instead of underfloor heating they reused existing radiator circuits, adding stylish flat-panel vertical radiators. Last, for extra warmth, they installed a wood-burning stove that turns the whole basement tropical in one hour flat. 

The versatile new space is a music room, a playroom, and even a bedroom for visiting parents when needed, because an extra little bathroom has been tucked under the stairs.

The couple’s office is now in the basement front room, with an acoustic door so that the children’s music practice can go on at any time.

Leading out to the new terrace, the old sash window off the back of the raised ground floor was turned into one big, wide, sliding picture door. This simple change utterly transforms the kitchen. In summer, one gentle shove turns kitchen-dining into alfresco living.

The children love it — as do the cats, Kitty and Molly — and David and Nicole can keep an eye on the kids while cooking.

By adding less than 10 feet, the couple created a family-size room with multiple uses and a roof terrace, as well as lightening all the parts they spend most time in. And they did it on a budget, without cutting into the lawn.

This sort of conservative turnaround is perfect for London: a life changer that keeps the neighbours sweet, too.

House purchased in 2005: £687,500
Cost of works: £200,000 (note this excludes professional fees)
Estimated value now: £2 million

Architects: David Appleton and Nicole Weiner at
Builder: Gregory Horodenski at
Engineer: Chris Atkins at
Bricks and paving:
Defra-approved wood burning stove: from
Modular Mags sofa: from
Fifties-style curtain in extension: in Swedish fabric from Hus & Hem at
Sliding door to garden: from Reynaers Window Systems. Visit reynaersathome.
Oak engineered flooring in lower ground floor: from
Solid oak EM dining table (1950) by Jean Prouvé: from
Arne Jacobsen 3105 Mosquito chairs designed for Fritz Hansen: not in production — try or other auction sites for similar
Sliding glass door to balcony in the kitchen: made to David and Nicole’s design by their builder
Kitchen carcasses: Kitchen joinery: by DHJ Furniture, Holloway Road, N1. Visit dhjfurniture.

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