From dark and dated to modern and spacious: a smart renovation

This couple's savings had to go a long way but they got plenty of space, light and storage for their money - and added £500,000 to the value of their home by doing so.

Most Londoners juggle work and tight budgets but if you have children, making major changes to your home gets pushed even further down the list.

Busy couple Rosa Moratiel, 47, and her husband, John Cryer, 41, who both work in the film industry, saved for years before finally making dramatic and much-needed changes to the house they'd bought.

"We met 20 years ago in Maidstone working for a new satellite channel," says John. "I fell in love at first sight." Rosa arrived in England from Spain at the age of one and grew up in Wood Green — "not the loveliest part of London" she says — but took the bus to school through Muswell Hill, and thought it was beautiful.


Eventually she bought a flat in the area and after courting for years, the couple moved in there. But when Ines, now nine, was born, they decided it was time to find a house locally. "It's easier to move with one child than two," Rosa says, "and I was still on maternity leave, so it was a good time to look."

They viewed the split-level house on a blisteringly hot day in early September 2006, exchanged in October, and moved in just before Ines's first birthday. Ruben, now six, was born three years later.

This part of north London is adored by its loyal inhabitants, who often stay for decades or even generations. While Rosa didn't love the house they chose, she was smitten by the street and the neighbourhood. 

"The street was wide and quiet, and has a street party every year. The neighbours know each other and look out for each other's children," she says.
Bespoke concertina fronts, either side of the fireplace, hide storage - and the boiler too

Rosa and John wanted a big kitchen-diner where the family could connect with each other. The architects gave them three options, but even though Rosa wasn't sure at first about opening everything up, they went for a plan with zones in it. To unify the space they ran parquet throughout, "which worked out cheaper than engineered boards", says John.

Where the level dropped, the architects solved it with "bookcase stairs", which are both attractive and practical. Another clever idea was putting shelving with bespoke concertina fronts either side of the fireplace in the old dining room, now the study area.

These hide not only tons of storage, but the boiler too, while below there's a snug that the children love, with their own storage bench. A built-in desk opposite is useful for all the family.

Period meets contemporary: characterful doors lead out to raised decking and patio seating

The kitchen-diner area is a huge success. It has a glossy white island kitchen from Wickes, with grey quartz tops, with a family-size table near the French windows, and where there was once a dingy side window peering on to the side return, there's now a full-height, opaque picture window.

So light comes in from three sides and the family spend most of their time in this bright space, where it is easy now to move around.

"Like all working mums I spend a lot of time doing three things at once," says Rosa. "But now I can also keep an eye on the children at the same time.

"We're just a normal working family. This has really improved life for all of us. It makes us much more cheerful, and it makes everything more fun."

Get this look:
Architects: Hanna and Richard at Zminkowska De Boise (
Builder and joiner: Irek Maduzia (07738 201830) 
Parquet flooring: stained by the contractor, from Havwoods (
Handleless white gloss kitchen units: from
Ceniza Compac quartz worksurfaces: installed by Blue Pearl Granite (
Concert P1 lamp (over kitchen table): designed by Jørn Utzon from suppliers including for £235.70 (Prices may vary) 
Clara O'Neill Spine pendant lamp in living area: £250 from

Rosa and John's house won second place in the interior design category of New London Architecture's Don't Move, Improve! awards ( 

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