How one couple turned a rancid basement into a spacious family home worth three times their investment

Don’t just look at a property, do what Daniel Rowland did with a dark and dingy west London basement - look for its potential. Then plan and source your project like a miser.
There are not many first-time buyers who would relish splashing their life savings on a dark, damp basement flat in which the previous occupant had just died.
 
When Daniel Rowland first saw the period flat in Westbourne Park, west London, he says: “It was, literally, absolutely rancid. The day I viewed it there were potential buyers milling around in the street who would not go in because it smelt so awful. I thought, great! The fewer the better.”
 
For Daniel, 37, the location was perfect. It had a garden, it was at one end of a Victorian terrace and it had a basement coal hole beneath the stairs down to the front door — usable and valuable storage space.

He paid £419,000 for the 660sq ft one-bedroom flat in 2010. He has now turned it into a three-bedroom home. He also met and married Nina Constantine, two years his junior.

HOW TO DO IT LIKE A PRO: TAKE A TOUR OF THE BASEMENT FLAT TRANSFORMED INTO A BRIGHT FAMILY HOME...

 
As a director of Studio 1 Architects (studio1architects.co.uk), Daniel was undeterred by complicated renovation projects. First task was to gain planning consent for an L-shaped extension at the back of the flat to make the space for a large, open-plan kitchen/living room with direct access to the back garden via huge sliding doors.

The layout of the flat wasted a lot of space in corridors, so he drew up plans which involved ripping out every wall and reconfiguring it into the kitchen/living room and two double bedrooms.
 
Then he applied for planning consent to incorporate the coal chute into the flat to make a third bedroom. This increased the flat’s size to 1,000sq ft.
 
The build took a year, beginning in 2011. Daniel and Nina, who now run a design and manufacturing company, FormRoom (formroom.com), rented a flat in Kilburn while the work was done and Daniel project managed the build.
 
The floors were dropped by around two feet to enable underfloor heating — saving space on radiators — and create headroom. The front garden was terraced to bring more light into the front, master bedroom, and windows were added to the former coal hole which was damp-proofed so it could serve as the third bedroom.
 
The work cost a relatively slimline £140,000 — Daniel being qualified to draw up the plans, prepare his own planning applications and manage the project meant major savings were made. Rather than hire one builder he opted to subcontract parts of the work to different trades, a complicated process but one which saved money.
 
“I also sourced products very carefully,” he says. “I searched for what I needed then scoured the market until I found something comparable at a fraction of the cost.”

The oak kitchen table and benches are a good example. Rather than pay for a designer piece he bought thick planks of timber direct from a timber yard, and had them cut to length. He then commissioned a welder to create a steel frame and put the pieces together at a total cost of about £400.
 
White-sprayed MDF was used to build the kitchen, which Daniel designed, drawing up detailed plans of the dimensions of every single door, shelf and piece of carcass. Then he bought what he needed from a timber yard. The kitchen was first assembled on site to make sure it fitted together then taken to a specialist firm to be sprayed white, returned and reassembled.
 
This cost-effective sprayed timber technique was also used for the hallway and bedroom cupboards, and even for wall cladding in the bathroom, where it proved a cheaper, highly resilient alternative to tiles.
 
The floors are grey concrete and most of the walls are white, but there are areas of white-painted bare brickwork and woodwork, adding texture. And though architects notoriously adore a monochrome scheme, this home is warmed by the inclusion of some colour. Blue-grey cupboard doors, for instance, tone with an antique French painted bed.
 
The couple finally moved into their flat two years ago, and the project, including landscaping the garden, was finished 18 months ago. The garden is laid out on four different levels, three of them paved and one laid to grass, all surrounded by raised planters. This multi-level approach, Daniel says, adds “intrigue and depth” to the space. There is also a timber-clad shed at the end of the garden for storage but it would make a great studio/office space.
 
“The garden is one of my favourite areas,” says Nina. “We have a big projector and we have our friends around for open-air film nights.”
 
Today, the flat is worth about three times what they have invested in it. “We are very, very lucky to have a lovely home like this,” says Daniel. “It was hard work and by the end we’d run out of money. I had to work on the building site myself every day. But the end result is worth it.”
 
  • Daniel and Nina’s home is one of the properties on show in September’s Open House London event, which showcases the best architecture in the capital. For information on all the private homes that will open their doors, visit londonopenhouse.org
 
Photographs: Charles Hosea

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