How to bring a Seventies semi into the 21st century

They had the perfect location and a great garden, now all one couple needed was space, light and a good-looking house. Jason Orme loves the transformation
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Floor-to-ceiling glass doors expand the view on to the garden and let as much light as possible into the large, open-plan living space
Floor-to-ceiling glass doors expand the view on to the garden and let as much light as possible into the large, open-plan living space
Geraldine Patten and Andrew Martin had a two-bedroom semi in a perfect West Hampstead location with generous gardens. But it was certainly uninspiring and too small, and with a growing family they needed more bedroom space — a problem so many Londoners sympathise with.

It was built in the Seventies on a site formerly occupied by garages. It had no easy internal flow, while externally it was a bit of a jumble, mixing a boxy, modernist look with some traditional brick and mock Georgian-style "sash" windows.

"We spent a couple of years living in the place before we decided to do anything — which turned out to be a very useful time for assessing what we wanted," says Andrew. "The ground floor just didn't really connect with the upstairs space. In the end, we knew we needed some design experience and simply did a search on the internet.

"We came across William Tozer Architecture & Design (WTAD) and a few other practices. When we saw the scheme William Tozer came up with, we knew it was what we had been after all along."

The proposal sought to comprehensively remodel the interiors of the existing house at the same time as extending on two sides — topped off with an external makeover that would bring it fully into the 21st century. All the time with the three key elements of the brief at its heart — extra space, better quality of light and space, and an appealing external look. Geraldine and Andrew, busy people with no building or renovating experience, recognised this project was best left to the professionals.

As a result, WTAD associate Tom Shelswell supervised the construction, which was carried out by main contractors Metropolitan Construction while the couple rented nearby.

The house now includes a play area for Andrew and Geraldine's son
The house now includes a play area for Andrew and Geraldine's son
At first glance, this looks like your classic run-of-the-mill "opening up" extension with sliding doors (in this instance from IDSystems) opening out on to the garden, allowing plenty of light in. But this is something special, and a much more bespoke solution to the design issues that the house faced.

For a start, horizontal glazed openings were introduced into the flat roof of the extended kitchen/dining space as well as into the remodelled study. "Top lighting" allows a comfortable, diffused light into a very dark space. Secondly, the ground floor has become an open-plan classic, perfect for highlighting the outside space — a generous and sheltered garden that leads to a studio used for home working.

At the same time, the ground floor has been cleverly zoned — not just through the traditional kitchen/eating/living approach, but on a whole new level, with a play area for plenty of toys for the couple's little boy, a TV area and, at the near end, a seating area based around their music interest.

The study and utility area is also separated effectively behind the open-tread stairs. Upstairs, an extension over this space allows room for two extra bedrooms. Contemporary detailing — shadow gaps among them — give the whole floor the feel of a new space.

The garden view is the focus of the windows
The two extensions have transformed the house from the outside. The first-floor extension has been clad in horizontally boarded, open-jointed western red cedar, while the ground floor "garden" extension has been white rendered, and existing window openings were reconfigured. These changes have been successful in producing what looks like a clean, modernist-inspired new-build.

The project came in at £221,000. "We're delighted," says Andrew. "We never thought it would take on this sort of dimension and scope, and we are glad we took it this far. We've retained the best of the old house and got a perfect family home in a brilliant location."

It's also a testament to the importance of engaging with talented designers. The lesson is not to say no to an ugly duckling house — with a skilled architect it can become an appealing, functional home.

Homebuilding & Renovating magazine
This article first appeared in the February 2012 issue of Homebuilding & Renovatiing magazine. Visit

Pictures by Simon Maxwell

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