They had purchased "a shell", so that they could divide it up as they pleased. They bought bare brick walls, rough floors and steel joists. But within three weeks the flat was habitable enough for them to move into with their newborn baby. Now, eight years on, it is a shining example of how to run a family home and a successful office in the same space.
As a pair of architects who run their own practice, Hakes Associates, the couple used their expertise and very best trade secrets to set up their home for a growing family. Julian has now moved on from architecture to become a shoe designer and his Mojito range is due to hit high street stores later this year.
The home had to incorporate an office on the ground floor with a reception room and workshop, as well as an open-plan living area with another work space. On the floor above is the family home with three bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen/dining room.
Now, as he looks back on the conversion work, Julian says the best advice he can pass on to anyone else is, first of all, get the flooring right.
"We used a sprung, raised-access floor that you usually only see in offices," he says. "It takes no time to lay and everything else is made more simple. Instead of a plumber and electrician having to drill holes through every joist, they can lift up the tiles and run the wires and pipes under the floor. This saved us four weeks and hundreds of pounds.
"We put an oak floor over the top with access panels for reaching the electrics and plumbing. Plus, we use the space under the floor in the office for additional storage — it's like a treasure trove."
Other storage tricks include a drop down double bed that looks like a cabinet in the reception room. Julian adds that flexibility is the key to utilising your limited space.
"We had a sofa custom-made to the length of Cari's brother, who is tall, so it will always double up as a bed. We have no gadgets out in the kitchen, so we can disguise it when we want it to look like a living area.
"Our dining chairs are transparent Philippe Starck office chairs that give the kitchen a modern feel and yet can be moved about the house or the office whenever we need them."
Julian always uses daylight bulbs, which give off a blue, more natural light in the darker rooms. For atmosphere he has added a night-light at the bottom of the stairs to gently illuminate the staircase.
The balance of home and office space has been the biggest learning curve, he says. Having the room to create a ground-floor office and a first-floor home helped to make a natural division, though keeping their two young sons out of sight during work meetings can sometimes be a problem.
"The family has to go through the office to leave the house," Julian says. "We had a spy hole added to the door connecting the two, so whoever is in the house can look through and check there are no clients about."
The couple's homeware-buying tip for materials at good prices is LASSCO, under Bermondsey arches. "It is great for anything from reclaimed timber to church pews, railings — anything you want," says Julian.
"And for reliable homeware we use John Lewis. It's good for curtains or blinds. People make the mistake of spending a lot on things that don't add value, but simple is good. Life, work and people are so complicated, why not keep space simple?
"And finally, don't be scared to change things and move things around. Buildings are pretty robust."
Photographs: Adrian Lourie