How we transformed our pokey two up, two down house in Highbury and doubled its value

A tiny 950sq ft home in Highbury, North London is now worth £1.26 million having been overhauled with the help of a Grand Designs-winning architect.

Luck has played a big part in Andy Drugan's life. The 42-year-old creative director found both his house and his architect practically by bumping into them, while he and his partner, Claire Goble, met online.

Yorkshire-born Drugan was living in vibrant Highbury in north London in 2006. Emirates Stadium and expensive blocks of flats hover dramatically in the background, while small, pretty Victorian terraces nestle below. Home was one of these terrace homes and Drugan was fed up with renting, having done so for 10 years.

So when a flier came through the door from a woman in his road who wanted to sell, he went straight round and made an offer on the spot. A couple of weeks later, she accepted.

Now he had a house. A small two-up, two-down dating from about 1890, there was a tiny kitchen extension at the back with a bathroom above. 

A further small addition tacked at the end of the kitchen held boiler and fridge, while a side return, and different levels, made the back garden a muddle. 

At the decked garden's end towered the wall of Highbury Roundhouse youth and community centre. Downstairs were two dark rooms, while the galley kitchen was a squeeze if two people stood in it. Both kitchen and bathroom ceilings were so low they almost touched Drugan's head.

The whole house was only 950sq ft but the only major thing he did to the place at that stage was convert the loft into a bedroom and wetroom. The architect he used was Phil Coffey, who lived locally. “Now he's gone stellar,” says Drugan. The two men bumped into each other when Drugan was looking at the work Coffey was doing on his own house.

Fast forward to summer 2012, when Drugan met Claire Goble, an illustrator of children's books. Late the following year, when she became pregnant, it was time to sort out the house.

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The couple ended up spending double the £70,000 they'd budgeted for and lived in temporary accommodation with their newborn daughter for months

 

Goble didn't like the kitchen, for starters, so Drugan asked Coffey if he could recommend an architect, and Murray Kerr was suggested. In the end the couple saw three architects between Christmas and New Year, with Kerr dropping by on New Year's Eve.

The parents-to-be had hoped to spend £70,000 but ended up spending twice that, and had to remortgage. They wanted to open up the rooms to make a light-filled family living space, and considered putting sliding or folding doors right across the back of the ground floor.

Kerr did a sketch that involved demolishing the existing extension, then incorporating the side return into the replacement to create a wide kitchen diner, with a new bathroom above. Ceiling heights would be raised, and all floors levelled. To do that, the whole staircase had to be rebuilt, too. 

Instead of glass doors all the way along the back, Kerr advised a more practical L-shaped kitchen area going part of the way along. They would be able to wash up looking at the garden, or up at the sky through a full-width slip of glass. 

The L-shape left room for a striking square glass door, about as big as a single door can be. Kerr also suggested running the same flooring from inside to outside, while the exterior of the extension is clad in blackened Siberian larch.

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They demolished the existing kitchen extension and incorporated the side return into the replacement to create a wide kitchen diner with a new bathroom above

 

The couple explored other configurations but came back to that first drawing — though they did toy with ingenious catflap ideas for Goble's cat, Strudel, including one hidden in a wine rack.

In spring 2014 the designs went to the planners. Helped by Kerr's drawing showing how many local extensions were bigger than the one being proposed, it was passed without a hitch. That was no mean feat in a conservation area, but then Kerr had just won Grand Designs, for a project in Scotland.

Now the hunt was on for a builder.

They emailed 80 who'd worked on New London Architecture Don't Move, Improve! projects. Of those who replied, they liked and hired a Polish one. The couple decamped to Goble's one-bedroom former flat, then three Airbnb properties, and daughter Olive was born that August. 

Perhaps naively, they'd hoped to move back into the house by October 2014 but they admit the delay was partly their fault. Mid-build they decided to rip up all the old floorboards and upgrade them. They also spent along time sourcing grey limestone floor tiles to run right through from kitchen to garden, which look great.

They eventually moved back into the house late in April last year — “though we still didn't have a kitchen!” The builders made a temporary one, and a friend designed a smart, white kitchen finished in thick, solid oak. The same oak makes a bespoke shelf, and also the extra-deep joists holding up an airy glass roof over the dining area. Handmade tiles complete the look.

This beautifully detailed family space is a far cry from the house that Drugan bought. Olive, now 18 months old, certainly seems to love it. The surfaces are tactile, the finishes are immaculate, and abundant natural light pours in.

Goble says, contentedly: “When we met Murray, I said, 'This is going to be our forever home, not just a project.'” 

Twitter: @stockleyp 

What it cost

House in 2006: £427,100 Money spent (excluding loft): £140,000 including architect Value now: £1.26 million 

Get the look 

Architect: Murray Kerr (Denizenworks.com) Builder: Alex Baran at AB Construction (07796 008 275) Large door to garden: via the builder (as above) Urban Grey limestone floors: Gareth Davies Stones (gdstones.com) Reclaimed floorboards throughout: Ribble Reclamation (ribblereclamation.co.uk) Kitchen design: Grainne Tuitte at Mark Plant Kitchen Design (markplant.co.uk) Valencia tiles in kitchen and floor tiles in bathroom: firedearth.com Bath and taps: cphart.co.uk ¦Claire Goble: clairegoble.com.

This project was shortlisted for New London Architecture's Don't Move, Improve! awards this year. 


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