How we turned a 200-year-old, Grade-II listed, Georgian house in Mile End into our dream home - and added £400k value

Buying a damp, dark and cold east London Grade-II listed Georgian house was a risk that paid off for Joanna Griffiths and Jennifer Bedlow...

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Joanna Griffiths is a huge fan of London’s Georgian architecture — all those big windows and elegant symmetry — so it was a dream realised when she was able to find a classic early 19th-century townhouse in east London. 

Griffiths and her partner, Jennifer Bedlow, bought the two-bedroom, three storey house in 2011 for £622,000.

“But it was 200 years old, very dark, freezing cold and a bit damp,” says Joanna, 36. 

When carbon monoxide started leaking from the boiler, they knew they would have to get cracking with their restoration plans.

They discovered architect Martin Gruenanger, director of Space Group Architects, by Googling “architect”, “east London” and “award-winning”. With his help they renovated their Grade II -listed Mile End home, giving it an upbeat industrial vibe and adding an extra floor, plus a sunken glass box extension.

In the process, they also upped its value by almost £400,000. Griffiths and Bedlow wanted a light new kitchen where they could entertain.

Gruenanger suggested adding a mansard roof extension, too. “It was almost a no-brainer,” he says. “Just about every other house on the terrace had done one so it was almost restoring the roof line.” 

Clear and clean: a tiny, litle-used patio (left) was encased in a glass box, extending the kitchen area and letting in lots of natural light. The garden (right) has a pretty seating area.

The project romped through the planning process — Tower Hamlets council approved the work in just seven weeks — and work on the six-month project began in October 2013. The couple, who have since married, moved in with Bedlow’s mother for the duration.

The formerly damp basement kitchen is gorgeously light and bright today.

When Griffiths and Bedlow, 34, bought their house there was a small, dark patio beyond this room, with steps up to the garden.

This miserable space was barely used, and Gruenanger suggested encasing it in glass to extend the kitchen and let in light. The small light well and vaults at the front of the house have also been transformed. The hated window bars have been replaced with a glass panel, and as well as outside storage the walls of the vaults have been used to house a small wine cellar and a herb garden.

The couple wanted a clean look. “We don’t like stuff and clutter,” explains Griffiths, who is a photographer.

Gruenanger opted for fashionable white walls, white kitchen units, plenty of glass — shelves, as well as the extension — and concrete flooring.

He also designed a huge, copper-clad kitchen island as a centrepiece. The unit measures almost 6ft by 4ft and, as well as being great for storage and for use as an impromptu table, over time the copper acquires a lovely, delicate patina of blues and greens. Creating this bespoke piece was simpler and less expensive than you might think. 

They simply bought conventional kitchen cupboard carcasses, built an MDF worktop and side panels and then found a specialist metal company to clad it in thin sheets of copper, at a total cost of about £3,000.

However, all this loveliness was not created without complication. To warm up the kitchen, Gruenanger recommended installing underfloor heating. However, it quickly became clear that the house had been built directly on a thick layer of sand.

This explained why it was so chilly, and the entire property had to be underpinned to solve the problem.

At the same time, stress levels rose when Griffiths and Bedlow discovered their surveyor had failed to send party wall agreement contracts to their neighbours and this meant that they had to negotiate with them while their builders were at work.

With these legalities resolved, attention turned to the rest of the house. Upstairs, on the ground floor, the original bathroom was refurbished as a wet room. To extend the property to three bedrooms a new floor has been added and, again, it is a clever mix of period and modern. 

A new staircase has been built of ipe wood — otherwise known as Brazilian walnut — a dark, dense and extremely tough hardwood with a wonderfully rich finish.

It leads to a bedroom with a stripped back feel. The new beams on the pitched roof have been exposed and the original bare brickwork on either side is also left exposed, its flaws and the lines of the chimney stacks and all. 

Furnishing in this room is simple — white walls, white gloss wardrobes, a hard-wearing interwoven vinyl floor with copper thread running through it, and sliding doors, again built of ipe, leading to the en suite bathroom.

“I like the way the steels of the roof have been left exposed as well as the beams,” says Griffiths, who works for a finance company. “It really shows how the whole thing is held together. It makes it real.”

In all, the project extended the size of the house from 1,010 sq ft to 1,305sq ft.

And although the work cost about £190,000 including VAT and fees, the property is now worth about £1 million — which means it was an investment well worth making.

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