Moving house can be an expensive business, in more ways than one. You have to fork out for an army of solicitors, surveyors, estate agents and a removal firm, and then pay stamp duty, of course. But there is also the emotional cost of uprooting yourself from one neighbourhood to another.
“Streatham is very, very unfashionable,” says Ailsa Feroze, cheerfully. “But it is a great area to live in. The community is friendly and incredibly social — everyone knows everyone — and having lived here for 15 years we really didn’t want to leave.”
However, the period house she bought with husband Jonathan back in 1998 had more than a few downsides. The classic three-storey property had a narrow hallway and two main rooms, front and back. The sitting room at the front of the house was unwelcoming and rarely used, while the couple and their daughters, Georgie, 19, and Millie, 17 tended to use the back room as nothing more than a cut-through to their small kitchen. Even the garden went unsung.
While the rear living room was not a good use of space it was also dominated by a huge, black stone fireplace — and while original features are often prized there is a particular strain of High Victoriana which can be overpowering. The solution was clearly to stay put and remodel the house. The problem was how to do it.
Like most families the Ferozes wanted a large kitchen/living room. But Ailsa was keen to avoid what she describes as a “glass box” extension shunted on to the back of the property — a style that is already beginning to look dated. And with four people to consider, plus black labradors Oscar and Libby, sharing a completely open-plan space appeared neither practical nor desirable.
Ailsa, 54, and Jonathan, 55, who runs his own business providing intelligence on global markets, contacted architect Charles Barclay (cbarchitects.co.uk) after seeing an example of his work in a magazine.
His solution was to remodel the ground floor of the house with an enlarged entrance hall, a smaller front room, and an open-plan living/kitchen area — but with a twist. A series of sliding and pivoting doors can be moved into place shutting each room off, allowing the family to choose whether they want communal or private spaces.
Instead of a rectangular “glass box” the kitchen extension has a “stepped” profile spanning the rear of the house. And it has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the garden, where the effect is softened by the addition of a metal trellis hung with climbing plants.
A garden dining area has been created parallel to the kitchen, blurring the distinction between inside and out. A large skylight above the dining table brings in light from all angles. Storage was also important, of course, and so a utility room has been added, as well as a wine storage area. And all of the downstairs rooms — including the enlarged hall — have been fitted with capacious cupboards, drawers and shelves. All traces of cornicing, picture rails and that behemoth of a fireplace have been replaced by clean, white lines.
The other problem with adding a modern extension is that properties can end up with an “upstairs/downstairs” look, with the ground floor contemporary and the upper floors left virtually untouched. Barclay’s solution was to replace the traditional central staircase with a sculptural concrete staircase with a black walnut handrail, which gives the upper floors a more unified and modern look.
The property has five bedrooms and the main changes were to split the impractically large en suite bathroom belonging to the master bedroom into a bathroom and a dressing room, and to convert one of the rooms into a home office with built-in desk and shelving for Ailsa, who works as a freelance PR publisher.
Lambeth council approved the plans without demur, and work on the 10-month project began in January last year. It progressed without any Grand Designs-style disasters, thanks to “the most accommodating and helpful builders in the world”, Hoxon Ltd (hoxon.co.uk), hired on Charles Barclay’s recommendation.
To cut straight to the bottom line, when the work started the property was worth about £1.3 million, and the project cost about £500,000 to complete. Today the house is probably worth in the region of £2 million — reaching that barrier, thanks to the seven per cent stamp duty threshold on homes costing more than £2 million, is inevitably tough for any property — so the uplift has not been stratospheric.
But the makeover has given the house, which the family have no plans to leave, a fresh lease of life, despite the fact that some of the decisions made in the remodelling were undeniably unusual. Reducing the size of the living room, for instance, while enlarging the entrance hall.
“The thing is that we had to accept we would only really use the room at the front of the house to watch television in — we don’t need a formal sitting room — and so it really didn’t need to be big,” says Ailsa. “And having a really large hallway instead gives the entrance of the house a lovely feel.
“I think that the biggest luxury you can have, sometimes, is space, and having the excess space makes the house feel very generous as soon as you walk in.”
The ability to close off the open-plan living room/kitchen has also been a blessing, as the family can choose how they want their home configured depending on their day-to-day plans.
“It means that you do have the wow factor, but also it is good family living space,” says Ailsa.
And while she has no regrets — although, perhaps, a little guilt — about stripping out the Victoriana, she admits the relentlessly white colour scheme has taken some getting used to. In fact she and Jonathan decided that their bedroom would be warmed with pale taupe walls, while the girls both have panels of bold wallpaper in their bedrooms.
But this scheme proves resolutely that traditional and modern can happily co-exist. Reluctant to give up their beloved Aga, somewhat to Barclay’s horror, they compromised by buying a white model which softens the otherwise angular kitchen. Another compromise was using curtains to shield the back of the house, which the family wanted — and Barclay was not so keen on. The solution was to build in slim niches which neatly hide the bespoke, gauzy curtains (moghulinteriors.com) when they are drawn back.
Says Ailsa: “I think that ultimately this has to be a family house. It can’t be a place where you can’t live comfortably. However, it can be somewhere that looks very modern and contemporary — and that works so much better for all of us.”
Photographs by David Butler