The cube extension that transforms a Fifties house into a modern family home

A crisp white-brick extension transformed a small, tired Fifties house in north London into a spacious and child-friendly home where the real magic happens in the cool white interior.
They had moved in and out of six different rented flats and there was a second child on the way before art director Jess Chaney and her partner, architect Edward Lipton, finally got the property in north London that they wanted to develop.
 
But both Chaney and Lipton are talented and tenacious, and proof of their success is that during this summer’s Open House event, 500 Londoners crammed into the box of tricks they have created from what used to be a small, tired, Fifties home.
 
At first glance, what you see is a cube of unusual white bricks apparently floating above a wall and a front door of opaque glass — arresting enough in a street of Victorian houses. Second glance shows this is only half of the house — it’s a new section added on to a yellow-brick house which still remains, though totally transformed inside.
 
The added section replaces the original house’s protruding garage, and where the garage’s flat roof was, there is an extra bedroom. So not only has the house been given a dramatic, modern look, a lot more space has been gained into the bargain.
 
However, the real magic happens inside. The house is designed to be child-friendly, for four-year-old Inigo, and Isis, two. Each floor is level, so the children can race around to exercise and play.
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Child-friendly space: four-year-old Inigo and Isis, two, make the most of the level ground-floor living room/kitchen leading on to the garden
 
Once through the sliding front door — a new idea in the UK but common in Japan and a great space saver — you are in the hall, which holds a crisp, new white timber staircase, moved to this position to help create the big living room immediately ahead.
 
You enter this room through full-height double doors that open on to the 323sq ft space running right across the back of the house, where canary yellow sliding glass doors open out to the triangular garden. The sun-drenched room replaces two dull ones.
 
It also holds the retro-style floating kitchen unit designed by the couple. In this house of only two main finishes — white paint and pine — the unit is painted palest pink. Next to it stands what looks like a wardrobe, but turns out to be a kitchen in a box: on one side the fridge and freezer, on the other the cooker and dishwasher.
 
The rooms upstairs are plain and simple, all with big new windows and wired for wifi. The children’s room has a hideaway cupboard that they love using like a tent. Best trick of all, the stairs go up an extra turn, ready to whack on a third floor when finances allow. This will be encased in a black zinc box, further transforming the outside, and adding another 50 per cent of space.
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Keep it simple: pine and white finishes in Inigo's bedroom
 
When the couple began looking for a site back in 2009, they were not novice developers. Lipton, who trained at Manchester and UCL, had set up his own practice with another young architect, Jonathan Plant, in 2002 on the day he qualified. The practice’s first job was demolishing Lipton’s parents’ house and building a new one. From that sprang more work.
 
In 2007, Lipton and Chaney bought a laundrette in Finsbury Park, converting it into a three-bedroom house with an internal courtyard. “We just started tweaking,” says Lipton. “Before we knew it, it was literally a shell.”
 
Chaney disliked Finsbury Park so they went back to renting, while on the lookout with seed money from the laundrette-house sale. Lipton had cycled for years past a run-down little Fifties house and thought it a good development opportunity. So, when he saw a For Sale sign, he pounced. “I saw it one Saturday morning,” he says. “I called the agent, who came over two hours later, and we put in an offer that afternoon.”

 
LIFE ON A BUILDING SITE
You want the story to end on this triumphant note, but that first offer was rejected, and it took nine months to buy the house. However, that gave the couple plenty of time to think about what to do with the place. They submitted plans early in 2012, getting permission in April that year for an extension at the front, plus a new floor. Building started a year later and finished early this year, with the family camping out in their house the whole time.
 
To support the new works and the future new floor, an internal skeleton of massive steels had to be inserted, some 23 feet long. And when digging started they went down nearly 10 feet and couldn’t find foundations. “We were digging and digging and digging,” says Lipton. That took a lot of concrete to refill, and was very expensive.
 
Nevertheless, meticulous attention to detail and a highly intelligent reconfiguring of space has turned this sow’s ear into a stylish silk purse. It’s a perfect house for a young family — and pretty cool for grown-up children of all ages.
 
GET THE LOOK
The perfect combination: the skills of an architect and an art director’s eye for detail.
 
Now that’s a really clever idea
Lipton and Chaney designed a “kitchen cupboard” that stands next to the kitchen unit and looks almost like a modernist wardrobe. But open it and you find the fridge, freezer, dishwasher and oven. Pretty amazing — and it hides the big kitchen items away brilliantly.
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Custom-made: the wide kitchen unit is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Middleton Pink emulsion — £36.99 for 2.5 litres at Homebase
 
Tips from Edward Lipton and Jess Chaney
“Have a clear understanding of your budget and have total clarity in your brief to your architect. Explain in detail exactly what you want. You both need to be in complete agreement from day one so that as you are designing, you can achieve what you wanted. And don’t cut corners.”
 
“You need a strong stomach. It takes guts, time, and costs money.”
 
“The most fundamental thing? Don’t underestimate the value of an architect. A good architect is the difference between just making a building, and a bespoke, beautiful result.”
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New staircase: this was built in a fresh location to create more living space
 
“Details can make a house. At our house we really only had two materials: the honey-coloured timber and the white plaster. Within that a couple of accents of colour — the yellow sliding doors and the pale pink kitchen unit — but they make a huge statement.”
 
The figures
House bought in 2011: £520,000
Spend: about £350,000 (not including architect’s fees)
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Bold idea: the house masks its size cleverly by appearing to be a simple, light-brick cube. But this is only half of the home — it also includes the yellow-brick section to the right
 
How to get a similar spec
  • Architect: Edward Lipton at Lipton Plant (www.lparchitects.co.uk)
  • Sliding yellow-framed glass doors: by www.culmax.co.uk
  • All other windows: www.velfac.co.uk
  • Kitchen tap: www.ikea.com
  • Double steel sink: from www.franke.com
  • Floor seals and other timber finishes: by Osmo at www.osmouk.com
  • White paint: www.dulux.co.uk
  • Gubi semi-pendant lamp: try www.occa-home.co.uk
  • Harry Bertoia’s 1952 Diamond chairs: by Knoll at www.knoll.com — or try www.eBay.co.uk
  • Bespoke furniture throughout: designed by Lipton and Chaney
Photographs: Charles Hosea

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