Five years ago she was living in a flat in Maida Vale when friends introduced her to her future husband, Toby Pullen, now 41, who works in commercial property. Together they bought a Victorian flat in Queen’s Park, north-west London, and soon did a loft conversion. That lit the development-bug touchpaper. Next, with their first daughter, Pearl — now two — still just a baby, they began looking locally for a family-size project.
But it wasn’t easy. They had settled on the Kensal Rise area, “where we were always mooching around the shops and cafés”, Olins says. Their agent showed them a couple of properties that fell through. Next, they liked one with work done by local architect Jonathan Tuckey. That deal also hit the buffers, but they decided that if they needed an architect, they would use him.
Then their agent pulled a rabbit out of a hat. “He phoned and said, ‘You have got to come and see this. Right now,’” says Olins. It was a probate house, Thirties with pebble dash, that had been empty for 10 years. Not yet on the market, it was dark and sad, full of old cupboards and fitted carpet. “But when I saw the height of the hall, and the stair going up, and the square proportions, I knew,” Olins adds. They bought it at the end of 2012. They had already called Tuckey.
The house is no longer dark. Light is the first thing you notice, and it is because of the downstairs flow. The walls have been opened between front and back, while the hall wall has been replaced with five vertical solid Douglas fir timbers, almost like planks, set along the old wall line at intervals. They form a perforated wall that connects hall and central room and makes the whole ground-floor space seem big and light.
Off this central space with its comfy sofas and lots of books, where once there was a falling-down lean-to with a mildewed, corrugated plastic roof, there is now an extension that has changed their lives.
It is a square space with a modern black quarry tile floor, a ceiling of one foot-deep Douglas Fir coffers underneath a flat glass roof, a side wall of Douglas fir — in vertical panels matched to the width of the coffers — and an astonishing end wall made of a huge square glass door that frames the view to the garden.
When the couple bought the house, the garden was so overgrown with weeds that had reached seven feet tall, they didn’t even see a caravan-size shed full of rubbish at the end. Now, with its old path and apple tree revealed, the 50ft garden is coming to life, bursting with late spring flowers. Everything in this house was negotiated between Olins, Tuckey and Olins’s “saintly” husband, who agreed with the lot.
Life changer: an old tumbledown lean-to became this bright new extension with box-coffered ceiling, wood-panelled walls and black quarry tiles
The extension comes with a story. “I wanted steel and glass and concrete floors,” says Olins. “I didn’t like wood. But Jonathan came and did some sketches, and the first sketch showed a modern, box-coffered wooden ceiling, and a wood-panelled wall to match.
“I didn’t understand that at all. But what is the point of paying an architect if you aren’t going to listen to them?” So they went with the whitewashed wood — and they love it. The door, which cost about £4,000 but creates an invaluable view, was going to be pivoted, but technical problems meant it had to be hinged instead. It was remade, twice, but was worth the fuss. The garden is literally pictured through it. “Bifold doors are so dull and boring,” says Olins.
She also insisted on a milky-green kitchen, which has been economically made with Ikea carcasses and bespoke fronts. The couple love their big, bespoke larder cupboard, with its special space for Pullen’s wine.
Having agreed to all the wood, Olins put her foot down over the tile colour in the bathroom. They had a classic small bathroom with an en suite loo. Tuckey suggested knocking them into one bigger room. Olins then put forward the idea of a sliding pocket door, and the architect said they should make that door much wider than normal.
Olins then insisted on a particular green floor and wall tile from French company Waxman that would take a month to make. So… they waited. The result, a triumph of teamwork, is a fantastic, attractive, family bathroom in a gorgeous, uplifting colour that was worth the wait.
“Bathtime is a busy time,” says Olins. “Our big pocket door is always open, and we have toddlers running in and out of it, and you can see where everyone is. It’s perfect.”
Clean white lines: there’s plenty of family-friendly storage
What it cost
Alice and Toby bought their house in December 2012 for £650,000.
Total spend on architect’s fees and revamp: £160,000
Value now: £1.2 million
Get the Look
Architect: Jonathan Tuckey (www.jonathantuckey.com)
Builder/contractor: Lion Eye Properties (www.lioneyeproperties.co.uk)
Black quarry tiles in extension: from local Kensal Rise shop (www.tileshoplondon.co.uk)
External door in extension: made by contractor, Lion Eye, as before
Paints: throughout from www.Farrow-ball.com
Soft whitewash on Douglas fir: from Osmo (www.osmouk.com)
Copper spherical pendant light in sitting area: from www.tomdixon.net
Green bathroom tiles: from www.waxmanceramics.co.uk
Why use an architect?
Olins says: “Architects come up with ideas you would never have thought of, and a unifying sense of design so that the house fits together as one, not as a soulless renovation.
“They have acute attention to detail, doing things like shadow gaps on skirtings and mouldings that are really effective.
“A local architect knows the area and knows the houses, so their work will fit. “I had hoped that using an architect might save us money, as our budget wasn’t bad but we are not rolling in it. Although that wasn’t the case, Jonathan’s work creates a big impression and we would definitely use him again.”
Photographs: David Butler