“I’d known about that house for a long time,” she says of the plain, five-storey red-brick building with big Fifties windows. It was built in 1951 on a bombsite in the heart of 18th-century Spitalfields and is probably an early building by Centre Point architect Richard Seifert.
“It was built as a small factory and then rented by students, and it was very run down,” says Eleanor. There aren’t many people who would see the potential in a Fifties building in an area famous for its Georgian terraces. But Eleanor, who was living in Spitalfields in a fine 18th-century house, has a passion for property and champions a mix of styles, old and new.
“It’s all to do with instinct, and if I feel something is right, I’ll go for it,” she says, and, having perfected her own home, she was eager for a project. The Fifties house certainly reflects the spirit of the England the young Queen Elizabeth inherited — literally bombed out after the second world war, but determined to pick itself up and make a fresh start.
Having gone for it, Eleanor pored over original Fifties interiors magazines. Then, with a clear idea of style, she and her architect, Rupert Wheeler, went through the usual planning hoops, since the house is in a conservation area. Once everything was agreed “we gutted it,” she says.
The first thing to go was the hideous rusting porch. “Past its sell-by date,” she says crisply. The new, sharply angled, cast-concrete porch adds a touch of airport glamour to the front but is scaled to relate to the grand Georgian porches on neighbouring houses.
According to Wheeler, Eleanor wanted to turn the 2,500sq ft building, which had been carved up into little rooms, back into a big family home with a real Fifties feel — with plenty of light front and back, and high quality throughout.
Having a good relationship with both architect and builder is crucial, and Eleanor emphasises that anyone planning something like this should interview both the contractor and the site manager. Once the team was in place and the plans accepted, they started building (in August 2011) and finished last month.
They replaced the old metal-framed Crittall windows with bespoke replicas; ran solid-oak herringbone parquet through the whole house; put in a beautiful oak staircase with a curving, steamed-teak handrail; made a stunning Fifties bathroom with fun, finned chrome fittings straight out of Thunderbirds; fitted a feature fireplace, and, lastly, added huge glass doors to a terrace that has clever planters to correct the fact that it isn’t quite square.
Eleanor is particularly proud of the office-style balustrades of wire-reinforced glass that her builder reproduced faithfully from originals they found in the house.
One thing she has learned is that whereas with a new-build you can work out all the costs, on a refurb such as this, there will be a lot of bespoke work to be done — which can be difficult to predict and often expensive.
Nevertheless, it is the attention to detail — from bronze door handles to glass-column shaving lights and bamboos rustling on the terrace — that gives this pared-back house its very authentic feel.
The refurbishment has also made the most of the benefits of contemporary living — including soundproofing, waterproofing and plenty of warmth.
GET THE LOOK
* Cost of works including architect: about £600,000
* Architect: Rupert Wheeler (mackenziewheeler.co.uk)
* Landscape architect (for planters and planting): Paul Gazerwitz (delbuono-gazerwitz.co.uk)
* Building contractor: Bolt & Heeks (boltandheeks.co.uk)
* Oak parquet: Heritage Woodcraft (woodfloor.co.uk)
* Ribbed glass lights in bathroom: Davey Lighting (davey-lighting.co.uk)
* Replica Crittall windows: crittall-windows.co.uk
* Bronze door handles: Williams Ironmongery (williams-ironmongery.co.uk)
* Bathroom: basin and mixer by Lefroy Brooks (lefroybrooks.co.uk); cast bath by Victoria + Albert (vandabaths.com); black-and-white floor tiles from Strata Tiles (stratatiles.co.uk)
* Furnish the look with Fifties classics such as an original Ercol Studio couch (up to £2,000); Anglepoise lamps (from anglepoise.com); Arne Jacobsen chairs from Fritz Hansen (fritzhansen.com).
* Watching old Fifties movies is a great way to get a feel for the period
* Eleanor is now moving on and asking £2.15 million for the house: contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photographs by Alexander James