Kirstin Contraoudas wanted a Porsche. It was top of her wish list when she arrived in London in 1999. “My dream was to own an old 356, like the one in Top Gun, so I went to a showroom and on the street I saw a sign, ‘Lofts for sale’,” she says. “So I bought the flat instead.”
Born in Germany, raised in Trinidad, educated in America, Kirstin had no idea how anchored her life would become. Fast-forward 14 years and both life and the flat — in a former laboratory building in west London converted into apartments in the late Nineties — are unrecognisable. Gone is the interior from her bachelor girl days, when she had a billiard table customised as a dining table and an aquarium in the wall. The only thing that remains is the soaring, double-height living space, nearly five metres tall.
The big change started when she met her husband, Haris. “I’m German, he’s Greek and he works for a French bank, so you can imagine the jokes we get,” says Kirstin, who at the time was a project manager for residential refurbishments.
Haris moved in, Kirstin became pregnant with their son Aris (now joined by brother Alexandros) and the studio flat felt small. Rather than move on, Kirstin and Haris, who love open-plan living, decided to think laterally and look into the possibility of knocking through to the apartment next door. “The managing agent wouldn’t give me the owner’s name, but I managed to charm it off the guys at the front desk.” It turned out he was in Canada and Kirstin found him online in Canada’s White Pages and called. “I think he was shocked, but he said, ‘I’m a businessman. Make me an offer.’” Which they did — and a price was agreed.
With the deal sealed, the couple hired German architect Dominikus Stark to help them re-imagine the space. The job took nine months. The flats were completely gutted, the interior was rebuilt, and they had a home nearly twice as big, with a living/dining/kitchen space that stretches nearly 40ft wide, flanked on either side by separate zones for child space, and parents. All the walls are white and the floors are super-size planks of Dinesen Douglas fir. “I really wanted a living, breathing natural material in the space, to give it character,” says Kirstin.
An olive tree — which marks the line that once separated the old flats — gets swapped each December for a 10ft Christmas fir. “We hoist it up on to the balcony with a rope every year, at the start of the month,” says Kirstin, who also keeps an Advent wreath with a candle for each Sunday in December, which they light with afternoon tea and German treats. “Germans have a lot of traditions and food is very important in our family,” she says. “I have a huge cookbook collection.”
One of the best things about their home is the ready-made community of other loft-living mothers and children. “The whole building grew up at the same time, so we can have play dates without leaving home,” says Kirstin. “I made a best friend and she is now Aris’s godmother.”
See more of Dominikus Stark’s work at dominikusstark.de. For details of Dinesen flooring, visit dinesen.com.
The full version of this article appears in the December issue of Livingetc, out now.