The couple left London in 2002 to live the rural dream in a 17th-century Dutch barn in the Vale of the White Horse. But for Tim, living in Oxfordshire meant an exhausting three and a half hour daily commute, while for Dominique, a freelance journalist and translator left home alone, the experience was lonely and isolating.
“The house was fabulous, but it was in the middle of nowhere. Tim would leave at 6.30am and get home at 8.30pm,” says Dominique. “I didn’t have the school gates network and I’m not into horses — most of our neighbours seemed to hunt. It was an eight-mile round trip to the nearest Co-op for a pint of milk. I was on Twitter all day because I was so lonely.”
Friends visited at weekends, but failed to offset the weekday loneliness. By 2010 the couple had had enough and moved back to London, into a rented house. It took them a year to sell the barn.
New family home: Dominique Kirkman and daughter Sidonie
At the start of 2011 they were able to buy a four-bedroom Victorian house in Wandsworth for £1.15 million. Barely touched since the Sixties, it needed a total facelift. It had just one bathroom, no central heating, and had been stripped of its original features. This meant the Kirkmans, both 49, with a one-year-old daughter, Sidonie, had a blank canvas to work on with the help of architects Snell David.
The £500,000 project involved installing a triple-height glazed extension at the back of the house, which boosted the floor space from 1,900sq ft to 2,700sq ft. It also floods the property with light.
New heights: the extension floods the property with light
The basement had a low ceiling and was divided into five small, dark rooms. The answer was to dig down to give a more generous ceiling height and dismantle dividing walls to create an open-plan kitchen/family room with limestone flagstone floors and a bespoke kitchen.
The ground floor has two further living rooms and there are four bedrooms on the upper floors.
Lessons learned: Corian work surfaces rather than granite in the kitchen
The project came in on budget and on time and Tim, chief operating officer of London Live, the capital’s new TV station, believes this was in part due to the care the couple took in choosing their builders. They also drew up a highly detailed spec, took bids from four companies, and chose their firm only after visiting other projects to assess the quality of their work and calling in references.
When it came to writing the spec, lessons were learned from the barn conversion. The couple opted for Corian work surfaces rather than granite, because they’d found that granite shows water marks and needs regular polishing. They rejected expensive hi-tech lighting systems in favour of lamps and dimmer switches.
Their only mistake, they say, was investing in wiring for integral technology and music systems which was obsolete almost immediately thanks to wireless technology.
Now worth £2.5 million: The Kirkmans’ work on their Wandsworth home has boosted its value
Dominique’s advice to others is to decide on a clear, detailed plan and stick to it. “The biggest thing you can do is to draw up a spec that goes into every detail, make all the decisions in advance - and then don’t start changing your mind,” she says.
The house has been valued at £2.5 million.
GET THE LOOK:
- Architects: www.snell-david.co.uk
- Limestone flagstones: www.worldsendtiles.co.uk
- Bespoke kitchen: www.sdsinteriors.co.uk