Wall of glass transforms Islington home

When leafy trees were blocking light out of this Islington house, a wall made entirely of glass was the answer
What do you do when one of the main reasons you fell in love with your property becomes its greatest downfall? When lawyers Felicity and Peter Reeve bought their Victorian terrace house in Islington 10 years ago, it was because they liked its leafy north London location.

Creating light in a dark home
© Photographs by Charles Hosea
Felicity Reeve and her children in the family's smart Islington back garden

“We really loved the street,” says Felicity. “We liked it because of the trees but it was those trees that became the big problem. They blocked all the light out — especially in the summer when they were thick with leaves. We didn’t want to move but we became totally fed up with the house being so dark and gloomy. It became a real issue.”

Eventually the couple did move — but only for the nine months it took to completely reconfigure the house’s interior to make better use of the space and bring in much more natural light.

And while brightening up their home was the main goal, the value that has been added to the property by the makeover has been a major bonus.

Creating light in a dark home
Felicity and her husband Peter went for a simple, clean look to modernise their home, but not date it

The couple bought the house in 2004 for £825,000 and spent about £355,000 on the refurbishment. They moved back in with their two children in July last year when the renovations were complete, and their home is now valued at about £1.8 million.

Felicity explains here how they approached the redesign, offers her advice on what qualities to look for in an architect — and shudders at the memory of throwing a birthday barbecue for 14 on the day they moved back in.

Five years after the Reeves bought their five-bedroom house, they knew they had to address the gloomy, light-starved rooms. When it made no financial sense to buy a new property they weighed up their options.

Creating light in a dark home
Stepping down to the kitchen, the view cuts right through to the garden - and, simultaneously, to the treetops

“The living room in particular was dark and we decided that the use of space along that whole bottom floor — like so many terrace houses — was not working efficiently,” says Felicity. “So in 2009 we started to approach architects.”

The couple decided to work with architect Phil Coffey based on the fact that he had already completed a very similar project on his own terrace house in nearby Highbury. “We went to look around his house which he had knocked all the way through and used lots of glass. We ended up using a lot of the same materials, such as the concrete work surfaces in the kitchen which are a lot lighter than granite or marble. I wasn’t sure about any of this at first so it was useful to go and see what he had achieved on a similar project.”

Creating light in a dark home
The opened-up ground floor has a raised living area leading down light wood steps to the kitchen

Work started in 2011 after an 18-month planning and design period. The Reeves went for the ultimate outside-in feeling by knocking through the entire downstairs level from front door to back wall. This creates a show-stopping, unbroken view of the ground floor from the moment you walk through the front door. From a raised living area, light wood steps lead down to an exposed brick and light grey concrete kitchen.

And the line of sight doesn’t stop there. Thanks to an entirely glass back wall — as well as a huge skylight — it is possible to see, simultaneously, out of the back of the property at ground level and then higher up at tree-top level. “You can hardly notice where the house stops and the garden starts now,” said Felicity.

“We specifically wanted the kitchen in the centre. From there you can see up to the living room by the front door and down to the basement, where the children have a playroom, at the same time. It’s like we all live together now.”

Creating light in a dark home
Their leafy street was a winner, so the family decided to improve, not move (left); Steps to the new lower-ground floor, which adds to the space with a playroom, utility room, gym and shower room (right)

Attention to detail
When it came to materials, they had some idea of what they were after. “We wanted to modernise the property without it being too ‘2012’. We didn’t want it to be cool for a year and then go out of fashion, so we have gone for quite simple, clean materials such as the brick and concrete,” says Felicity.

Having an architect was crucial to the success of the project, she adds, admitting she struggled with the vision necessary to make the scheme work. “I just didn’t have it,” she laughs.

“Phil knew what it was going to look like, even though I couldn’t see it. And he was great on attention to detail. Left to my own devices I would have made snap decisions and regretted them later. As it is, all the door handles, the hinges, the taps that he spent hours picking out are all perfect. I would have just gone, ‘That one,’ to get it over with.”

After the nine-month build period — for which the family had to leave home because the basement was being dug out — the property is now 22 square metres bigger, at 230 square metres. The layout now comprises a playroom, utility room, gym and shower room on the new lower-ground floor, a sitting room and kitchen/dining area on the ground floor, with five bedrooms, a guest lavatory, and a family bathroom. The attic guest room is en suite.

Creating light in a dark home
The children's room is simply decorated and brightened with colourful furniture

Completing the renovation project
Felicity will never forget the move back home. Apart from relief at the project being completed and excitement over the new look, there was an overriding atmosphere of panic as the couple desperately tried to make the house guest-ready. “It was the day before my birthday and we’d arranged a big dinner that night to celebrate. I had to rush out and buy a barbecue, ready to cook for 14 people within hours of moving back in.

“It was all fine — but from now on every year on my birthday, I will remember the move and the first time we properly walked back into our new home.”

Photographs by Charles Hosea

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