How this couple created a light and bright home that's full of surprises

Erica and Niels Swinkels did away with the attic to create a soaring master bedroom and gave their little boy a new basement playroom with a glass ceiling so his parents can keep an eye on him.

Space and light are buzzwords often used in modern architecture. But together they can have a huge impact on how a house looks, and how it feels to live in. These two factors certainly helped the dramatic transformation of the home of Erica and Niels Swinkels in Ravenscourt Park, west London.
 
The 19th-century house was a drab series of little rooms, with an Eighties pine kitchen and brown wood furniture. Over 13 months the couple, who have a toddler son, Dash, turned it into a spectacular home with wide, open spaces that allow natural light to flood in.
 
As soon as you walk in, you can see right through to the courtyard. The ground-floor walls have been swept away to make one clean, clear space with a circular pillar at the centre.

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The original dogleg kitchen at the back is now open plan and its original brick side wall has been replaced by glass that looks out on to the courtyard.
 
The back wall of the house has been pushed further out, leaving a small yard encased by floor-to-ceiling glass doors that can be completely opened. The yard and the new section of the home is decked in highly polished concrete flooring with a grey-green sheen. Other floors are in gently waxed white oak.
 
The open-plan kitchen features grey fittings, a Silestone worktop that resembles Carrara marble and little copper pendant lights.
 

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Sleek finish: the open-plan living area and the glass panel set into the floor, revealing the basement cinema and playroom

 
With the décor showcasing an elegant, neutral palette, together with the abundance of natural light and the softening effect of wood floors, the overall look is easy on the eye. The couple have achieved a balance of sleek and homely.
 
Light of our lives
A big surprise is the rectangular glass panel in the floor, through which you can see down to the new basement that doubles as a playroom and cinema. It’s a good way to keep an eye on Dash when he is playing below.
 
The upper part of the house holds surprises, too. The master bedroom and attic have been combined to create a soaring space, while two bathrooms feature skylights — there’s another over the stairwell — that make the whole upper floor incredibly bright.
 
“When we first moved in and hadn’t yet got the blinds, Erica had to wear sunglasses,” Niels jokes. “But there’s some truth — you would expect this sort of light in a South African house, not an English one. It’s uplifting.”
 
Niels, 42, met half-Swedish Erica, 34, at the office Christmas party. They both worked in the film industry, and each had their own flat. Niels was based in Stoke Newington, while home for Erica was Shepherd’s Bush.
 
They moved into Niels’s apartment but in 2012, when Erica was pregnant and it was time to think about a family home, they sold that one and moved into Erica’s place.
 
Niels found that his commute into central London took just 20 minutes.
 
“Erica had always said that Shepherd’s Bush is really well connected — and she’s right,” he says. So they refurbished Erica’s flat, sold it and started househunting in west London.
 
But the search wasn’t easy. They looked at 40 houses, then Dash was born and they were still looking. Their spirits sagged.
 
“At first, we saw ourselves as a modern family who wouldn’t need a big house, so we began looking around Notting Hill and Brook Green,” says Niels.
 
But they soon found that even shoebox homes cost the earth, and that cash buyers were gazumping them.
 

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Make yourself at home: the finish is high end but the house still feels cosy and comfortable


So they pushed out to Ravenscourt Park, which has a likeable village feel with plenty of elegant houses.
 
One day, as they walked past a house, their estate agent appeared at the front door having shown someone else round, so on a whim they had a look.
 
“Niels is analytical, he point-scores,” explains Erica. “I’m instinctive. We walked in and I said, ‘This is the one, get it for me’.” And, after the agent showed them a similar house two doors down that already came with a basement, they went for it, and bought it in March 2013.
 
Perfect pairing
The couple’s luck had changed. A friend introduced them to their architect, South African Neil Dusheiko, and they found that his ideas complemented and fitted in with theirs. 
 
“We really liked his passion and commitment,” says Niels. It certainly paid off with the planners, considering that the Swinkels were digging right down under the house, and then ripping out the loft, most of the rooms and extending at the back.
 
Luckily, the application went through without a quibble in eight weeks, and building works began in April last year.
 
But what about not having a loft for storage? Most people — except Erica and Niels — would kill for one. “As you can see, we have lots of built-in storage,” says Niels, “but we don’t like clutter. If you have a loft, you fill it with stuff you never see again.”
 
This is a very good point and, certainly, the soaring ceiling space in the bedroom is magical. “Niels is so proud of the house that he can’t stop talking about it,” says Erica, warmly.
 
Niels adds: “We created something we really value. I found that exciting — and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.”
 
What it cost
House in March 2013: £1,325,000
Total money spent: £715,000
Value now: £2.3 million
 
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