People still put their kitchen-diner in the basement, which becomes the hub of family life, while the gracious, light, raised ground-floor reception rooms designed for entertaining are neglected. Which is exactly what interior designer Kate Thornton didn’t want to happen when she and her husband, Dominic Grainger, bought their house in 2011. “It was so light in this big double room that I really didn’t want to put the kitchen in the basement,” she says.
So they put the kitchen on that sunny, elegant raised ground floor, making it the heart of the home. One idea led to another — and the end result was a total transformation of a tired old house into a fabulous modern home. Not one but two glass boxes on the back change the look and feel of the place completely, and it’s now perfect for a 21st-century family.
Transformation: Kate Thornton's designer's eye blends the traditional and the new, resulting in a home perfect for the 21st-century family
Thornton and Grainger, sons Charlie, now 18, and Henry, 15, and their dog Chester, a Goldendoodle - there's now also a Red Fox Labrador puppy, Lucca - lived nearby but wanted a change. Thornton, who used to run legal chambers but retrained as an interior designer, was looking for a project to get her teeth into. When the couple saw the house for sale it had been empty for a few years and hadn’t been redecorated since the Eighties.
Thornton, who wanted lots of glass, hired architect Tom Pike. “I said, ‘This is what I want to do, is that possible?’ He said, ‘Anything’s possible.’ You’ve got to have confidence that your architect’s totally competent, and Tom was so inspiring.” She laughs: “I knew I wanted a glass box on the back — but then things got a bit out of hand and we did the basement, too. So then we had to do the central heating, and the bathrooms, then the master bedroom… and then the whole house. And then we did the roof terrace as well.”
Something different: rather than a kitchen, the basement is a TV and loafing room
Thornton asked the architects to take the back brick wall off the drawing room, push the parquet-covered floor out a bit further, and make a glass box there that would connect sideways with the existing kitchen in the dog-leg extension, which would be revamped. The glass box would also drop down to basement level, bringing loads of light to that floor.
She wanted garden access at both levels, so the architects designed an industrial steel stair that runs up and around the glass box at raised ground floor, with a perforated steel walkway. This puts the door sensibly on the side, where it doesn’t spoil the beautiful glass end wall.
While they were at it, Thornton had been thinking about the existing roof terrace, on top of the old extension. The only way to get to it was by clambering out of a landing window. The architects came up with a smaller two-storey glass box plugged on to the back of the house. Its lower level holds a glass door out to the balcony, while its upper half brings masses of light into the attic.
Modern master: an elegant, magazine-luxe look in the bedroom is achieved by using cool colours with cosy touches
Despite being game-changing, the beauty of the redesign of this house is that it only added 135 square feet of extra space, so is relatively unobtrusive for the neighbours, none of whom complained. Planners waved it through, and building started in December 2012. “But we were quite mad,” says Thornton. “We stayed here all winter, because I wanted to be on top of things. But all winter 2012 the whole back was off the house, and it was snowy and awful.” The work wasn’t all plain sailing. The house and the old extension were on different levels, so an invisible endoskeleton of steel had to be constructed to make everything work.
“The builder said it was the most complex build he had ever done,” says Thornton. The dingy basement is now a really cosy loafing and TV room with oak flooring and dark walls, while the raised ground floor is a showpiece. This double room gets stunning light from both ends and has a mix of old and new furniture and vibrant colours, soft mohair throws in berry ice cream shades, sculpture and great mirrors, for magazine-style elegance with comfort. From the glazed end, which is like a modern winter garden, you walk straight into the grey-and-white kitchen, with striking encaustic floor tiles Thornton found in Spain. Fired Earth now sells similar ones.
What it cost
Six-bedroom house with garage in 2011: £2,600,000
Cost of project: £400,000
Value now: estimated at £4,000,000
Festive interior design tips
- For an instant urban Christmas from Kate Thornton, visit www.magentapinkinteriors.co.uk
- Red Amaryllis are fantastic Christmas flowers. Team with stems of pussy willow, change the water every other day, and they should last the season
- Don’t just use traditional colours such as red and green. Jewel-bright turquoise and deep purple look wonderful mixed with a splash of gold or bronze
- Battery-operated fairy lights (from £4 at John Lewis) are fantastic twined around a basic Christmas garland — or fill glass vases with baubles and mix the lights around them
- Group mini poinsettia plants together — five in a group look great
- Use pillar candles of various heights, scented if you like, and display in groups of odd numbers — three or five
- Scatter some dark red or jewel-coloured velvet cushions and drape faux fur throws on sofas and chairs. Spray chrysanthemums in rich colours and place in three mirrored cubes, three to a cube, along the Christmas table.