Most people who take on a wreck of a house opt either to restore it to its period glory, or scoop out its innards and create a modern home. Tonja and Jez Scott decided to do both.
The couple, both 39, bought a beautiful but dilapidated Regency townhouse in an Islington square in 2007. They then embarked on an epic eight-year journey, during which time they also had two children — Taryn, now six, and Nathaniel, four — and ran their architectural practice, Scott Architects. They watched the property market peak, crash and resurrect itself around them.
From the doorstep the Scotts’ three-bedroom family home looks like a perfectly preserved period house, because the first phase of this project was a restoration of the above-ground level of the Grade II-listed property. “The house hadn’t been touched for about 80 years,” says Tonja. “It was in a very bad state, but it had most of its original features.”
FINDING TREASURE ALONG THE WAY
The façade of the house was in a sorry state, from the disintegrating front door to the walls that needed fresh lime render. Inside the couple found just sufficient of the deeply patinated original pine floorboards had survived well enough to be salvaged, and they were able to recast missing sections of cornicing.
The work was slow and painstaking, with joy along the way. Like all houses of the era, this one has huge windows and while removing plasterboard from around them they discovered all the original wooden shutters — and then found every single one of the metal locking bars down in the basement.
The renovation of the upper three floors took a full year, so the Scotts moved back to their original home in Haggerston in the meantime. Originally the couple, architect-developers, had intended to restore the Islington house and sell it on. But they fell in love with the property and the neighbourhood and decided to stay put, selling their Haggerston house instead.
TIME OFF TO HAVE A FAMILY
After a four-year hiatus from 2009 to 2013, during which time the children were born and the recession played itself out, the couple felt the time had come for the second phase of their plans: tackling the dark, dank basement level.
“I was very, very nervous about the idea of subterranean living,” says Jez. “I have been to basement levels and found them very dark and closed off, and we had to do everything we could to make sure it was as light and as unlike a basement as possible.”
Their original idea was to extend the lower-ground floor with a basement extension reaching out beneath the back garden. This was a step too far for Islington council’s planners and so, after discussion, the couple came up with a more acceptable alternative that would still give them the large, light, family space they wanted.
During 2014 and 2015 they had 900 tons of earth dug out from beneath their home, lowering the floors of the basement to enhance the ceiling height of the two existing rooms, and also excavated into the garden to create a new extension, now their kitchen. At the same time they extended to the front of the house to incorporate the under-pavement coal vaults, which are now a fantastically useful utility room.
A HEAP OF HIDDEN WIRING — AND A SAATCHI TOUCH
The family moved back into their home in 2015 and by last autumn the work was finally finished, almost a decade after the couple first saw the house. It is a spectacularly well thought-out mixture of traditional and modern.
The ground floor now contains their offices, while up the white-painted stairs the first floor, with its towering 10ft-high ceilings, is entirely taken up with the master bedroom. Here, the Scotts have allowed the house’s original features to dominate, including a pair of lovely arched windows and a marble fireplace.
The master bathroom is so luxuriously large it could easily have become another bedroom. It has its own working fireplace plus a modern, unadorned oval bath and a shower lined in white porcelain tiles which contrast beautifully with the old floorboards.
A mass of complicated wiring is concealed within the walls and under the floors — the switches control not only overhead lights and lamps but also the heating and an integrated music system.
The second floor is for the children’s bedrooms, where the same backdrop of timber floors, white walls and fireplace is accessorised by a mountain of toys and games.
The contrast between upstairs and downstairs in this home is signalled by a change in the staircase. On the way down to the basement, the traditional wooden balustrade gives way to a stainless steel handrail and Douglas fir treads.
The same wide, pale timber boards, by Dinesen and also found in the Saatchi Gallery, are used throughout the basement level which contains an interlinked living room, dining room and kitchen, looking out to the garden.
Storage is taken care of by a bespoke floor-to-ceiling unit of drawers and cupboards which encloses the TV and runs through into the dining room, where it covers the original chimney breast.
Jez and Tonja chose to make a feature of the back wall of the house while building the kitchen extension and the expanse of weathered bare brickwork gives the room an industrial feel that’s enhanced by the white Bulthaup kitchen and white quartz composite worktops, all lit by a sloping skylight.
The splashbacks are aluminium panels and the attention to detail here, and throughout the house, has been great. Jez spent many hours scrolling through Google images to find the perfect fittings for the house including the aluminium plug units for the kitchen which sit almost flush to the splashback.
The sums involved in this project piled up. The house cost £1.2 million in 2007, when family helped the couple with the deposit, and the build cost about £700,000. The house grew in size from 1,600sq ft to just over 2,000sq ft and is now valued at £2.6 million, thanks both to the work and to Islington property prices rising well above 2007 levels.
Almost half the budget went on the lower-ground floor but as a family home, the couple are glad they made the investment.
For now, the colour and materials palette is deliberately muted. This is a world of whites, with plenty of natural timber, glass, metal and minimal hue. “Keeping a space simple makes it look bigger,” points out Jez. “But we are going to be in this house a fair while. Next time we redecorate we might think more about colour.”