Planners don’t often make people put more glass into a glass box, especially in a conservation area.
But it happened to Elizabeth Ashley, a consultant anaesthetist at Barts, and her husband Brendan Bracey, 59, also a consultant, when they put a bold, double-height glass extension on the back of their four-storey 1900s terrace house in Chiswick.
It isn’t the first time that Ashley, 50, has made home improvements: “I love doing it — my husband goes along with me — and I’m a big fan of Elle Deco.” She adds that her father is one of those people who can make anything, so she grew up in his can-do, positive aura.
She bought her first home, in Birmingham, when she was 19 and did it up throughout in Laura Ashley.
Take a tour: the dramatic Chiswick glass box extension
Take a tour: the dramatic Chiswick glass box extension
1/9 What it cost
The house cost £1.5 million in 2009, then Doctors Elizabeth Ashley, 50, and Brendan Bracey, 59, paid £500,000 for the extension. It's now worth an estimated £3.8 million.
Ashley spotted an extension with an unusual guillotine window that slid vertically in a magazine - and decided it would be perfect for bringing a modern twist to what would have been the servants' quarters in the 1900s property.
3/9 The big idea
Doctors Elizabeth Ashley, 50, and Brendan Bracey, 59, put a double-height glass extension the back of their four-storey Edwardian terrace house in Chiswick.
Planners demanded a glass top and glass side to give their neighbours more light - which made the idea all the more radical.
When the couple first moved in, this part of the house was dark and damp. Now complete with sleek white island, the basement kitchen-diner is full of light.
5/9 Sitting pretty
The old dining room is now a Barbarella-fantasy sitting room complete with bubble chair and cowskin cube.
6/9 Kick back
The relaxing, contemporary palette lends continuity.
7/9 Luxurious touch
The upstairs bedroom features a bath with a view.
8/9 The perfect space for entertaining
Groovy pocket doors were added to divide the front and back parts of the basement. A sleek white kitchen and island, plus a new bathroom, make the space tremendous for entertaining.
9/9 As if by magic
The striking chandelier that lights the glass box appears to dangle from the sky.
In 1994, after she qualified as a doctor, she bought a mansion flat in Barons Court and decorated that in sisal and taupe.
She met Bracey in 1995 and they bought a small Victorian terrace house in Fulham: “I Farrow & Balled that one, and sold it.”
Their next buy was a Seventies modern cube in Chiswick, designed by Michael Manser. “The morning we moved in, I hated it.” Nevertheless, Ashley worked her magic, putting in a long vertical window and cherry wood floors with a glass section.
The couple married in 2007 and two years later Ashley spotted a big house for sale through Foxtons. On the market at £2 million, this was a house to stay in. It had a half-basement and three floors above. The roomy upper levels were well decorated, with new shutters, parquet floors and bathrooms, all of which they kept.
BANISHING THE GLOOM
The basement, however, leading through tired French windows to a patio and mature walled garden, had a Seventies style and felt like servants’ quarters. Off a long hall led a gloomy diner at the front and a small, quarry-tiled kitchen at the back, with dull units and a butler sink. It was dark and damp.
“But the moment I walked in, I wanted it,” Ashley declares. The owners were keen to sell, and a deal was done.
Ashley had big plans to open up the basement and add a dramatic double-height glass extension. She’d saved a picture from a magazine of one with an unusual guillotine window that had three vast panels which slid vertically, rather than horizontally.
But such major structural changes had to wait two years while they raised funds. “My husband is more risk averse.” Then in spring 2012, Ashley visited friends who had done up their home. They recommended Cross Harris Architects, the young central London practice they’d used.
Ashley went round with her glass box picture and Dan Harris produced the drawings that went to the planners.
In that first version, the wall of the box facing the neighbours was brick, and it had a solid top, to help with privacy. Surprisingly, the planners demanded a glass top and glass side, to give their neighbours more light.
This makes the design much more radical, creating, as near as possible, a genuine, nearly invisible glass box, in which a massive Flos chandelier appears to dangle from the sky. Viewing the chandelier from the first-floor drawing room window, at eye level, is even more dramatic — and all the more wonderful for being so unexpected.
On the other side of the box, a glass balustrade opens into a modest new brick side extension, which holds a utility room below and an office above. Groovy pocket doors were added to divide front and back, plus a sleek white kitchen and island and a new bathroom, making the basement a tremendous space for entertaining.
The old dining room is now a Barbarella-fantasy sitting room, with a hanging bubble chair and a cowskin cube. Ashley’s mother helped with small style touches, covering cushions in Marimekko cloth, and grey ceramic floor tiles run through the whole space.
Not a single neighbour objected to their plans. Building began in July 2013 and was completed in summer 2014. Despite their high-pressure jobs, the couple survived with a fridge and microwave upstairs — though they say they aren’t sure they would do that again.
This major, soaring transformation is so delightful to be in that you wonder how they felt when they first saw it finished. But, as Ashley says, they had watched its progress day by day, so got used to the drama. Even so, “when the builders finally hung my bubble chair — then I was excited.”
WHAT IT COST
- The house was £1.5 million in 2009, the work cost £500,000 and the property is now worth an estimated £3.8 million.
GET THE LOOK
- Architect: Dan Harris
- Builder: Martin Kelly
- Guillotine rear windows: Vitrocsa
- Kitchen: MC Stone
- Eero Aarnio genuine acrylic Bubble Chair: Adelte
- Gino Sarfatti chandelier: Flos
- Most lighting: Artemide
- Pieni Unikko 2 fabric on seat cushion: Marimekko
- White paint in basement: specially mixed by the architect