For IT specialists Renato Callisto and David Morgan, the house they bought in Kennington had their names on it. When they first considered buying it, they couldn’t afford to, but it sat empty for two years as if waiting for them until they could.
Kennington is a great area, inside the congestion charge zone with Georgian and Victorian terraces. Renato and Dave, both in their forties, started out in flats, but always wanted a house.
Renato, born to Italian parents, was raised in Australia but left in 2000 for a fresh start. He started in flatshares, but after meeting Dave in 2003, they moved into Dave’s Camberwell flat. Renato bought a flat next door. Then they bought a penthouse in Kennington, an area they loved for its good transport and Georgian houses.
Dave likes to plan ahead. He spotted the terrace house for sale in 2011, when its elderly owner had to move into a home. Even though they couldn’t afford it, he made Renato look. “There was no way I was ever going to live in that!” Renato says, listing the avocado bathroom, shag-pile carpet, ripped-out cornices and plywood kitchen left from an Eighties makeover.
In 2013 the house returned to the market. The owner had died and the three-storey house, with semi-basement and two-storey extension, was in probate. Cosmetically updated only, the roof was leaking and there was rising damp. The garden was in uproar, the basement was three dark rooms and all the old windows threatened to fall out.
A competing buyer’s offer fell through, so Renato and Dave took along their architect friend, James Webster, who advised them of a fair price given the substantial works needed. They put this figure to the vendors and got a deal.
They decided on a two-phase refurb, starting with essentials, which is always best: a new slate roof with big roof lights. The “butterfly” roof had shallow pitches, and since the top-floor ceilings were low, they took them out and insulated the eaves.
An oddity in this house was a stair winding up to nowhere, ready for an extra floor. That went, too. They replaced all the windows with double-glazed timber sashes and decorated the upper floors. A swish marble bathroom is a show-stopper, and the extra height in the bedrooms, paired with remote-control opening roof lights, is great.
But the main work would be the basement, and pushing the extension out for maximum width, space and light.
Like most old houses, the basement had several levels. James, now their architect, said they couldn’t have glazing right across the back because they needed a big central pier to support a huge steel beam across the extension. This became a virtue because James suggested two gigantic pivot windows on to the garden instead, bound in brass. The basement also needed digging down a metre and underpinning.
They went for as much space as possible with everything very high spec. James used reclaimed bricks, lime mortar, tinted zinc for the roof and bespoke guttering, and a lovely quartz-clad kitchen.
When the planner came round (“she looked like Beyoncé, was incredibly chic and knew her stuff,” says Dave), she reviewed the plans at the old kitchen table “and said she loved them”. With plans passed without a hitch, excavation started in summer 2015.
“We’d estimated six months but it took 11,” says Renato. “I came round one day and the entire back of the house was off. That was a shock but the builder said it was normal.”
To save an old wisteria at the front, most rubble was carefully carried out by hand in buckets, which added time and cost. And those pivot windows? They took almost two months to construct and deliver, but make the whole thing.
The only grim moment was when Dave had to manage for a week with no windows or kitchen, in winter, but once the windows went in, that was forgotten.
Now there’s a quarter more space and the lower level is transformed. The street side has a spare double room, next to a walk-in wet room lined with ceramic tiles and a rainwater shower.
The kitchen-diner, white and airy, takes up all the garden side. A walk-in “butler’s pantry” fitted with glossy white cupboards holds fridge, extra oven and loads of storage. As they couldn’t get a double American fridge in by hook or by crook, they sat two uprights alongside, which works well.
Consideration and attention to materials have transformed the whole house. It’s light and clean-lined from top to toe — and, unruffled, the wisteria is still in bloom.
WHAT IT COST
House in 2013: £850,000
Total works: £250,000 (phase I £70,000; phase II £180,000)
Value now: £1.55 million (estimate)
GET THE LOOK
- Architect: James Webster at Alexander Owen Architecture
- First-phase builders: Premium Design Construction
- Second-phase builder: James Dixon at Aldridge Building Services (07967 642534)
- Pivot windows: Contemporary Glazing
- Tinted zinc: from VM Zinc
- Quartz for kitchen island and tops: by Silestone
- Kitchen carcasses: by Howdens Joinery
- Pendant light: “Melt” polycarbonate pendant by Tom Dixon
- Tiles: “Sequoia” wood-effect ceramic tiles used inside and out from suppliers such as Tile Giant
- Paint: washable wall paint from Dulux