Owning a listed Georgian house in London comes with responsibilities and limitation. So when, in 2012, interior designer and property developer Georgina David spotted an almost derelict, surprisingly unlisted 1766 brick house in Fitzrovia, she determined to have it.
The house had been badly damaged during the Second World War, which explained its unlisted status. While David had no intention of altering the exterior, except to repair it and replace the rotted Fifties Crittall windows with the correct timber sashes, she did want to make some internal changes.
David, 53, and her husband, Jack, an artist, were living in Primrose Hill with their two adult children. David was studying for a master’s degree at King’s, and an occasional long walk to college took her through Fitzrovia, which is how she saw the “for sale” sign on the dilapidated old wreck. It was a probate sale and David learned that it was shortly going to sealed bids.
At the end of a terrace, the house “was leaning, pulling the terrace with it,” she says. It had a long-derelict workshop at the back, accessed via steps from a tiny, dark, damp yard. The yard was a useless space, and all the levels were awkward. Since the house roof was rotten, plaster had fallen off everywhere. The old basement kitchen was a shambles.
So did David have a survey? “No!” She laughs. “I didn’t need one to see what a terrible state it was in. But I knew it could be fixed.” She and her husband put in a bid, adding a bit extra for luck. There were 27 bidders but David won.
She finished her degree, then looked for an architect. Her family is artistic: her father was an architect and her mother a Vogue illustrator, and since David is currently developing eight units in Kentish town, she had plenty of ideas.
The couple did some sketches, before interviewing five architects. They admired a project nearby that had been done by Graham West and when they met, they got on well.
OUT OF THE DARKNESS CAME LIGHT AND DRAMA
Between them, they hatched an ambitious plan. It began with stabilising the building with a huge concrete slab. Then, to make a modern kitchen in the basement, they planned to fill in the yard and create instead, at a higher level flush with the old workshop at the back, a small interior courtyard for the house, with sliding steel doors to a small external courtyard.
These doors could bring the outside in — or seal it off. A smart idea. Connected to the rest of the house via this glass atrium, the workshop became a modern seating area, full of light and drama, with a view to open sky.
There would be a dining-living area on the ground floor; a dressing room and bathroom on both first and second floors, and an entirely new floor on top, as the master bedroom. They retained the original stairs, plus exposed brick and some Georgian partition walls.
There was a precedent for the extra floor. Along the street, most houses had added an additional level decades before, when planning rules were more relaxed. Graham West, mindful of today’s stricter rules, designed a clever balcony at the back that exactly follows a mansard roofline and “reads” as roof rather than balcony. It hangs from a big powder-coated steel, like the roll bar of a sports car. Getting all that through planning took months. “The planners demanded all sorts of tests,” David explains, “soil tests, asbestos tests…”
But the couple and their architect persevered, and began the build in January 2014. Because of the complexity of the work, it took a year.
“I was on site a lot. At first it didn’t look like a house any more. I could see through from basement to sky. Once I had to abseil down to the basement as there were no stairs. ”
Bit by bit, things came together. For David the most exciting moment was climbing the scaffolding while the extra floor was built. “I stood up there and saw the view we’d have from our new bedroom, all the way to the BT Tower, and thought, ‘This is just going to be magic.’”
This house deservedly scooped best historic intervention in New London Architecture’s Don’t Move Improve! awards this year. From the outside, all you see is a neatly restored Georgian house but this inspiring project shows you can meld old with new, to suit 21st-century living.
WHAT IT COST
House in 2012: £1.45 million
Money spent including architect: £700,000
Value now: £2.97 million
Photographs: Charles Hosea