room for improvement
Kate Cooper and husband Andy revamped their higgledypiggledy home, creating open-plan spaces and relaxing corners
Creating large open-plan spaces to suit modern family living was the number one priority in this Berkshire property
best buy ‘The wooden breakfast bar stools are by Russell Pinch, made as a prototype for Benchmark. I bought them in its warehouse sale for a bargain’
When Kate Cooper was on maternity leave with her newborn son, Sam, it became very apparent that the family really needed room to grow. Kate was toying with what would have been a disruptive extension in the townhouse she was living in with her husband, Andy, their two-year-old daughter, Penny, and baby Sam. Then a chance meeting with an estate agent set her on a different path.
‘Initially this house was described as being 1970s and needing a lot of work,’ says Kate. ‘But I was intrigued and popped to see it without telling Andy. When I saw the site, I realised it offered much more potential than our current house. It was an ample size, but the orientation didn’t feel right. However, there was plenty of scope for development. For example, the front, south-facing garden was not being utilised due to a drive cutting across it.’ But taking on the challenge proved successful. ‘It was definitely the right move,’ says Kate. ‘The house has grown with us. When we moved in Penny, now 12, was a toddler, Sam, now 10, a baby and Rosie, now 6, not even born. She ended up toddling her way through what became a building project, five years after moving in.’
Kate, who is director of architectural practice Absolute Architecture, and Andy wanted the house to work as a relaxed home, where they didn’t need to be too precious and the children could use all areas. ‘Our idea was to have big, light, open and social spaces with no barriers, but also some private spaces to retreat to,’ explains Kate. ‘ We did originally plan the layout so that we could install glazed screens between the hall and kitchen, but we love the openness. The house is in such a
d e s i gn t i p ‘Keep an overall palette fairly consistent and use accessories to highlight and contrast. You can always change or move pieces if you get bored’
private location that we didn’t need the usual formalities of a hall either. I think the openness and double-height entrance space are unique, bringing in plenty of light and allowing us to give the house an overall contemporary look. It has also worked as a great way to connect the house to the garden.’
As well as maximising space and light, Kate factored in sustainability upgrades into the overall design. ‘ We insulated the house externally and it makes an amazing difference to the comfort level,’ she explains. ‘ We then kept things simple with the decor. The small details became really significant – light switches and radiators are all prominent visually, so we wanted to get those right. A big success was the lighting control system in our open-plan areas. It’s brilliant to have all the lights set at the push of a button. Our huge coat cupboard was also a good idea – we have a whole wall of shoe and bag shelves. The big lesson we learnt is not to compromise too much and take your time to get what you want. We’ve taken 10 years in total to finish the project but we’ve done it at a relaxed pace, as and when we can.’
Kate loves the simplicity of Scandinavian design, in particular the sense of craftsmanship. So she has stuck to a simple palette and filled the house with things she has collected over the years. ‘Some are new, some junk shop finds and some pieces passed down from my Welsh grandparents,’ she explains. ‘I like the sense of history and quirkiness that these things add.
‘I love lots of domestic 1950s architecture,’ she continues, ‘ including Scandinavian and British, for its use of natural materials and intention to create houses that really work. We have added a few glamorous touches for a bit of fun but tried not to be too consciously on trend. Ultimately, we want this house to remain a timeless classic.’
‘if you’re about to revamp your property, write a detailed brief of how you want to live in your house. use this to advise an architect who can help you realise your dream by turning those words into spaces. Style is the result of good design, not
something pre-conceived. Modern design
does not necessarily mean that everything
has to be sharp and shiny – contemporary
style is often at its most beautiful when
executed using soft, traditional materials. if you’re starting from scratch, consider offsite construction. Whether it’s completely or partially built offsite, it can help with costs, sustainability and speed.
Good ideas for a modern style can come
from anywhere – what about that art
gallery you visited in the summer with
the great staircase? You can take an idea
you liked and use it in your home. Being eco-conscious is not all about being clever – it’s about doing sensible things well. For instance, when building a new wall or roof, why not put in an extra 20-50mm of insulation? it will not cost the earth but will save on heating. it’s better to do things once and do them well. Build things to last.’ JUDE Tugman, managing director, Architect Your home
profe ssional a dvice
SITTING ROOM Vintage furniture and a collection of colourful ceramics give this area a retro look. FB2 double-sided woodburning stove, £2,280, Firebelly Stoves. Flos glo-ball pendant light, £321, heal’s. the Lars accent chair in Diego grey, £399,...