Trans­form­ers to the res­cue

Over­haul­ing an ex­ist­ing home is a mon­u­men­tal task, but some­times the most daunt­ing projects pro­duce the most in­no­va­tive re­sults, says Caro­line McGhie

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Property -

Alarge Vic­to­rian house in north Ox­ford that had been di­vided into a dozen or more stu­dent rooms, all pep­pered with bath­rooms, didn’t scare Jeanne Flynn as it would most of us. Hav­ing done up flats in Lon­don, she has an eye for these things. “It was all hig­gledy-pig­gledy, in a ter­ri­ble state, so I knew it was per­fect,” she says. She also knew that the value of a beau­ti­fully done-up house close to the high-per­form­ing Dragon School could ex­ceed £2.5mil­lion. The prop­erty was in the hands of a de­vel­oper who had the plan­ning per­mis­sion and ar­chi­tect’s draw­ings done, but Jeanne had one more re­quire­ment – a base­ment dig-out. She bought the house, suc­cess­fully re­sub­mit­ted the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion and then found a builder whose praises she can­not sing too highly. Robin Sporn, who runs a fam­ily firm, Sporn Con­struc­tion, ar­rived with a doorstep-sized bin­der of all that he would do, what each bit would cost and the dates he would work to. “He said he would come in on time and on bud­get and he was true to his word,” says Jeanne. She gave him a year to do the job, and on the ap­pointed date she moved in with her hus­band, Tim, and their chil­dren, Jack, 16; Chase, 15; Zoe, 13; and Grace, 11. The stu­dents’ rab­bit warren had be­come a highly in­su­lated six-bed­room 21st-cen­tury house with a nanny suite, a den Canny con­ver­sions: from left, Chris­tian Bonard with his bun­ga­low; Jeanne Flynn’s base­ment; Scar­letts Fur­nace and Old Stone Barn in the base­ment and a huge open-plan glazed kitchen and liv­ing space run­ning into a new ex­ten­sion. It was a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion of a house built orig­i­nally by the Univer­sity of Ox­ford in 1870 with­out in­door plumb­ing and with only a gal­ley kitchen. Jeanne has trail-blazed with­out hav­ing the melt­downs and night­mares that the rest of us might have. “I think I am still the only base­ment dig-out in this area,” she says, “but they are start­ing now be­cause peo­ple re­alise that, with prices so high, space is im­por­tant.” Her se­cret was the builder, Robin. She nom­i­nated Sporn Con­struc­tion (sporn­con­struc­tion.com) for a Fed­er­a­tion of Master Builders award, and this week he was named over­all win­ner. Un­usual though it may seem, Jeanne is not alone in prais­ing her builder. Work doesn’t al­ways have to end up cost­ing dou­ble the es­ti­mate. Chris­tian Bonard, for ex­am­ple, bought a di­lap­i­dated Thir­ties bun­ga­low in Wor­ples­don, Sur­rey, with the in­ten­tion of re­mod­elling it. He asked the ad­vice of Ar­chi­tec­turall (ar­chi­tec­turall. co.uk), an un­usual team of ar­chi­tects and builders who un­der­take whole projects in one bite. He had a strict bud­get of £165,000. “There had been so much ne­glect and too many ex­ten­sions, so we thought it would be more cost-ef­fec­tive

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