There’s room for ev­ery­one

A fam­ily of four ate in shifts in their onebed­room flat. Space was a dream found in a run­down Vic­to­rian ter­race wait­ing for them in west Lon­don. By Philippa Stock­ley

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - ES Homes and Property - - Front Page - Pho­to­graphs:: Juliet Mur­phy

THE morn­ing af­ter Max de Rosée and his wife Claire Sa bought their first house, they woke up to head­lines scream­ing prop­erty crash and won­dered what on earth they’d done.

But they forged ahead and turned a tired old Vic­to­rian ter­race into a vi­brant fam­ily home. Now, its mix of mod­ern ele­gance, with bags of stor­age and good money-sav­ing ideas is a win­ner. And the good news is that Bel­gian Max and his half-Por­tuguese wife Claire’s for­mula will work for any home, what­ever the size. In small spa­ces, pack­ing in stor­age is the most im­por­tant thing of all.

The cou­ple, both ar­chi­tects, knew this bet­ter than any­one, hav­ing taken the ma­jor leap into a house from a cramped one-bed­room flat, which they shared with their two lively tod­dlers. Trans­form­ing the new house also helped their ar­chi­tec­tural busi­ness take off — their es­tate agent was so im­pressed with what they did that he showed peo­ple look­ing to buy in the area, which led to work.

The cou­ple, both now 41, met at Ed­in­burgh univer­sity and mar­ried in 2005. They first lived in Claire’s one-bed­room flat in west Lon­don and worked for dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tec­tural firms. Chil­dren be­gan to ar­rive: Louis, now 10, was born in 2006, and Harry, nine, in 2008 — fol­lowed later by Madeleine, six, and Joe, four.

The fam­ily of four were crammed into the small flat. “We ate in shifts, you could only fit two plates on the ta­ble,” says Claire. Do­ing her job with tod­dlers around was a chal­lenge, so she be­gan work­ing from a desk in the bed­room.

Max de­cided to join her and they set up their own com­pany. It was def­i­nitely time to look for a house, with room to work from, too.

In west Lon­don’s maze of Vic­to­rian streets, they spot­ted a ter­race house where the owner had raised six chil­dren. “It had good bones, but was very tired,” Max says, de­scrib­ing a tall Vic­to­rian house of three storeys with a base­ment lead­ing to a walled gar­den.

A path ran down one side and there was a two-storey dog-leg ex­ten­sion at the back for bath­rooms. “There was tons of in­ter­est and it was way over our bud­get,” Claire adds. But they loved it. Then, un­ex­pect­edly, the owner took it off the mar­ket. Up­set, the cou­ple wrote, ask­ing her to re­con­sider — and she did.

“The day af­ter we bought it, when the front-page head­lines said, ‘Prop­erty Crash’, we re­alised we’d bought right at the top of the mar­ket,” Max says wryly. “But luck­ily, in­ter­est rates soon went down, which helped.”

Still in their lit­tle flat, they drew up plans. The prin­ci­ple work would be on the lower floor, where they would dig down a me­tre to in­crease ceil­ing height and push out at the back, mak­ing a roomy space end­ing in slid­ing glass doors to the pretty gar­den. They would also push out side­ways, claim­ing the foot­path, to make a util­ity room and loo un­der the stairs and much more width to the kitchen/din­ing area, plus a bike stor­age shed at the front. It’s sur­pris­ing what just four feet can add.

At the front, they would turn a small front room into their of­fice and tank the coal hole to cre­ate a handy, two-sided hang­ing closet lead­ing, like Nar­nia, to a proper bath­room tucked in be­hind. Now they needed a builder. Ev­ery day on her way to work, Claire passed a build­ing site. “They all had mous­taches and looked Por­tuguese,” she says. “I was im­pressed with what they were do­ing, so I went and talked to them.”

Her hunch was right: she found their trusted builder — not only for their home, but for sub­se­quent jobs.

Now, the lower space has be­come fo­cus of fam­ily life; one big, airy ro its light dou­bled by a gen­er­ous skyl Good value MDF, routed like ton and-groove, smartens the kitchen is

e from Ikea units which are topped thick Car­rara mar­ble. e cou­ple like their mar­ble with a few ks and scuffs. “It’s used for the tops or­tuguese bars,” Max says. “They tantly get bashed, yet they al­ways good.” At the back, a com­fort­able sit­ting area, heated by a wood­burn­ing oven, has a wall of tongue-and-groove floor-to-ceil­ing MDF doors that fold back to re­veal a tele­vi­sion, plus plen­ti­ful stor­age ei­ther side.

Cad­dies for all the fam­ily’s train­ers are by the side door and box-seats with lift- ing lids hold more stuff. Be­spoke box seats, re­peated through­out the house, are an easy-to-do and el­e­gant look that you can just throw things into.

On the raised ground floor, they sim­pli­fied florid cor­nices and built clever book­cases- cum- ra­di­a­tor cov­ers into the al­coves. Claire ex­plains that iron ra­di­a­tors are ex­pen­sive, but you can box in cheap ones very eco­nom­i­cally. They’ve also done that in the hall, form­ing a con­sole ta­ble.

DE­SPITE the airy ele­gance of this house, there are plenty of con­scious money-sav­ing, sen­si­ble de­ci­sions. A muchloved area is the walk- in bath­room/dress­ing room off the cou­ple’s bed­room and wear on the floor­boards tes­ti­fies to the con­stant dash of lit­tle feet.

The bath and dou­ble basins run down one side — with shal­low pull-out draw­ers even un­der the sinks, which is smart; that handy space is so often wasted, Claire ex­plains.

Full-height cup­boards run right down the op­po­site side ( what would you ex­pect?) — yet the end pair of doors ac­tu­ally opens to an en­closed loo, so that the whole fam­ily can wash to­gether and there’s still pri­vacy. An­other good idea.

This house works well and looks stylish — no mean feat with three boys and a girl tear­ing about, and a fifth on the way — “so many train­ers!” Claire says — but the com­bi­na­tion of uni­fied, un­fussy de­sign, plus well-con­sid­ered stor­age for in­nu­mer­able things, keeps it serene.

Gar­den view: Max de Rosée and Claire Sa at their west Lon­don home. Above, a sky­light and slid­ing glass doors flood the din­ing area with light

Bright idea: the sisal stair run­ners are both at­trac­tive and hard-wear­ing

Lived in: Max says of the Car­rara mar­ble work­top: “It’s used for tops in Por­tuguese bars. They con­stantly get bashed” Stor­age is key: nifty built-in shelves, cup­boards and boxes are ev­ery­where in this house full of young chil­dren

Boxed off: cheap ra­di­a­tors were hid­den with be­spoke cov­ers

It’s an il­lu­sion: MDF and mar­ble hide Ikea kitchen units

Breath­ing space: French doors lead from a study area

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