IT’S JUST AN ILLUSION
A beguiling, architect-designed contemporary interior has been created behind a traditional Victorian facade
When Lizzie and Joe Fraher’s next door neighbour said he was moving and did they want first refusal on his house, they jumped at the chance. The couple had been living in an adjacent flat for seven years, and with two young daughters, lack of space had become an issue.
‘We couldn’t believe our luck when we got the offer,’ says Lizzie. ‘We loved the Victorian two-up two-down terrace, one of a row of workers’ homes built at the end of the 19th century, and we’d had our eye on it for some time.
‘The timing was perfect for us as it meant we could stay in a location we’d grown to love and, as architects, Joe and I could showcase our talents while creating our dream family home.’
Excited about the project ahead, the couple started drawing up ambitious and innovative renovation plans, and by the time the house sale was completed in April 2015, they were ready to start.
‘We were used to working on this style of house at our architects’ practice – you see them all over London – but one of the big attractions was that the original layout was intact. There was no need to undo previous renovation work, and the blank canvas meant we could really push the boundaries with our design,’ says Lizzie.
First of all, the couple stripped out the entire house, knocking down interior walls and the chimney breasts, and even removing the floors so that only the façade remained. ‘Before we started work, the house was gloomy and the rooms small. There was little storage space and a dark, straight stairwell with no natural light led up to the first floor,’ says Lizzie. ‘We wanted to transform it into an open-plan four-bedroom space with lots of hidden storage, which would work for modern family living and be full of light. The intention behind removing the floors was to create generous floor-to-ceiling height in the attic area where we were putting in two bedrooms and a bathroom. We didn’t want people to have to stoop under low ceilings, so we replaced the original timber boards with a sunken concrete floor, which gave us an extra half a metre of floor height to play with.’
One of the stand-out features of the property is the staircase, which Lizzie and Joe decided to position diagonally. ‘Instead of having a dark staircase going straight up to the first floor, we have a turning staircase bisecting the house diagonally. This meant we could make use of the original window positions allowing light to flood in to the staircase area. And we could create equal-sized bedrooms on the first floor. I’m really proud of the office in the dead space on the landing. It’s light and airy and I love using it.’
The kitchen is the heart of every home and Lizzie and Joe have made full use of the space here, installing bifold windows by the sink instead of doors. ‘We have bespoke units from
Shape London, and the one beneath the window acts as a sort of kitchen island so you can pass food outside. This way we get extra worksurfaces for food preparation while still being able to open up the back of the house. It’s lovely on warm days when the windows are folded back and the pivot door is open because the garden becomes another room. It’s perfect when we have barbecues for friends and family.’
An important consideration for the couple was to create areas for their girls. ‘As well as a playroom we’ve added lots of little hidden play stations on all the other floors. Kids love coming over to our house. Not surprisingly, when friends come to visit, they’re left openmouthed at the scale of the renovation. ‘We’ve produced a sort of visual key so everyone can see what parts of the house are original and which are new,’ says Lizzie. ‘We’ve got markers pointing out the level of the original floors and we’ve got a painting showing the location of the former staircase.
‘All the old walls have a plaster and paint finish but we’ve clad all the new features in Douglas fir plywood, which is renewable, organic and so soft and tactile. It almost looks like wallpaper and wraps its way up through the house. We’ve used polished concrete throughout the ground floor and vinyl on the upper floors so we wouldn’t need to have fussy thresholds. It all adds to the illusion of yet more space.’
No modern house would be complete without addressing its carbon footprint. As well as timber-framed double-glazing and heavy insulation, a solar hot array system has been installed to give the family free heated water through the summer.
‘My favourite feature is the wild-flower garden we’ve put on the first-floor flat roof,’ says Lizzie. ‘Not only does it disguise a boring, grey roof, but the flowers attract butterflies and bees. I absolutely love standing and looking out at it when it’s in full bloom.’
The work was completed in just 10 months and the family love it. ‘We have so much to enjoy here,’ says Lizzie. ‘We knew we had to really go for it and I hope we’ve shown what can be achieved. It’s a sociable house, and we’ve got so much storage I have cupboards that are still empty after two years living here. We’re very lucky.’
KITCHEN AND DINING SPACE The unusual window above the sink is a bifold while the door to the garden works on a pivot. Lizzie and Joe upcycled the Habitat table and painted it pink
HALLWAY Inventive storage makes the most of every inch of space in the hallway, while all the timber floors have been lowered to introduce more height. The levels of the original floors create a design feature on all the walls