By astutely saving up for over a decade, Chris and Linda Anderson had the time and money to re-configure their 1930s London semi to be exactly how they wanted, including a dramatic blend of indoor and outdoor
TEXT KAREN WILSON IMAGES ODC DOOR & GLASS
Taking their time has paid dividends for Chris and Linda Anderson, who were able to fastidiously plan every single element of their home extension, resulting in a relatively stress-free build.
“I wouldn’t change anything, as we spent such a long time planning and putting together mood boards,” says Chris, who has a furniture making start-up after working in the fashion industry for many years. “We even have a dedicated power socket for the Christmas tree – that’s the level of intricate detail we’re talking about.”
After their daughter was born in 2004, the couple wanted to move from their Victorian terraced house in Haringey, north London, to a more family friendly home – even though it was a big step up financially. Their search area was wide, encompassing London and also Hertfordshire where they grew up. Eventually they found a four bedroom 1930s semi in north London that fitted the bill. “It was a probate sale and had been on the market a while,” says Chris. “But it had a garage, decent sized loft and lots of scope to re-jig the interior layout in future. We particularly loved the 90 ft rear garden which fans out, giving the opportunity for a future extension that would still leave ample garden space.”
Built by its original occupant, Chris and Linda were only the third owners and inherited a very dated interior. However they were in no rush to dive into major work straight away so initially focused on smaller quick fixes and cosmetic changes to make the house liveable. “We didn’t want to end up in debt for the rest of our lives but didn’t want to compromise either,” he explains. “So we decided if we can’t do it the way we want, we’ll just wait.”
To begin with, a wall was knocked down between the tiny kitchen and dining room, timber bi-folds were installed to replace the old metal sliding doors, and the hall carpet was ripped up to reveal the original oak parquet flooring. Moving the recessed side door out by three feet was another no-brainer, in order to make the outside toilet inside, and the greenhouse and pond were removed for safety.
During the intervening years, the couple saved up and made overpayments on their offset mortgage to gather the funds for a much more ambitious extension. This thinking time proved invaluable to solve the house’s flaws. “There was plenty of natural light through the stained glass windows at the front, but the north-east facing rear was crying out for more,” says Chris. “As there was no way of doing a sympathetic extension, we had to create a new modern aesthetic at the rear while keeping the front untouched.”
Since it’s a sloping site, the kitchen diner is at street level from the front door but opens out onto a raised terrace with basement storage at the rear. “There was no link between the house and garden, just stairs down from the terrace,” says Chris. “So as we wanted to extend the kitchen diner by about three metres, it made sense to create an additional basement level family room with direct access to the garden, otherwise it would have just been a huge void beneath. We didn’t need to dig underneath the house, which reduced costs significantly and meant we could retain the cellar storage.”
After seeing several architects, Chris chose Ana Alonso, who was recommended by a friend. “The first architect we saw was going to charge £3,000 to sketch some rough ideas before we’d even decided who to work with,” says Chris. “Ana was happy to work collaboratively, didn’t seem to have the big ego that a lot of architects do, and had a good relationship with the local planners. She also worked with a structural engineer to ensure our ideas were feasible.”
As both neighbours had set a precedent by extending, the planning process was pretty smooth. The only tweaks were a slight reduction in volume at the rear. “Our basement family room was originally going to fan out with a diagonal back wall, but in retrospect it would’ve been a mistake as the TV would have been pointing at a weird angle,” says Chris. And when the planners didn’t want a wraparound terrace which could overlook the neighbours on one side, Ana suggested roof lights for the basement down that side, trumping Chris’s idea of a living roof.
In March 2018, Strong Base Construction began work on the steel and block two-storey rear extension. “We naively thought we’d be able to live in the house, because we’d managed it when initially knocking a wall down,” says Chris. “However when they started smashing holes in the walls for the steels on the first day, we realised it was a bad idea and very quickly found a rental property 10 minutes away so I could be onsite every day.”
Unfortunately the main challenge came early on and was completely unexpected. “When rear excavations began, they discovered an excessively large three metre deep slab of reinforced concrete,” says Chris. “An underground stream appeared soon after, which was diverted to the main drainage with a sump pump, and extreme tanking was needed.”
The house’s energy efficient credentials have also been boosted with extra insulation, and a new ‘mega flow’ combi boiler in the garage which powers the wet underfloor heating in the new rooms and a Heatmiser remote controlled zonal heating system. A wood burning stove was also fitted in the kitchen diner by specialist company Ash & Embers. “We considered a wood burner in the basement too, but if we’d had both on at the same time, the house would’ve become a furnace,” says Chris. “In the future though, I’d like to have have solar panels on the dormer and maybe a ground source heat pump.”
To ‘futureproof’ the house, Cat 6 internet cabling has also been installed, along with a surround sound system in the basement. “It’s easy to run wires around the room when you’re building new walls,” he says.
Thanks to past experience working for his family’s construction business, Chris was able to fit the kitchen and bathrooms himself as well as laying flooring. As the kitchen and diner were flipped around, they were able to fit a range cooker in the chimney breast, although this was remodelled three times based on their changing requirements. A big American style fridge freezer was another must-have, but Chris sourced a surround kit so it wouldn’t stick out.
“Having fitted about 20 kitchens I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “So we built a makeshift kitchen out of cardboard boxes, trestles and bits of wood to get a feel for it first. Then we chose solid oak fronts from a local company, keeping it simple and robust with no fancy pull-out corner units that could break. My daughter’s quite proud that she chose the style and colour.”
When it came to revamping the family bathroom, Chris and Linda kept the existing 1980s bath and sink as a homage to the house. “We quite liked the champagne colour, so had a shower tray made to match and added modern fittings,” says Chris.
In October 2018, work began on phase two – a hip to gable loft conversion so the house wouldn’t be too ‘bottom heavy.’ “We knew the original roof was falling apart and had ummed and ahed about converting the loft and replacing it,” says Chris. “But it wasn’t until half way through the main build that we realised the tiles could easily fall off and damage the glazing. That gave us the motivation to do it sooner.”
Having driven around the local streets looking for loft conversions in progress, Chris came across TLC who built the shell, while he sourced the glazing, staircase and ensuite fittings.
Once the eight week project was underway though, the couple decided to alter the layout. “We were originally going to have the bedroom across the whole width of the dormer at the rear, with the bathroom at the front,” he says. “However that would have meant having a sloping ceiling in the bathroom, which I’ve always found annoying. As the view was phenomenal and we’re not overlooked, we decided to move the ensuite to the rear and give it a full height window instead. We use a bedroom on the floor below as a dressing room instead of having walk-in wardrobes to keep the bedroom space as open as possible, and our old master is now a proper guest bedroom.”
Chris believes using a specialist loft company was about half the price of a standard builder, although it was essential to be onsite to oversee the various tradespeople. “I couldn’t fault them in the slightest, but trying to communicate the idiosyncrasies of my design was quite challenging as it’s so fast-paced,” he explains. “The first fit, second fit and third fit teams are all going from one project to another, so even though you’ve explained to the first team exactly what you want, the second team doesn’t always know that.”
Throughout the project, Chris and Linda were careful to blend old and new, incorporating several features that differentiate the build from a typical flat pack add-on. For instance they commissioned a replica of the original staircase up to the loft and had the dado rails reproduced to create the illusion that the new top floor had always been there.
They also painted the original wooden windows to match the new aluminium ones, and decided on an exposed brick wall which runs alongside the staircases on the bottom two floors. “We saw something similar at the stable block spa at Babington House in Somerset, and thought it looked fantastic,” says Chris. After much research, they settled on reclaimed Victorian red bricks with lime render rather than standard neat pointing, and this was repeated on the opposite wood burner wall to link the two spaces together.
“The tradesman couldn’t believe it when we asked him to slap the render on roughly, so it looks like someone’s ripped the plaster off,” says Chris. “The end effect works really well, as it makes the house feel more solid and grounded rather than a huge plasterboard box.”
One of Chris’s favourite features though is the low profile sliding doors by ODC Door & Glass that lead the eye out to the garden. “I had become frustrated with the timber bi-folds we’d initially installed, as you get a huge chunk of door to one side,” says Chris. “You get better sight lines with sliding doors as there’s more glass and less frame. The products we chose are fantastic and very competitively priced.”
Work was completed just a few weeks later than anticipated in January 2019, and the end result is a well balanced five bedroom home which still has a large garden. “Without the previous terracing, it actually appears larger,” says Chris. “And we’ve managed to level and turf the remaining space, with some heavy tarred sleepers acting as a retainer. I also like how the front of the house gives no hint as to what’s in store when you walk through.”
Although the kitchen diner is the hub of the house, in the evenings the family are still drawn to the original front sitting room. In summer they spend more time in the basement room, where the occasional fox or magpie will often saunter in through the open doors.
However it’s the loft bedroom, which Chris describes as a “revelation.” He admits, “If we’d done it straight away, we probably wouldn’t have been so bold with the larger portions of glass, which is what really makes it” Chris concludes: “I’d happily do another project tomorrow as I enjoyed the process so much, but I’m hoping this will be our forever home.”