Client of the Month: Mark and Suki Move In to Their Dream Chelsea Townhouse

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Listed renovation on Cheltenham Terrace

Mark and Suki fell in love with a stripped-out listed townhouse in Chelsea, but it almost got away, a story you can read about in our last interview here. This time, with work complete on their listed renovation, we sat down with Peter to find out how they’re feeling now that their dream home is a reality.

When we last spoke, work hadn’t yet started on the site. What has the journey to completion been like for you and Suki?

Everything went really smoothly.

What was unbelievable was how many details we had to go through. The house had been lived in by the previous owner since the 1970’s and then was bought by a developer who had completely stripped out the house but never went further with the refurbishment. We bought the house off the developer, in this stripped out state. It was a bare shell, a blank canvas.

It wouldn’t have been possible to do a project of this scale without DGA and Galowers, the contractors, who were fantastic. Every pipe, wire, all the fittings, absolutely everything was designed ahead of time.

Of course, there were minor changes as we went along, but most of what we have ended up with is what was in the design documents.

Our biggest challenge was moving the kitchen up from the basement to the floor above, which had never been used as a kitchen and wasn’t designed for it.

We’re used to a small kitchen from our other property, so we knew it was possible, but figuring out how to squeeze in everything we needed without blocking the balcony – which most houses around here build in front of – required loads of meetings.

In the end, we actually made the kitchen smaller. John designed a false chimney breast which projects outwards and formed deep alcoves on either side where things like the fridge could just slide in and disappear.

Because everything is so deliberately placed and fitted perfectly with no wasted space, it creates the illusion of a bigger kitchen. You wouldn’t know the room was actually smaller unless you took out a tape measure.

Did the building’s listed status cause any problems?

Suki and I are big fans of period houses, so we wanted to preserve or restore a lot of its period features, which meant we had little trouble with planning.

We’ve kept the period aesthetic while bringing it up to modern standards. For example, we restored the sash windows throughout, which are now so well balanced you can lift them with a single finger.

Everything we applied for was approved. DGA were enormously helpful in our discussions with the heritage officers. These buildings need to be maintained and modernised sympathetically, otherwise they would just disintegrate – and I think that is the philosophy of the planning officers too.

We’ve extended the life of the building for another hundred or more years and still preserved so much of what was part of the building when it was originally constructed in 1845.

What have you enjoyed most about the house when living in it?

We split our time between London and our house in the countryside, where our daughter is at school. When we do stay here, having the King’s Road at our doorstep and the Thames a short walk away is just perfect.

I think people who live in London all the time can get a bit worn out by the city but we love how busy and vibrant it is here.

Now we have a house that we can and we will live in long term when we move back to London. It’s a very happy house, and our building works have given it a new lease of life.

Now that the project is complete, do you still feel that a renovation was a better choice than buying a complete property?

Absolutely, yes.

When you buy an existing house, there are always certain improvements you want to get around to, but by the time you’re able to do them, you’ve moved out.

Starting from a completely stripped out house forced us to think about absolutely everything, and as a result the entire building is to our tastes.

Finally, what advice do you have for people reading this who are considering a renovation?

Definitely use an architect.

Even if you think you know exactly what you want to do, and even if you think it’s not an obvious architectural project like a new build house, it’s so valuable to have an expert managing the project.

We did a refurbishment a few years ago where we didn’t have anyone managing it for us. It was just so complicated trying to coordinate everything and stay on top of everyone working on it – it all came down to us. It was very stressful.

In this case, even if there were problems, we just had to contact John. In fact, he made a big point of that. Even though it was tempting to approach craftspeople working on the house and ask them to make adjustments, we always went through DGA first to make sure everyone was on the same page.

Another benefit of using an architect is having a budget decided upfront.

With DGA, we knew exactly what the total budget for the renovation was ahead of starting, so there was no danger of the project being more expensive than we expected. So, even with large amounts to pay each month, it fitted into the overall budget which took a lot of the potential stress away.

When we met John, he was very reassuring that the project would be pretty much stress-free. And it was.