Client of the Month: How James & Jo Turned a Cramped Townhouse into the Perfect Family Home

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

James and his wife Jo found a house with the ideal location, but its interior was anything but: cramped and dark with an awkward layout which was no good for their two energetic daughters. With our help, they began a transformational renovation.

What’s the story behind your house?

We wanted to move to Maida Vale to be close to where our two children go to school, but it was difficult to find a good house which didn’t need to have work done to it.

When we found this place, I was eager to move in and thought we could fix it up ourselves over time – as we had done before – but we didn’t quite realise how much work we would need to do to get the house into shape.

After a year in the house, it became clear that the scale of the works would require us to move back out again and seek help from a professional architect, especially as we wanted to move back in before the new school term started in September.

What were your main objectives for the renovation?

Most important to us was opening up the house. The interior had a strange, cramped layout which didn’t work very well at all – it had no flow.

This might not have been an issue for the prior owners who worked from home and didn’t have children, but it wasn’t at all suitable for a family home that we intend to live in for many years.

We’re also in the Maida Vale Conservation Area, so we were quite restricted in terms of planning and how much we were able to extend. We would have to make the house feel bigger without significantly extending the floor area.

Right away, DGA found opportunities to increase space by stripping back the ceilings, which had been lowered by 15-20 cm to fit in enormous spotlights, while bespoke joinery could fill in previously unused spaces for seating and storage.

We would also renovate the attic to make space for a spare room and convert the lower ground floor into an open plan kitchen and living area with an extension backing out onto the garden.

Overall, the increase in floor area was under 150 square foot, but the house feels much, much larger thanks to the remodelling of the layout from small rooms into open, bright spaces.

What were the challenges and the benefits of doing a renovation?

We had done some of our own renovations before where we carried out most of the work ourselves, so this was our first time doing a big project with a full suite of consultants and designers. It was a new experience for us.

The main challenge was trying to visualise how it was going to look. We had lived in the house for a year but the layout – on the lower ground floor especially – was going to be so different that it wasn’t until the structural works were complete that we really had a sense of the space.

One of the biggest benefits of working with DGA was their recommendation that we use Galowers, who are outstanding contractors, very good at fixing things on the fly. All the neighbours said, “Your builders were great, they were really nice!”

I also need to celebrate Blakes London, who did the joinery. Their work in kitchen and master bedroom shaped the feel of the spaces, with seamless designs installed with millimetre precision which perfectly complements the architectural works.

John Rookyard and Michael Gwynn did a great job liaising with Galowers and Blakes to keep the project running smoothly, and it was completed comfortably before our September deadline.

Are your children enjoying the new house?

The girls love it. Our eldest daughter’s bedroom used to be the previous owner’s study, a very masculine room with black ash fitted shelves and deep red walls and ceilings. It didn’t suit her at all.

So it’s been a huge change for her to have that all stripped out to become a big, white room with fitted furniture and plenty of space – enough for a double bed.

That’s just one example of the work that has been put into turning the house back into a proper family home with all the interior features that these period properties are supposed to have.

And what about you and your wife?

It’s funny, you spend months designing a kitchen but when you actually move in your concerns become simple things like, “Where do the baked beans go?” Learning new routines and getting used to a space takes time, but it’s a fun process.

We’re also slowly adjusting to having so much more space than we’re used to. Weirdly enough, the place where we’ve spent the most time has been the playroom. We haven’t quite got used to the upstairs living area – mostly because we don’t have anywhere near enough furniture!

After moving from a much smaller house and then staying in another small house while the work was being done, we need to slowly build up our furniture and art collection to fill all the new space we have.

It feels a bit big at the moment, but I know it’s going to shrink once our children are teenagers. At that point we’ll appreciate everyone being able to have their own space.

What advice do you have for someone reading this who’s considering a similar project?

Prepare yourself for a huge volume of decision making throughout the project. It was much more than we expected, even after detailing quite a lot during the tender process.

You also need to keep up your stamina. At the beginning, the project feels like it’s moving very fast because big changes are happening: walls are being knocked down and new structures are being built.

But then the second half is intricate, detailed work which takes a lot of time in order to achieve a high level of polish. Progress feels like it slows to a crawl.

Fatigue can set in at this stage and you might want to rush through the decisions, but that’s when you need to concentrate the most because those final details really stand out when you move in. It’s all worth it in the end.