Rare as it is for first-time homeowners to buy the first property they see, Lois and Guy did just that after viewing their ground-floor flat in Balham. As Victorian properties went, it was pretty uninspiring. The kitchen was buried in the middle of the apartment with doors opening onto a dark side passage; the bedroom was the only room overlooking the garden and the living room was only accessible through the kitchen.
But the addition of a side extension and rejigging of the layout has resulted in a spacious apartment with unusual outlooks and an outside space that’s the perfect suntrap.
If you have plans to extend your house, like Lois and Guy have, we have ideas and advice to help.
The owners Lois Skelding, a qualified interior architect, and her partner, Guy Billinge, construction director for a property developer
The property A two-bed ground-floor flat in a Victorian house in Balham, London
Project cost £86,300
‘I’m quite impulsive and loved it from the start, but Guy had reservations,’ says Lois. ‘The agent wanted us to view another – more expensive – place that had just come on the market, but when we compared the two there was no contest. We particularly liked all the original features and the lovely character of the place. We talked through the possibilities and put in an offer.’ They were the only people interested in the flat and picked up the keys within a matter of weeks. ‘It had been a rental property before we moved in and it hadn’t been modernised,’ Lois adds, ‘so there was plenty of scope for improvement.’
Lois and Guy freshened the place up with a lick of paint and then used their combined experience in interior architecture, design and construction to start planning ways in which the flat could be redesigned to make the most of the space. They were particularly keen to keep the original sitting room fireplace and the beautiful wooden floors, which were tired and unloved.
It took two years to sort out the money and finalise their vision for the changes. It involved a side-return extension and reconfiguration of the layout to create a two-bedroom flat with open-plan kitchen-living room leading to the courtyard garden. The original kitchen and living room would become bedrooms, and the hall wall adjusted to create access to each. Planning permission went without a hitch and the couple found a builder they felt they could trust. Lois and Guy moved into a rented room close by so they could let the work progress as quickly as possible and oversee it on a daily basis.
The internal wall changes were made first and the old kitchen and bathroom stripped out, before the builder moved to the back of the house to start digging foundations beneath the new supporting walls. The exterior wall of the original bedroom was propped and knocked down ready for the insertion of a steel lintel. The brick was then cleaned and reused for the side-extension walls. ‘Fortunately we had a great neighbour upstairs who was very understanding about the noise,’ says Lois. ‘They were also in the process of moving out, so for a large part of the build, the flat was empty anyway.’
Lois and Guy are big fans of steel-framed windows and wanted to use them in the extension, along with a glazed roof, to draw masses of natural light into the open-plan living area. The new space was also fitted with new floor joists, insulation and floorboards. Most of the walls were plastered or skimmed and the new kitchen units and bathroom were fitted. When Lois and Guy moved back in they decorated throughout and furnished with a mix of their existing and vintage furniture to create the fresh, modern look they had always aimed for.
‘We’re both perfectionists and wanted to make sure everything was exactly how we had envisaged it,’ says Lois. ‘We had to be quite creative with certain aspects of the build to get the most out of the space, and we had to be very organised to get the sequencing right so we weren’t waiting around for materials to arrive.’
As a result, Lois and Guy managed to complete the transformation within their allotted timescale and within budget. ‘Our advice to anyone doing something like this would be to do your research, stick to your plans and allow a contingency fund from the outset for any hidden or unexpected costs,’ says Lois. ‘By doing our homework, we saved thousands of pounds while still achieving the style of home we wanted.’