Open House

6th October 2017

This Victorian terrace has been renovated to create a light, spacious family home.

Words: Natalie Flaum | Photography: Alison Hammond

Having lived here in the late nineties before moving to Melbourne Australia, to be closer to Andrew’s family in New Zealand, Anja and Andrew relocated back to London ten years ago.

“We missed London as well my parents, who live in Germany,” she says. “By then Lukas was a toddler so we rented a flat in Crouch End while we looked for somewhere to buy, and decided on Harringay as it has good schools and a great community spirit.” We touch on the spelling of the location – is it ‘ay’ or ‘ey’, one ‘r’ or two? – and Anja explains that ‘Haringey’ refers to the borough, while ‘Harringay’ is the particular area she lives in.

In the summer of 2008, Anja’s friend Claudia, joint owner with her husband, of an architectural design practice, accompanied Anja on her initial viewing, the day before Leni was born.

Claudia and Kerem Aksoy guided the couple through a ten-month refurbishment programme, involving a single storey side extension built in the former side return and the installation of central heating.

Demolishing four internal walls and adding a single-storey extension created a spacious open-plan ground floor. A large roof light and folding/sliding doors now ensure that the rear of the house is flooded with natural light. Structural beams concealed within the walls and floor keep the space open and views of the garden uninterrupted.

The ceiling height in the first floor bedroom was raised; window openings for the bedroom and bathroom were enlarged and replacement aluminium windows, which matched the patio doors, were installed.

“This was our first renovation project so having a professional team on board was so helpful to us, and as Claudia and Kerem have children of a similar age, they understood that it would be impossible to sit for three hours and have uninterrupted long meetings with young children around us,” says Anja. “Claudia was great at suggesting various options and assisted with our decision-making. The previous Italian owners had cared for the house since the 1950s and kindly left all their furniture behind. We gave some away and kept a few pieces – one of my favourite items is the religious painting in the living room and I love the 60s red leather chair.”

Using A2studio’s team, the house underwent a total transformation. “We didn’t want anything to obscure our view of the garden so getting the structure right at the rear of the house was the most difficult part of the project,” Anja explains. “The usual debates between the architect, engineer and builders arose but Andrew, being a perfectionist, insisted that all plans were followed to precision and we agreed all costs upfront with our builder.”

The supporting walls on the ground floor were replaced with a steel frame with timber and flitch beams used throughout the rest of the building and designed to allow them to be concealed within the wall or floor zones to keep the visual impact of the structure to a minimum.

“The house was damaged during the war and many original features, such as the fireplaces, had been lost, so we took out all the chimney breasts to create more room and also turned the area beneath the stairs into a downstairs loo,” says Anja.

“The ground floor became open plan with areas for eating, relaxing and playing. Upstairs we raised the ceiling height in Lukas’s bedroom by going up into the loft, and enlarged the windows to the side and rear of the house, fitting them with dark grey aluminium frames at match the new patio doors leading to the garden. Finally, the separate loo and bathroom were combined to create one large family bathroom.”

The couple were lucky that they could remain living at their rented flat while they concentrated on the renovations.

“We didn’t have a car so I walked to the house twice a week to check on its progress. I also remember travelling on the underground with Leni, who was four months old, to a home accessories warehouse I’d read about,” says Anja. “Despite the difficult journey, it was worth going, as that was where I found the tiles for the bathroom floor and Moroccan tiles for the kitchen.”

For the kitchen, Anja used a local firm to source modern units teamed with stainless steel worktops and the rectangular roof light keeps the new dining area with light.

The couple also used upcycled scaffolding boards left over from the build. Anja sanded and treated them with oil, creating a set of stylish kitchen shelves. She also discovered the dining table on a skip nearby and asked her builder to collect it and bring it home, where she had a new tabletop put on it and painted the table legs and base herself.

“Funktional Kitchens were great and came up with the final design, and we purchased all of the appliances there too, except for the Miele washing machine that we shipped over from Australia and stored in our garden shed for two years before finally using it here!” she adds. “When we moved into the house in March 2009 the plastering and decorating were underway. It was a complete mess so we took the children out most mornings, but it was difficult arriving home in the afternoons when they were both tired and the builders were still here but they were great with the children, as was our decorator.”

A new sliding door adjoins the hall to the kitchen, and has been cleverly disguised as a blackboard: the children have fun scribbling on it, and it’s also useful for notes and reminders.

The new living room has a retro vibe with sixties furniture and colourful accessories. Anja discovered the mustard coloured chair on the roadside in Melbourne, and the couple brought it to the UK with them when they relocated. The red leather chair belonged to the previous owners: part of the history of this house. “The painting above the sofa is very special to us from our days living in Australia,” says Anja. “It’s from an Art Fair in Melbourne by an art group called The Blackheart Gang from South Africa – there is an amazing film that goes with the painting.”

Having enjoyed a period of calm, the couple embarked on further work in summer 2011, adding a new loft extension with a concealed staircase entrance behind a sliding door off the first floor landing.

“This gave us a spare bedroom, an office for Andrew and a sewing room for me,” says Anja. “It’s a great space where Andrew or I often sleep, as we’re frequently woken during the night by one of the children, so there’s no hard and fast rule as to where we all settle in the evening.”

The couple have picked up lots of ideas from visiting friends and neighbours in their area. “Our starting point in selecting paint has always been to keep the rooms white to begin with and to see how the light works and introduce colour gradually,” says Anja. “For practical furnishings I love to shop in Ikea and mix items with designer furniture or even retro pieces that I’ve found in local junk shops or even left out on the street. I also like to experiment with painted, wooden and metal surfaces. Living with children, I do try to ensure that the placement of furniture is accessible and cosy for them too. Another interesting visit was to Bakhtiyar at the Oriental Carpet Centre just around the corner, where I learned so much about the quality of Persian rugs. The rug we ended up purchasing is pre-revolution.”

Anja and Andrew are thrilled with their new-look home, which is perfect for family living. “Renovating this house was a really good journey… and the open-plan living space has been great for all of us,” says Anja. “The children used to love playing chase on their trikes [and] we have lots of weekend get-togethers with other families and host summer barbecues, Easter egg hunts and Christmas parties. Some days we have up to seven children here and it feels so cosy and open – I can easily watch them all play in the garden. Yet if we spend the whole day inside we don’t feel closed in, as the house is now both spacious and flooded with natural light.”

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