Letting New Light in on a Childhood Home

23rd February 2018

Diana O’Sullivan breathed new life – and light – into the house her parents had owned, reconfiguring the downstairs space to create a spacious kitchen-diner with beautiful garden views and adding a luxury bathroom with stylish lighting and smart storage solutions…

words: natalie flaum
photography: alison hammond

“When I inherited my childhood home, my husband, Michael, thought we should sell it”, Diana recalls. “I simply couldn’t part with it, as my family had been happy living there for more than 60 years. We held our wedding reception at the house and our family had lived in the street longer than any other residents. For me it was a very special house full of wonderful memories and just too precious to sell.”

Michael understood Diana’s strong ties to her family home, located in Muswell Hill, so they started making plans to open up a new chapter in the Edwardian property’s history.
“My parents were great homemakers and my father was an enthusiastic and talented DIYer,” says Diana. “However the house required modernising and updating. When we took down the old kitchen wallpaper we uncovered a message on the wall from him that I photographed to keep.”

The living room had a tiled double fireplace with an old coal fire, while the adjoining kitchen had a sliding door leading to a lobby area and a cloakroom. Diana and Michael decided to reconfigure this dated layout to improve the flow. A new living room would be created at the front of the house, while a more formal dining room would occupy a room at the rear. This meant that the new kitchen-diner would need to be structurally reinforced with a large RSJ running between the original kitchen and living room areas. The couple also planned to bring in more light by installing rooflights above the dining space, with french windows leading out to the garden.

“The garden contained lots of shrubs and tall trees and although this provided privacy, it cast a dark shadow over the kitchen, so careful pruning was done to bring light and space to the area,” Diana explains. “We planned to knock through the living room, lobby and cloakroom and take out the old fireplace and floor-to-ceiling chimneybreast to create a bright open plan kitchen diner.”

The house lay empty for a while until Diana could face the emotional process of selling family items. “I put 500 leaflets through doors advertising our sale and we sold a lot of furniture through auctions, keeping a few pieces. Many neighbours came and bought items which made the whole process less painful.”

Diana decided to salvage as many of the original 1960s kitchen units as possible, thinking that they might appeal to a retro furniture fan, so she had them dismantled. “When someone called round to collect some furniture I had sold on eBay, he told me that he’d recently bought a flat and was looking for a kitchen,” she remembers. “I showed him the original units and said he could take them away at no extra cost – he was thrilled.”

In the meantime, Diana had taken out a mortgage to finance the renovation work and hired architect John Van Rooyen to draw up the plans, which were approved by the local authority. She and Michael lived at their existing home nearby while the build was under way.

For the kitchen design she opted for a local, family-owned company, whom she had used before. “We had hired them to design our previous kitchen and were impressed by the quality of the work,” she explains. “I wanted something timeless, nothing too modern that would date. I planned it very carefully – it took four visits to the showroom and long discussions with the designer/owner to draw up my dream kitchen-diner.”

Eventually Diana chose Shaker-style rounded cabinets, dark granite worktops and painted glass splashbacks. She opted for travertine flooring with luxury underfloor heating for a warm, cosy feel underfoot.

“I wanted two large deep sinks with plenty of room for preparing vegetables – I decided to place the sinks in the island unit so I could look out to the garden or watch TV while I’m preparing food,”she adds. “I also put a mirror on the opposite wall, so I could see the garden reflected in it while I’m washing up.” A keen recycler, Diana searched the internet for pull-out recycling bins, which have been cleverly concealed within the island unit. She read all reviews of appliances online at which.co.uk before she bought anything. She had planned to install eye-level ovens but changed her mind as she thought the internal dimensions were too small, and opted for a more traditional style – a dual-fuel range cooker, which works perfectly in the new space.
Diana also put double-glazing to match the original windows and installed central heating and designed the bathroom herself, mapping out all the elements on paper first and bounced around ideas with her architect. Initially, he had planned to reduce the bathroom size by a quarter, in favour of creating a dressing room, meaning also that there would have been two doors off the main bedroom – one to the dressing room door and one to the ensuite.

“My feeling was that this would stop the flow of the house and upon reaching the top of the stairs you would have faced a wall,” says Diana. “I stuck to my own design choices, going against the architect’s plans, and am really glad I made that decision.”

Although Diana kept an eye on the progress daily, she heaps praise on the help she received from her builder. “He was amazing and took care of everything from the plumbing to electrics to tiling and painting. In eight months the entire house was finished from top to bottom.’

To make better use of bathroom space, she asked her builder to cut bespoke floor-to-ceiling glass panel screens to create a luxury walk-in shower enclosure. “I had a laugh with my builder as I wanted to be able to walk straight through the glass without turning sideways. So we worked out the size of the gap together,” she says. “The walk-in shower is the best thing ever – I’d never go back to using any other type.”

Having seen a lighting idea in a friend’s bathroom, Diana arranged for her builder to install bespoke honey-coloured back painted glass inserts at both ends of the bath. In addition to give a more glamorous feel she also added lights to the side of the bath panel. “When the lights are on the overall effect is just fantastic,” Diana smiles. “I feel luxurious and lucky when I’m in my bathroom and even Michael admits to enjoy having a soak up to his ears in bubbles with the lights dimmed!”

As the project went on Diana realised one big mistake that she had made: not getting the dirty garden work done first. “We no longer have a side entrance, so all the earth had to come out through the house,” she explains. “I didn’t know if we’d have the funds to do the garden so I’d had to prioritise over what was more important the house or the garden. In hindsight, I’d say get the heavy work done first.”

Diana is full of pride at the transformation she’s achieved in her old home. “I’ve tried to do everything with a lot of love – it’s an honour and a privilege to live here,” she says. “Among my most treasured possessions from my parents are my mother’s porridge spoon, her mixing bowls and glassware and the side table that my father bought home from Burma during the Second World War. I hope my parents would have liked what has been done here. Michael didn’t see the house until it was finished and when he recently told me that he loves living here it brought a tear to my eye.”

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