WHEN Matt and Charlotte bought their three-storey, four-bedroom Victorian house in west London, they recognised its potential as the perfect family home.
It had glorious original features — double reception rooms, an open fireplace and beautifully crafted cornicing around the ceiling of almost every space.
But the ground floor — home to the kitchen — had low ceilings and felt cramped and somewhat gloomy. There was plenty of space, but it was disconnected from the rest of the house, with the living areas split in a discordant fashion between the two lower floors.
‘It was very dark, even on a sunny day,’ says Charlotte, a nutritionist. ‘It simply wasn’t welcoming. Matt had an idea of how he wanted to open up the back of the house. But we lived here for a year and a half to get the feel of the place before we did anything about it.’
Matt’s vision was finally realised by award-winning architect Duncan McLeod of Studio McLeod, who transformed the dark and cramped spaces of the ground floor to create a light, open layout, with a double-height ceiling at the back, linked by large glass sliding panels leading on to the deck and into the leafy garden.
This is a highly creative extension/conversion. There are now two links to the raised ground floor — the traditional staircase from the hallway and a second set of stairs to a stunning mezzanine floor, accessed from the open-plan kitchen.
Here, there’s a study, a library and a quiet sheepskin-lined snug with a view to the garden — and the sunset — through large windows. The mezzanine also links, through French doors, to the traditional double reception area (the Blue Room, as Matt and Charlotte call it).
Painted Stiffkey Blue, this is now a cosy interior lined with the couple’s family paintings and photographs and housing a piano on which Charlotte learned to play when she was a child. The contrast to the white and taupe hues used in the rest of the house — and the new kitchen extension — is dramatic, perfectly linking the old with the new.
On the back wall of the living room, Duncan also created a skylight to maximise the light, designed to reflect the style of the original sash window at the front of the house.
Back in the kitchen, which has become Matt’s haven, stained-oak floors maintain a feeling of warmth, despite the ultra-modernity of the new space, which is both vast and flooded with light. The lower-ground floor was pushed out into the garden by 3.5m and an infill extension was created at the side — originally an L-shaped part of the garden — to increase it from 67sqm to 91.5sqm.
It’s so spacious that the couple’s oldest child, Lily, aged five, learned to ride her first bicycle indoors. Isaac, three, will almost certainly do the same.
There are asymmetrical skylights in the ceiling near the doors to the garden, creating a magical sculptural effect, which changes with the light at different times of the day. ‘It’s designed to be rather like clouds,’ Duncan explains.
At the front of the lower ground floor, a family room with its own entrance can be closed off, while interior shutters and a shower room and loo have been added. There are only minor alterations to the first floor (home to three bedrooms and a family bathroom), but the top floor has been renovated to become the couple’s bedroom suite. There’s a large walk-in closet, a sumptuous, egg-shaped freestanding bath and a bed that faces the French windows, affording uninterrupted views of the garden. The bed head doubles as bookshelves, allowing the bed to sit seamlessly in the middle of the room.
The rooms can be divided by a series of sliding doors, which allows each section of the suite to be closed for greater privacy. When they’re open, however, you can lie in the bath and see through to the garden.
Talking of the project, Duncan adds: ‘In each home we try to create a transition from the stress of the outside world to the comfort and tranquillity of the home. This has been designed like a Chinese puzzle, to create a series of surprising moments.
‘I think the bedroom suite feels rather like being on holiday. It’s a perfect city-country blend.’
Charlotte says: ‘Matt had great vision. And Duncan realised it. The result has been way beyond our expectations. Before, I disliked going downstairs, bow we spend most of our time there. It’s affected our lifestyle and my mood. I just love the space and light — and with the range of natural colours it all feels very sculptural, very subtle. ‘The top floor is wonderful, too. We never used to spend much time in our bedroom, but now the children pile into our bed on the weekends and we watch the birds out the window.
‘We live on a busy road — and I’m very aware of that. But the extension has given us tranquillity; a real haven. I still dream of a house in the country and one in the city. But this does give us the best of both worlds — for the moment.’
■ For more information about Duncan’s work, visit studiomcleod.com
Don’t move, improve! awards
You can see all the winners at an exhibition at the New London Architecture Galleries at The Building Centre, Fitzrovia, until March 29.
NLA will also be holding a series of free Design Surgeries offering advice to Londoners looking to extend their homes.
The first surgery of the year is on February 25. Find out more at newlondonarchitecture.org/designsurgeries