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It’s all about the basement

Ingenious: The new downstairs space opens out to a sunken, Mediterranean  walled garden with a relaxed seating area

CAROLINE WYLD has never shied away from a challenge. The Scottish born mother of three, a former cook and ‘hobby’ property developer, has converted three barns, run a bed and breakfast, and even recently qualified as a Nordic walking instructor.

So, when she bought a 500sq ft, one-bedroom flat with a small cellar in a leafy road in London’s Wimbledon Park in 2014, she was undeterred by the idea of making big changes.

Balcony: The master bedroom overlooks the garden

Where others might have seen a cramped, tired property with creaking stairs down to the garden, Caroline saw an opportunity. Now, after securing planning permission and carrying out a ten-month renovation, she has transformed it into a lavish 1,200sq ft three-bedroom duplex with a glorious, Mediterranean-style walled garden. ‘I bought it with the idea of doubling its size,’ she said. ‘I dug out the basement (an increasingly popular way to add space in areas like Kensington, Chelsea and Mayfair). I was the first flat in this street to do it. It just seemed logical to me. It was a huge help to have Abtech, a basement building specialist firm on board. They dug out and down, from the street and removed about 300 tonnes of earth! I actually lived through a lot of the refurbishment, though I’m not sure I’d do that again.’

Today, the two-storey duplex is a light-flooded glory, with calm grey and cream hues and acres of built-in wardrobes, cupboards and secret storage — including a ‘hidey hole’ cupboard tucked neatly under the stairs on the basement level, that hides state-of-the-art electrics and heating systems (also on an app, so you can order it about remotely) the washing machine and dryer, and a room to hang clothes. On entering the apartment — via an elegant, tiled Victorian hallway — you encounter a large bedroom with ensuite shower room to the left (once the former sitting room), while to the right, Caroline has created a spacious foyer.

Transformation: The master bedroom was once the kitchen

‘People suggested I could have had another room here,’ Caroline said. ‘But it would have defeated the sense of space I wanted to create.’ Portraits of her famous ancestors — including one who was a stalwart of Fortnum & Mason — add grandeur to the walls.

Beyond is a hall that leads to another lavish bathroom (with a sensor light cleverly cut in under the basin, so you never stumble about in the middle of the night) and on to the master bedroom (once a kitchen), where Caroline has extended the original French doors and added a smart balcony and steel stairs down to the garden. There is minimalist spot lighting, beautiful engineered oak floors in soft cream, with a hint of blue, and — most importantly, for a Victorian conversion — solid soundproofing throughout. But it is the expansive basement extension, with its vast, open-plan kitchen and living room, accessed by bespoke pine and steel stairs, which is the triumph here.

The ceiling is an impressive 2.7 metres, with an even higher side return extension housing three Velux windows, while your eye is drawn to the floor-to-ceiling Crittall-style glazed doors (designed by Caroline and Jack Zagozda of Zago Garden Construction) which lead into the garden.

The landscaped garden, with its stone flag paving, is lined with olive trees, rosemary and Viburnum tinus. All that’s missing is the bottle of Chianti. But indoors is simply splendid, too. The large kitchen island and work tops, all bespoke and designed by Caroline, look like polished concrete; they’re actually made from the more lightweight and cost-effective polished plaster.

Hidden features: The savvy kitchen design

A custom-made industrial-style tap is a focal point, but the fabulous secret here is that all appliances — coffee machines, toasters, juicers and so on, are hidden in large cupboards with interior power sockets. ‘Hide and slide’ doors on the oven — which tuck underneath automatically when opened and feature on the Great British Bakeoff ovens — are a deliciously practical touch.

The stone slab flooring hides extensive underfloor heating, while towards the back of the room lies the third bedroom complete with birch-plywood sliding pocket doors to the loo and bathroom, allowing it to function as both an ensuite shower room and guest lavatory. A large window in the bedroom looks into a startling and ultra-modern light well.

Bespoke: Pine and steel stairs. lead to the kitchen

Caroline’s greatest challenge she said, was some less than accurate estimates of pipework that lay in the basement — though Abtech was able to find acceptable solutions. Her delight in her new home, however, is palpable. ‘It’s such a fabulous space to hold parties,’ she confesses, with a smile. Two of her daughters also now regularly come to stay — she suspects because the property is so appealing.

So, why is she selling? ‘Well, with the Nordic skiing business I plan to set up I’ll be spending less time in Britain,’ she says. ‘Though I’ll look for something smaller in the same location.’

Her favourite item in the property, however, a Piet Hein Eek, designer recycled chair, will be going with her. ‘It cost £400,’ Caroline admits, with eyebrows raised. ‘I was too embarrassed to admit I thought that was for a set of four. But I love it!’

Caroline’s flat is for sale at £1.175million through themodernhouse.com