WHEN Tom Best bought this Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse in Hackney, London, he was a newly qualified junior doctor bursting with optimism about renovating his first property.
Undaunted by 12-hour working days and the tightest of budgets, he was equally unfazed by the fact the four-storey building had been clumsily divided into bedsits with a 19th-century doctor’s surgery at the front — with an old plate recognising ‘Dr Simpson’ still in situ by the entrance.
Most recently, however, it had been a reproduction Victorian furniture factory and the house behind it had collapsed ceilings, no heating and was, in Tom’s words, ‘a cathedral to Artex’.
Tom bought the house in 1996, but it took six months before he could move in. Even then, he says, it was ‘rather like legal squatting’.
‘It was uninhabitable,’ recalls Tom, now an intensive care consultant. ‘But I could see all the potential. I loved the idea of restoring an old house, though I was pretty naïve at the time. But I’ve have always loved architecture, design and buildings. Discovering the history and the narrative of this house as I stripped it back to the bone was inspiring.’
The once-elegant 2,570sq ft property, built between 1810 and 1820, was an unloved muddle of periods: the windows were boarded up and a 1970s makeover had seen the beautiful staircase covered in plasterboard. The latter fate had also befallen the beautiful marble fireplaces.
Over the years, Tom has carefully righted these wrongs. He’s exposed the fireplaces, repaired and restored the staircase, replaced and remodelled all the original windows and stripped off centuries of boarding and wallpaper (not to mention the Artex) that hid glorious walnut panelling in the hall and Georgian wood panelling higher up in the house.
After he met his future wife Edwina, with whom he now has two daughters, they worked on the house together, creating a lush roof terrace, accessed by French doors from the kitchen.
In a second wave of renovation 13 years ago, they remodelled the former doctor’s surgery at the front of the house, installing a large, pitched glass skylight to create a spacious living room with a double-height ceiling. The original front of the house (now internal) has been restored, including the worn stone steps that led to what was once the front door, and a large arched window, now glassless, which opens into the kitchen.
Other special touches are provided by Tom’s canny salvage expeditions and market purchases. An original chef’s cooker was bought for a bargain in Brick Lane; the stunning stone sink in the kitchen was rescued from a timber yard which once operated from the terraced house next door, and in one of the bathrooms there’s a shower screen adorned with engraved mermaids, which the auction house insisted had belonged to Chris Eubank.
Tom used local businesses and craftsmen for most of the work in the house, which has taken him several years. Today, it’s beautifully restored and adapted for contemporary living, and features the bones and history of the house in a way that is fashionable now, but certainly wasn’t when Tom had his vision.
‘Many people are restoring houses in this way now,’ Tom says. ‘But at the time people thought I was mad.’
There are no lavish wallpapers here. Instead, there are restored floorboards throughout, sealed plaster walls, exquisite wood mantles and coving, and soft white alabaster plaster on the bedroom walls upstairs.
In the kitchen, a wall of concrete adds a contemporary, industrial touch, seamlessly blending with the original features. But this is also a house for modern living. There’s a splendid marble wet room at the rear of the house, with an enormous rectangular bath, and a skylight above it, which can be fully opened so you can bathe under the stars.
The lower-ground floor is now a spacious winter living room while a nearby utility room could function as a second kitchen. ‘The greatest challenge was maintaining momentum on such a large project — keeping the integrity of the historic building while making liveable spaces,’ Tom says.
‘I love the lateral space here — it is unusual in London. You have a Georgian house with its shapes and historic panelling but you can cook in the kitchen and be having a conversation with someone in the front living room 50 feet away.
‘It’s a great property and it’s been great to renovate it in a way that respects its past but provides contemporary living.’
■ £2.35million, themodernhouse.com