Ten years ago, our clients Simon and Aurelie moved into their new family home in Wimbledon, South West London. They had embarked on a journey to find a derelict property and transform it into their ideal home. The process started a few years before as it took some time to find and buy the site and, crucially, get planning permission.
A decade is a long time, and we wanted to find out how the property worked out. Had our design ideas hit the spot and, in hindsight, what would they have done differently?
I got in touch with the couple for the first of our House Refurbishment Revisited series, and here’s what they had to say.
Q: Thinking back to your original brief and the desire to create a house for ten years plus, do you think you achieved it?
A: Yes! Over ten years later, we are still very happy with the house.
Occasionally we look at a new place to buy, but any temptation has so far been short-lived with the fast conclusion that (realistically affordable) upgrades are no better than what we already have.
Q: Is there anything you might do differently with the benefit of using the house over the last decade, e.g. adding a wall to separate the two reception rooms?
A: Not really, especially given the budget we were working with at the time.
We still really like the “semi-wall” that divides the two reception rooms, giving a sense of distinct spaces yet still with an open plan.
Some initial ideas would still be great, like the bespoke glass walls and massive sliding panel doors into the garden, but they were never affordable in the first place. It still feels like we maximised what we could do with our money.
Also, at the time in 2011, we were constrained by planning permission for our loft space. So, when we heard in 2015 that the restrictions were lifted, we could create the two rooms at the top of the house we wanted in the first place. And with what we had saved in the interim, we could afford an extra bathroom too.
Hindsight is wonderful, but if we knew that the dormer constraints would be relaxed later, we would probably have done nothing with the loft the first time around.
Q: You now have two daughters, which means the house has had to adapt to their needs and your family’s needs – in what ways has this happened and is it organic or by careful consideration?
The later loft conversion was associated with the growth of our family (two daughters arriving in 2016 and 2017) and Simon’s decision to step away from “normal” employment and attempt to set up a new consultancy business. And given the boot-strapped nature of a start-up, we needed a home office in the loft.
In the original plan from 2010, the “open” room between the sitting room and dining/kitchen room was to be a grown-up working space, but it was never supposed to be for permanent working from home. And the arrival of a toddler or two made that impossible. We replaced the desk with alphabet and Peppa Pig mats, and many of the books are now games and toy boxes as this space became a playroom.
Despite this drastic change in use, the “semi” open-plan space remains appealing and relevant, with access to the playroom from either direction of the kitchen or sitting room. However, there is a constant battle with the extraordinary and relentless “creep” of kiddie stuff into all rooms on the ground floor.
The second major adaptation was also prompted chiefly by work, with Aurelie changing jobs to one where her team mostly sit in Nashville, meaning she works from home 95% of the time. So, based on advice from James, we asked Steven at Create a Space to build us a garden office. Given the air-conditioner unit, this might also become the escape from sweltering summer days once the short-throw projector is purchased!
Q: We spent a lot of time looking at materials such as floor tiles, trying to find the right balance between quality and price and specifying something that would last. Was that fulfilled, and are there any choices that have worked well?
The hours spent on the materials spreadsheet (which was time-consuming but nowhere near as time-consuming as the electrical fixtures and fittings!) were definitely worth it.
We continue to love the massive 120cm2 kitchen floor tiles, which was one of our two permissible expensive indulgences, along with the glass balustrade.
But we do live in fear of cracks or chips that might prompt the need to replace a whole tile. So far, the wear and tear is limited to less visible places, and hopefully, it will stay that way, despite the increasing desires of a five and 6-year-old to be “helpful” in the kitchen.
Two things that we would do differently with hindsight:
- Use thick “outside” tiles in the patio area rather than ones that claim to be suitable for indoor and outdoor. We found that the thinner floor tiles are much more likely to crack outdoors.
- Avoid up-lighters directly in the outside patio floor files. The water eventually gets in, which disrupts all the outdoor lighting.
And we have a new insight into the context of the lawn being largely destroyed by the building process for the garden office. We dismissed the idea of artificial grass ten years ago, but options and quality have since improved with a massive amount of choice in material, length, colour, and texture. After much deliberation, we opted to replace the turf with fake grass, which we love. It looks great, and the girls love throwing themselves around on it; it’s easier to maintain.
And as an expert in “sustainability”, Aurelie assures me that it does not significantly affect biodiversity, given that this is mainly associated with the border plants.
Let me know if anyone wants to buy a second-hand electric lawn mower.
Q: How do you think the house performs from an energy point of view? The world has moved on in 10 years; if you were doing this again, would you consider using renewable energy?
We looked seriously at renewable energy sources back then, but the “payback” was at least 15 years. We would still be out of pocket and paying for it now.
If this has since changed, we would definitely behave differently. I sincerely hope it is because if the most sustainable options are limited to the super-rich, then the pace of climate change will not slow.
Q: Most people don’t have the opportunity to create their own home to their brief with a blank, canvas-although there were some restrictions in your case with the existing house and planning permission. What are the true benefits of living somewhere designed just for you?
The core benefit is the feeling of a new build that is bespoke to your needs and desires. I have purchased “new builds” before, and there are always instances where you think “, I would not have put that there. Or I would have done this differently”.
And the issue with buying a half-decent, pre-lived house is that it is likely to stay “half-decent”.
Q: Any other thoughts looking back over ten years?
Nothing other than thank you again for your help back in 2010.
Also in remaining a helpful, objective and trusted expert off whom we can bounce the occasional idea, like our new garden room office.
Thank you, Simon and Aurelie, for sharing your thoughts and for the kind words. I hope you have enjoyed reflecting on your refurbishment experience for our new House Refurbishment Revisited blog series. I’ll be in touch if anyone asks about the lawn mower.