All change

Sally and Tom Marlow didn’t have to look far from their house in south London in their search for more space. The catch was that their new home needed a full renovation as well as multiple extensions


“Our previous home was in not far away, also in Clapham, south London,” says Sally. “But we needed more space, and we had been looking on this road. The house had been on the market for a while and was well-kept, but we wanted to put our stamp on it.” 

This handsome, double-fronted Edwardian home already had five bedrooms and an unusually large garden, despite being semi-detached. Yet Sally and Tom, who were hoping for a third child, had very clear ideas about what they needed from their new home; room to grow, and more light.

Although Sally and Tom work as lawyers, they are also experienced renovators, with three previous projects under their belts.

“We were pretty confident,” says Sally. “We knew we would have to rewire, replumb, replaster and change the shape of the rooms. We also wanted a perfect finish.” Friends recommended London practice Draw Architecture, and the couple’s brief made it clear a large kitchen, dining and family area were essential features for how they wanted to live in the house. Working from that point, ideas evolved, but it was architect Seamus Shanks at Draw who came up with the concept of creating a sunken sitting area within the open-plan kitchen and dining room. “I just love it!” says Sally.

Almost no part of the original house was left untouched, as they needed “lots of living space,” asserts Sally. “There was no basement or cellar, so we used every nook and cranny and built-in maximum storage.” As a result, the roofline was raised to allow for three bedrooms on the second floor (making six in total), almost every wall was moved, and two extensions were added; one on the ground floor to create the open plan space, and one on the first floor.

“There wasn’t a lot house left,” admits Sally. “Just the front and sides and the stairs. You could stand inside and see the sky.”

Before any of this work could begin, Tom and Sally needed to get planning permission, and this was not straightforward.

“Draw were very good,” says Sally. “We got planning permission to add a ‘pod’. It’s a glass box on the at the back of the house, maybe 3 m x 1 m, but it makes a world of difference to the bedroom. It feels so spacious now.” This planning application was rejected at first, but the couple was able to get permission on appeal.

The other part of their application was even more complex. Their plans for a large rear extension to house the new kitchen and dining area were rejected. However, Tom and Sally were lucky to find evidence the house was originally built with a type of conservatory attached at the rear. The size and position of this historic structure meant they were able to get their desired extension under permitted development rules. “We got everything we wanted in the end,” says Sally.

The property’s rear extension is built entirely in masonry, with 100 mm of Styrofoam insulation. Unlike the traditional ‘pretty’ frontage, the extension has a chic and contemporary black zinc finish. Not only is this hard-wearing and practical, but it creates a clear distinction between old and new. There are no pastiches here.

Glazing was a significant part of the extension design, and it is all framed in powder-coated aluminium to match the black zinc cladding. In addition to the glass outrigger, there are large, glazed sliding doors connecting the kitchen to the garden, as well as a substantial roof light over the dining table. This drops light straight into the heart of the extension. Although Sally wanted to maximise light throughout, she was concerned so much glass may lead to overheating in the summer months. The solution to this was a solar coating on the glazing, which limits the heat from solar gain without reducing light levels. An additional level of shading comes from the integrated blinds Sally specified, and she is very happy with the results.

“Heat is not an issue, and I can get a lot of air in through the sliding doors. It’s a very usable space all round,” Sally says.

Glass also played a role in the renovation of the original parts of the house. Adding an extension to the rear of a property often means a new and windowless ‘middle’ room is created, often with little or no light. Rather than lose this space by opening out further, Sally and Tom divided the front and middle rooms with black, Crittall-style glazed doors. This clever approach not only maintains useful separate areas – essential in large families – but it allows for great sightlines and light to flow through the home.

The timeless design of the steel-framed doors also complements the more traditional feel in the front and middle rooms. The apparently effortless merging of period features and contemporary design in these areas of an Edwardian building shows that not only does true style never date, but that the best of differing periods often work beautifully with each other. 

While this is one of the great successes of this project, not all is as it seems.

“Edwardian homes weren’t that decorative,” says Sally. “None of the details is original, such as the cornicing and so on. We did save the fireplaces, though.”

While the flooring in this original part of the house is a modern, grey-washed engineered wood, the extension floor is ‘micro topped.’ This join-free solution produces a floor that looks like the better-known polished concrete, in fact it is a cement that is modified with a polymer to be ultra-thin. It can be applied to all types of surfaces from concrete to timber, including vertical ones. “It goes up the wall to the side of the television,” says Sally. “I love the aesthetics, but if I was to do this again, I would use large concrete tiles, as it has cracked a bit.”

Both the micro topped floor and the engineered wood are laid over a new underfloor heating system, so there are no space-hungry radiators in any of the rooms. Sally and Tom chose an efficient gas boiler, with a ‘Megaflo’ system. This is an unvented system that maintains the supply of hot water with a steady, reliable pressure anywhere in the house, regardless of the number of showers or taps. This is very useful in a house this size with a family of five using four bathrooms!

From a construction point of view, the biggest headache for Sally and Tom was the sudden flooding of the sunken seating area, which happened a short time before they were due to move in.

“This was probably due to the high level of groundwater that exists on the site,” explains architect Seamus Shanks. “An external water chamber was placed into the garden to help lower the water table.” On a personal level, one of Sally’s biggest challenges was getting the lighting ‘right’ and getting Tom to agree.


“I’m very interested in design, and I scour magazines,” says Sally. “But when it came to lighting, I was all at sea, especially on proportions. I would never have thought of some of the larger light fittings we ended up using in the house.” The couple brought in Cat Dal Interior Design to help with the lighting and the finishes generally.

“It took Tom and I loads of rounds with our interior designer too, but now the lighting is a triumph.”

The quality of the finish throughout Tom and Sally’s home is superb, as can be seen everywhere from the magnificent restored original staircase to the new bathrooms. The upper floors have been reorganised to accommodate six bedrooms, four bathrooms and walk-in wardrobes, where previously there were five bedrooms and two bathrooms. The children’s rooms on the top floor are full of playful elements, such as bespoke bunk beds and bright colours, creating a fun space away from the rest of the house.

The stand-out space is the kitchen and dining area in the extension. Designed by Kitchen Architecture, the cabinetry was made by Balthup. The island worktop is finished in Caesarstone and the informal bar seating area at one end is Corian, a solid surface made from acrylic polymer designed to withstand the demands of family life. This bar area is linked to the sunken sitting zone and the outdoor entertaining area, making communication between cook and guests easy. The kitchen itself is superbly equipped, with a boiling water tap, discrete hob extraction, multiple ovens, an induction hob, and lots of storage, all tucked away behind fuss-free surfaces and clean lines.

“The kitchen is my most joyful space,” admits Sally. “We like entertaining and the kitchen just ‘works.’ It is very functional and well set up.” On the opposite wall to the kitchen, behind the large dining table, is a long section of walnut panelling, which hides a bespoke bar. Designed by Sally and Tom, Seamus Shanks, and Cat Dal, it was brought together by Martin, their carpenter. “Martin was an artist,” says Sally. “His attention to detail was extraordinary and he brought a lot to this bar in terms of its fine detailing.”

The family are fortunate they were able to continue living nearby in their previous home during the 10-month project. For Sally, the build was a race to completion before their youngest child, Jenny, arrived. As it happened, Jenny pipped the house at the post and the Marlow family moved in when she was just a month old.

Now, with three children and busy careers, does their new home live up to expectations?

“The house has improved our lives,” says Sally. “It’s wonderful to have the space. The children can be doing their homework on the island while I am cooking. We can all be together but doing our own thing. The garden is large enough for the children to play and I’m so excited to finally have off-street parking, a utility room and an ensuite. I’ve been waiting for these ever since I moved to London twenty years ago!”

Given their experience of such a complex build project has been so positive, is there anything Sally wishes they had done differently?

“I had a real moment when I wondered if we should have dug a basement,” Sally confesses. “With hindsight, I would do this, as it would give the children – the older two heading towards the teenage zone – more space within our walls. Also, I would love a gym!”

For now, the family have no plans to make any further renovations and they have settled into their new home enjoying the space, and light, as well as the charms of the more traditional rooms.

“Sometimes,” says Sally, “I look around and think wow, we do have a beautiful home.”