Despite having no initial plans to alter their traditional Victorian family home in Greenwich, David and Nicola Fleming ended up reinventing it, building two highly contemporary extensions which dramatically improve look and layout
Text: Debbie Jeffery
Images: Joseph Trayler/Henri Bredenkamp
When David and Nicola Fleming bought their detached, double-fronted Victorian house, just a short stroll from Greenwich, they had absolutely no plans to tackle any building work. The couple and their children – James, now 27, Lottie, 25, and Issy, 20 – moved into their new home in 2008, feeling pleased that the property was in such good condition.
“We’d always bought houses which needed improving, and had been living in a rundown, rambling old wreck of a Victorian house, so down-sizing and finding somewhere which had already been renovated was a relief,” says Nicola.
“We were fed up with constant maintenance and outgoings at the other house, so we ended up doing a house swap with the woman who bought it, and it seemed like a treat to be able to move straight in and enjoy living here.”
Years passed, and the three children grew up. Gradually, the three-storey house began to lose its appeal, and no longer served the Fleming family’s needs. “The kitchen and dining room were long and thin, stretching across the back of the house, and we were always getting in each other’s way and tripping because of the different floor levels, which was particularly annoying,” Nicola continues.
“There was an awkward island unit cutting up the kitchen space, and our dining table was pushed up close to a set of French doors, obscuring the lovely fireplace. Other rooms in the house were also starting to look quite tired and in need of an update, so in 2014 we decided to put the property up for sale and look for somewhere else to live.”
However, when the sale fell through, the family began to have second thoughts about trying again, realising that there were many aspects of their home which they still enjoyed. With three reception rooms, six bedrooms and three bathrooms, it offered bright accommodation and period features, including sash windows, fireplaces, cornicing, ceiling roses, and stripped wooden floors.
“After some discussion, we decided to stay put, and the Stamp Duty and legal fees we saved went towards improving the house instead,” says David (who works in IT). “We knew that the layout just wasn’t working for us, and approached Henri Bredenkamp of Studio 30 Architects to come up with a feasible solution.”
Henri is an award-winning architect who established his London-based practice in 2010. Specialising primarily in contemporary residential developments for private clients, the practice has also been commissioned for projects in Henri’s native South Africa.
Prior to setting up Studio 30 Architects, Henri worked for a number of high-profile practices, where he was project lead for several RIBA Award-winning schemes. His projects have been widely published in the press and online, which is where Nicola first spotted his work.
“We clicked immediately and didn’t need to look elsewhere once we’d met Henri,” recalls Nicola. “I absolutely loved the whole design process, working with him to come up with an improved layout, without sacrificing too much of our fairly small garden. He put forward three quite different ideas, and we ended up going with an amalgamation of two of them.”
The final design sought to open up the previously cluttered house – stripping away the ground floor rear facade and internally consolidating the mess of partitions and changes in level, to create a single, open plan kitchen/dining/living space which would be far more conducive to family life.
“By pushing utility and storage spaces to the edge and into the underused garage, as well as extending a modest 2.5 metres out into the garden, even more space was created for a large kitchen-diner,” explains the project’s architect.
This essentially ‘dissolved’ the interior – offering a continuous view from the front door into the tree-lined rear garden, and Henri’s design for a glass box extension with sliding doors reveals a wide aspect and fills the space with light, while level access and continuous large-format floor tiles reinforce the link with outside.
“I like to think about how people live and, now that I have a son myself, I find I have a particular empathy with clients who have children,” says Henri. “Designing for the needs of families is something I enjoy. For me, it’s important to be fully involved with each project, so that I’m familiar with every detail. The whole process is quite personal, and all about the people we work with.”
The house stands within a conservation area, and special attention was therefore paid to preserving the character of the building by restoring Victorian features. Traditional cornicing and ceiling roses define the formal front spaces; sitting in pleasing juxtaposition to the rear. Subtle changes in texture and detail define semi-private spaces like the study, while maintaining the home’s openness.
The complete refurbishment of the first floor maintains generously proportioned rooms – again with a modest extension to the rear, which creates a new master bedroom suite where one did not previously exist. Overall, the size of the house has only increased by 29 m2 to 252 m2, but these small interventions have made an enormous impact on the entire layout.
“We absolutely loved the design,” says Nicola. “Planning permission was passed really smoothly, Henri went out to tender to choose a builder, and we all moved to live in a rented house for eight months, because we knew the building work would be too invasive to consider staying here.
“Almost the entire back of the house came off, so it was like a shell, and we had builders working in virtually every room. David was on site most days, watching the work progress, and it was quite shocking to see just how much of the building was demolished.”
A structural engineer was employed to produce calculations for the necessary steelwork, with minimal exposed columns in the new glass extension, leaving the space as open as possible.
The complexity of removing the rear wall and load-bearing partitions was resolved by installing two steel portal frames, in order to support the existing house above. A bulge in one external brick wall also meant that this needed to be taken down and rebuilt, which was an unexpected expense.
“Foundations are standard concrete strip, and the varying floor levels were rationalised to create a seamless flow out into the garden and eliminate the existing small steps,” explains Henri.
The garden itself has also been reshaped and slightly manipulated, with matching low-slip tiles laid inside and out on the terrace, further merging spaces through the glass. “The problem with old houses is that they’re never quite level, so it’s a delicate process getting flooring to match up across different rooms,” Henri continues.
Three rear sliding doors in the kitchen extension have extremely slim aluminium frames, with UV-control glass which limits heat gain and protects furniture from the bleaching effects of direct sunlight. These run in both directions on a flush track, with a discrete drainage system concealed within.
The glass box dining element of side panel and roof was provided by another contractor, who installed high performance self-cleaning glass, which also reduces heat gain and UV rays, creating a comfortable environment year-round. A frameless junction of silicon and glazing tape secures the panels, and white pebbles were used externally to conceal the drain grid.
“Drainage is often an overlooked factor, which can really make or break a design,” explains Henri. “Previously, the rear of the house was covered in an ugly web of downpipes, which have been removed for a far sleeker look. Now, water from the monopitch roof on the new bedroom extension runs down into the pebbles, which prevent splashback onto the glass.”
The first-floor box extension has been faced externally in reclaimed London stock bricks to match the existing house and its neighbours in the conservation area. Two double glazed timber sash windows were also installed.
“Some of the bricks were salvaged from the demolished rear wall and re-used,” says David. “The house’s upper level is much more traditional than the lower level, as it’s more visible, and the design was favourably received by the planners,” he adds.
Underfloor heating has been installed throughout the ground floor, with radiators upstairs. “We wanted to retain as much as possible of the Victorian character, but to also introduce more contemporary features in the new extensions,” explains Nicola, a former teacher in textiles, who spent a great deal of time researching interior finishes – attending exhibitions, reading magazines and using Pinterest for gathering ideas.
“David prefers far brighter colours than I do, whereas I was adamant I wanted to keep things more muted, with ‘pops’ of colour in textiles rather than on walls,” she explains. “As a compromise, we’ve painted our larder bright pink!”
The couple considered laying a polished concrete floor downstairs, but the large format grey tiles they eventually chose create a similar effect and offer an ideal backdrop for furniture and the greenery of the garden.
An expert carpenter then installed new parquet flooring without a threshold in the adjacent library/study, which was formerly the dining room. Parquet was also used in the open plan sitting room, behind the kitchen, and in the separate TV room retained to the front of the house.
“Open plan living is great, but if David wants to watch sport, he can go into the quieter TV room,” says Nicola. “I love the fact that I can be standing at the island and still be able to chat to people sitting on the sofas, rather than feeling cut off from what’s going on.”
Sleek dark grey matt kitchen cabinets, wood-grained wall units, and white quartz worktops were fitted, with the island positioned end-on to the glass doors for maximum visibility throughout the space and into adjoining rooms.
“We had a strict budget, as we’d borrowed £300,000 for the whole project, and although we like the look of some high-end kitchens, we didn’t feel we needed to spend so much to achieve what we wanted,” explains Nicola.
Work was completed in January 2018, and the garden has also been given a complete makeover to complement the house, with a landscape gardener employed for this phase. The old fence was replaced with a more contemporary design, and fresh planting – including an acer – creates an interesting outlook. Surprisingly, everyone agrees that the garden now looks larger than it did before, despite the new glass extension.
“We moved out from our rental place and in with friends for a month, because the project ran on longer than intended but, in the end, we had to move back into the house before it was finished. Everything was covered in dust, so it wasn’t ideal,” says Nicola.
“Now we’re so pleased that we didn’t go ahead and sell the house, because it’s so dramatically different. It just goes to show that older properties can be extended in a modern way without losing their character, and we really do feel like we have the best of both worlds.”
Studio 30 Architects
Michael Robinson, Complete Installation Service
Jensen Hunt Design
SLIDING GLASS DOORS
GLASS BOX EXTENSION
SHOWER ROOM SINK
Bathrooms by Design
Ambience Hardwood Flooring