Home renovation

London Home Renovation: We’ve Turned Two Tired Dalston Flats Into a Technicolor Dream Home


Turning two separate properties into one home, accommodating a couple’s very different decorating preferences, and successfully integrating a new extension into a period building was certainly a challenge in this mammoth Dalston townhouse conversion.

But, as with relationship counseling and the menage à trois, bringing a third party into the mix – in this case, an architect friend – was the magic element that helped turn two tired apartments into a home for everyone. audacious, elegant and thoughtful times for this creative couple.

How to spot a house with potential

TV actress Zoe Boyle, 37, and her cinematographer husband Benedict Spence, 40, were living in a converted rented warehouse in Shoreditch, east London, when they started house hunting more permanent to buy together.

Juliet Murphy

They came across a Victorian townhouse in Dalston that had been unofficially split into two dwellings – a dark, decrepit one-bedroom basement flat and a tired but characterful four-bedroom maisonette spread over three floors above. above.

With the property being split in two and requiring a lot of building work, the couple felt that expert advice was needed to ensure they made the right decision in buying the house. In Boyle’s friend, architect George Bradley of Bradley Van Der Straeten (b-vds.co.uk).

“What struck me about the property when we first saw it were its beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows and the generous proportions of the living spaces. There was a real opportunity to adapt the building for any purpose. modern, while respecting and retaining much of the original Victorian architecture and character,” said Bradley.

Boyle agrees: “The house was full of natural light and you could see the bones of the building were still intact, with lots of beautiful original Victorian features,” including high ceilings, cornices and rose windows.

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two become one

Boyle and Spence took the plunge and bought the property for £1.45million in January 2020. They then had to combine two separate houses which had been treated very differently. They also had to find a way to merge their different design ideas into one harmonious vision.

“There was a real push and pull between Ben and me,” says Boyle, who played Lavinia Swire on Downton Abbey. “Ben loves modern design and wanted to tear out all the walls and create a huge open space, as I clung to the concept of creating something more classic and traditional, but with a modern twist.”

A testament to Bradley’s skill, the finished home is a wonderful combination of the two.

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There is a modern open plan kitchen, dining room and living room in the basement, which has been extended and quite radically reconfigured.

A flavor of an old London house can be found in the upper floors, with their original flooring, doors and architraves. “We resisted the temptation to make it perfect,” says Bradley. “There are sloping ceilings and floors, but that’s what adds to the character of the building.”

Let the light in

One of the main design challenges for basement extensions is to create a light and airy space. Oversized sliding glass doors to the garden help fill the once dark floor with natural light.

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Bradley also came up with a concept to place a large glass skylight above the living room. But instead of a standard installation, it has been designed with high sides inside and the roof of the extension is supported by thin wooden joists which have been left exposed under the skylight. The joists add texture to the space and create a dappled light effect in the lower ground floor area.

There were many discussions with Spence – whose professional experience working with light came into play – about orienting the joists to allow the perfect amount of natural light to flood the interior while limiting the amount of light entering the space to prevent overheating.

Rainbow Rooms

One of the most obvious changes in the home is the use of color. “It’s thanks to Zoe that we have a beautiful, colorful house,” says Spence, whose recent work includes This is Going to Hurt.

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“Because of my work, I’m very sensitive to light and how different colors interact with light. It was about finding colors that wouldn’t absorb all the natural light, while still keeping the house colorful and interesting,” he says.

Bradley’s colleague, Jessica Williamson, worked with Boyle to come up with a color plan – designing an immersive palette, with each piece a different but complementary collection of hues, used against a white background.

“Many of the color decisions made were governed by the position of the sun at different times of the day,” Williamson explains. “It was mostly about making bright rooms brighter and dark rooms darker.”

To prevent the basement from becoming dark, all the walls were painted white. Color has been added to the kitchen cabinets – painted in Farrow & Ball Preference Red, a deep burgundy – and inside the enclosed staircase from the basement to the upper bedroom, which has been painted in Farrow & Ball Stone Blue.

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The use of nature-based heritage colors kept the space from feeling too “carnival”.

Upstairs, the bold use of color continued. Paint and Paper Library’s Sunshine Yellow Chinese Emperor was applied in the rear reception room and bathrooms on the south side of the house to make the most of natural daylight.

The first floor master bedroom, located at the darker front, north side of the property, has been painted in Downpipe Gray by Farrow & Ball, complemented by a sumptuous soft rusty orange carpet.

“We wanted to lean into a dark cocooning space for the bedroom. It’s a nice place to sleep because the room is so dark and relaxing,” says Zoe.

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The south-facing second-floor office is painted in Rufus, a warm ocher hue, while the master bathroom zests in pungent Euphorbia, both by Paint and Paper Library.

The result

Despite pandemic delays and materials not arriving on time, as well as some cost setbacks with the basement’s ash flooring warping in places, black mold appearing in the attic, and a unforeseen expense to remove one of the gas meters from the property, the project completed in March 2021 with the final bill coming in at £393,000, around £20,000 more than expected.

Boyle and Spence couldn’t be happier with how the project turned out, designed with a first-floor master suite, upstairs guest bedroom, study and Peloton room.

The whole house is filled with light and color and combines the modern, open-plan basement with the classic Victorian proportions and room layout on the upper floors. “The two sections work and interpenetrate seamlessly. This is our dream home,” Spence says.

How to reduce renovation costs

  • The couple purchased their cabinets and door fronts through budget online retailer diy-kitchens.com. “The company is able to match cabinet colors with Farrow & Ball tints, which makes them look more expensive than they actually are,” says Boyle.
  • Instead of buying new, consider reupholstering existing furniture to match the colors and look of your new home.
  • Don’t add more space than you really need. Boyle and Spence considered adding a loft conversion but soon realized, particularly with the economic uncertainty of Covid-19, that they could save a lot of money if they scrapped the plans.
  • If you’re short on landscaping money, keep it simple with grass and hide unruly areas with panel fencing. You may reassess the exterior appearance at a later date when funds permit.
  • Save money buying used parts – Zoe bought the table and chairs from a film set she was working on for just £150.