15 Jun 2020

Victorian Townhouse Shapes Up

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Looking to migrate away from the rented property market and move into a new home, Paul and Sheena Littlewood stumbled across this charming terraced property in West London’s Chelsea; and instantly knew it was the one for them. Situated in a quiet residential street, the five-storey house required a complete renovation with the addition of a new underground gym.

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As long-term residents of the in-demand London area, Paul and Sheena wished to remain in the Chelsea district, which was an essential factor for the pair when house hunting. So, when a Victorian, five-floor spatial property with sought-after floor-to-ceiling windows and a double-height master bedroom popped up on the market, the couple knew it was the one for them.

As well as the want to own a property, the Littlewoods had grand renovation plans for their new home and approached London-based architect firm Scenario Architecture for an extensive renovation – a project that was moulded to meet the family’s everyday needs as well as their desired aesthetics.

The house

Although the original building had been extended and renovated in the early 2000s, the refurbishment had been carried out with a “dated approach”. A more minimal strategy from Scenario Architecture ensured that the new replacement extensions at the rear would not be intrusive to neighbouring views, would blend the character of the context area and improve the general feeling of the rear garden areas. The addition of an underground gym is entirely invisible and does not impact the character of the house.

The plan

The vision for the Littlewoods was to create a consistent interior design concept throughout, modernise the rear extensions timelessly, make full use of all the habitable spaces and, ultimately, increase the property’s value. That said, the design brief did change during the process as Paul and Sheena switched on to the potential of the house and the innovative additions that could be made.

The challenges

With such an ambitious plan and an underground gym to design, the project certainly did not come without its difficulties. The challenge faced was maintaining the existing ceiling heights throughout the basement and ground floors, while introducing multiple viewpoints around the home. Also, maximising the additional floor space to add value to such a prominent Chelsea location was a struggle for the pair. The introduction of the underground gym added a lot of value; however, the rear lower ground floor and the ground floor extension were both pushed to the limit of what the site could accommodate.

As well as this, the planning process was quite the test for the Littlewoods due to such strict requirements from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council. Paul and Sheena had not realised from the beginning that their choices and budget indications would shape the course of various design and construction decisions and action; however, eventually planning was obtained and the build could begin. From the commencement of the design process until the first planning application, it took the Littlewoods around five to six months to achieve planning permission and another three months for the second submission (which included the gym and the design process).

During the planning application procedure, the neighbourhood was consulted, and no objections were raised. The head of the local neighbourhood association offered some comments which the design took on board and implemented straight away.

The build

With regards to building materials, Paul and Sheena provided Scenario Architecture with a list of products and materials they wanted to integrate into their home. From here, the architect firm produced a detailed design that included all custom joinery, material finishes, sanitaryware, electrical products and the like. What’s more, the firm also provided 3D renders of the various interior and exterior options, which helped with Paul and Sheena’s final decision-making.

One of the materials used for the build that proved extremely beneficial for the Littlewoods was Topcrete – which the architects recommended as a perfect underfloor heating-friendly concrete floor alternative for areas that do not allow for a change in floor levels. The extended dining area also uses Topcrete for the interior and exterior, which creates a feeling of continuity and connection between the internal and external areas.

The underground gym

By utilising the space within the basement, Scenario Architecture was able to introduce the Littlewood’s gym with lightwells providing natural light from above. The design integrated all these additions within the building’s historic fabric to provide a contemporary living environment. However, initially, the project did not have the basement option, and the budget was limited. Once the underground gym option was made available, the timeframes and complexity of the project changed. In the end, the complete project took 2/5 years to complete and finally finished in August 2019.

The budget

The Littlewood’s budget began with a low figure; however, that sum grew once they started upgrading products and finishes. Additionally, the enhancement of the gym added a lot of complexity and cost to the project. Initially, they set out a budget of £500k; however, ended up spending £1.2m.

The finished build

The lower ground floor
This area is accessed from the ground floor via a floating staircase with an accompanying glass balustrade. This opens up the space and allows more light throughout the lower ground floor’s open-plan areas. When descending to the bottom floor, the view to the rear garden opens up thanks to the large glazed sliding doors.

The rear garden allows for two levels – one in immediate connection to the dining area, and another which includes steps up into the home. This allows for a more private relaxing division straight above the gym. The gym has an intensive green roof that has 1m of real soil allowing for real vegetation up to 2m tall to be planted and also helps with proper drainage of surface water.

The ground floor
The open-plan ground floor functions as the hub of the house, and extending the kitchen and dining area further into the rear garden provided generous space for large gatherings with a direct relationship to the garden. The rear extension was created with sliding doors and a glazed roof to provide natural light throughout the day, and to bring more light into the kitchen, which was relocated to the centre of the downstairs space.

A second glazed extension was also added to the ground floor, which provided a reading nook with views into the garden and steps down to the basement.

The living area and main reception area creates a social hub where the Littlewoods can gather together, or study and do homework, watch TV or even read – all with direct access to the rear garden with an overview of the front main entrance. The floating staircase descending to the kitchen, with its double height, provides a connection to the kitchen and dining areas.

The first split level and first floor
A floating glazed staircase ascending to the first split level also integrates the office space to this social hub. Located on the first split level of the house, the office space has a direct view to the front main entrance, and also oversees the rear garden through a back window. Whereas, the first-floor living room can be isolated for a more private gathering, allowing for music practice and media entertainment – all without disturbing the rest of the house.

The second and third split level
On the second floor, both children’s bedrooms feature custom-made joinery that integrates with the room – for example, desks, wardrobes, beds and storage. Whereas on the third split level at the rear wing of the house, the area was extended one storey upwards to allow for a walk-in wardrobe – adding value to the whole property.

The loft
The master bedroom was created on the top floor of the house with views of the sky. This was achieved by opening up the roof tiles to allow for the windows to run from the ceiling to the existing window lintel.

The master bedroom and en-suite were completely redesigned to allow for re-orientation of the bed towards the large floor-to-ceiling windows and views of the sky. The en-suite was brought up to modern standards with a walk-in shower, wetroom and double sinks.

The whole house was fitted with Lutron lighting and a home automation system, high-quality oak floors and the staircase was fitted with a continuous glass balustrade that creates a consistent design throughout the house. Where possible, the treads have been left open to allow for light to penetrate from the stairwell’s skylight at the top floor all the way down to the lower ground floor.

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