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06 Dec 2021

The Ultimate Lockdown Transformation

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International architecture and interiors practice Finkernagel Ross has completely reconfigured a Belgravia Mews house to create a modern, elegant, space-optimising, family home.

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Bright and open living spaces enhanced with calm and considered interior design have made for a warm, characterful home, unique to the needs of the homeowners – a family of four who split their time between Asia and London.

The transformation involved completely gutting the interior to maximise space and light within the existing building envelope. Moving the stairway, which now doubles as practical storage, to the middle of the house has created a central timber-clad spine. This acts as a division between the kitchen and dining area and separate living areas, maximising available living space while providing a sociable, airy living space. The compact kitchen has the feel of a much larger home, allowing plenty of room for cooking and storage.

Upstairs, the roof space has been opened up, exposing the trusses to make the rooms feel larger and allowing light in through new roof windows. The children’s bedroom has been cleverly designed to achieve maximum floor space for play by creating two loft-style beds at the mezzanine level, and a pull-down bed offers room for visiting guests.

Contemporary finishes and modern and textured materials complete the transformation of the home. Oak joinery has been used throughout, creating a seamless translation from one room to the next, and adding warmth to an otherwise calm interior palette. Care and attention have been paid to details such as bespoke joinery, and the house’s interior now does justice to the promise of the charming front facade. Art has been carefully placed to draw the eye and add interest, and thoughtfully-selected accessories give a finished look.

The quality of the building fabric has also been improved – a new roof and insulated render, double-glazed windows, and rooflights have brought the home up to modern standards while keeping the house within the character and aesthetic of Belgravia.

Affiliated because of their shared values of exceptional quality and client-centric service, this project was delivered by Finkernagel Ross and contractor Danlaw. The duo formed an alliance for the smooth, successful delivery of this design and build project, allowing the homeowner to utilise a full range of services. Danlaw, which is also a chartered surveyor, managed planning and Grosvenor Estate permission, and delivered a complete build service, while Finkernagel Ross provided a full architectural and interior design service.

From the peaceful, calm interiors of the home, the challenges faced in delivering this wholly-refurbished home now seem far removed from the finished house. Beginning and ending in lockdown, with Brexit somewhere in between, and undertaken for a client on the other side of the world, this project was never going to be straightforward. But the result is a beautiful, considered home that works perfectly for the unique needs of the homeowner.

Here, i-Build’s Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to Finkernagel Ross’ Director, Catherine Finkernagel, to learn more about the practice’s involvement in the stylish renovation project.

RK: What inspired you to take on this project?
CF: Our Asia-based client approached us and the contractor, Danlaw, just before lockdown, having just purchased a mews house in Belgravia. They were looking for a trustworthy team to help them turn this house, which was in desperate need of modernisation, into a family home for themselves and their two children. The idea of working in collaboration with the contractor was appealing, and it is for this reason that this project (which was essentially completed over Zoom) was even possible. True teamwork prevailed, the project is now complete, and our clients are very happy.

RK: What style and age is the original building?
CF: It dates back to the early 19th century. The original purpose of Eccleston Mews was to provide stable/coach house accommodation to the main houses on Eaton Square and Eaton Place.

RK: How did you combine the original building’s style with the extension?
CF: The original style of the building had been removed by the previous owner, and our client opted for a fresh, modern fit-out to reflect everyday family life.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your new home?
CF: The vision was to incorporate clean, modern interiors, maximising storage and what little space there was by offering clever layout solutions.

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
CF: We always have a list of questions we ask each of our domestic clients, which we insist that they answer. These questions range from the more abstract about how they would like the space to feel to more practical issues, such as how they imagine using the area and specificities like security and audiovisual requirements. From this, we move towards developing options for layouts and conceptual design and mood boards to convey the feeling of a space, details and materiality.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
CF: With our strong relationship with the Grosvenor Estate, which requires two planning permissions, this only took one month. It was a very smooth process especially considering the week after the contract was signed; we went into lockdown, so the entire process had to be done remotely.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
CF: The major challenge, of course, was doing the entire project via Zoom from the initial planning meeting through to the individual site meetings. Challenges relating to delays and supply issues did arise as lockdown ended and the world started to open up. Still, with careful planning and placing orders early, we could circumnavigate most of these challenges without too much of an issue.

We, along with the contractor, met the client in person once, just before the first London lockdown in 2020 and didn’t meet her again in person until the project finished. We carried out all of the design presentations and reviews over Zoom, and once schemes were narrowed down and final selections refined, samples were sent via FedEx to our client for sign off. Once works commenced, site walkarounds with the contractor via video calls were held to keep the client entirely updated with progress. The project is now complete, and the client feels as though they have been part of the process step by step from day one. This has also helped us as a design and contracting team as we now know we can complete projects with clients worldwide as seamlessly as they would if the client were based in London.

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
CF: Once the general direction, feel and budget were defined, materials and products were selected and presented to the client accordingly. Typically, there are many options that one needs to consider. We work with the client to help them narrow these down, so they work together seamlessly. Whilst our clients often know what they like, it can be challenging to ensure a holistic feel to a home as you move through the space, so our job is usually to establish that thread that holds a property together – all while considering budget and programme.

RK: How long did the project take?
CF: It took just over a year from start to finish which, given there was a global pandemic, is close to miraculous. In reality, this wasn’t a miracle but all down to meticulous planning as a team.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
CF: Yes. Any additions came from the client as they either increased the specification of some aspects or added items to the scope of works.

RK: What does the local community think of the refurbishment?
CF: We have had several enquiries from people on the street who are interested in transforming their own space, so I think it’s safe to say they are pleased with the refurbishment and the impact it’s had.

RK: What’s your favourite room?
CF: The boys’ room. It was a challenge finding a space for two growing teenage boys to sleep, study and have friends over the stay. By utilising the loft space as sleeping cubbies, this opened up the floor below for a large double desk, two separate wardrobe areas, a pull-down bed for a friend and their own en-suite. The sleeping cubbies have openable rooflights with blackout blinds for natural light and ventilation, niches for books and water glasses and adjustable reading lights, so they really are all set and have everything they need in as little space as possible. The idea was that you spend the least amount of time awake in this area, so it could be comfortable yet snug.

RK: What advice would you offer to anyone looking to renovate?
CF: Hire a trustworthy, professional team with experience in what you want to achieve. Their expertise will help you avoid costly mistakes, and any money you spend in fees will be earned back tenfold in reduced stress and increased property value.

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