Suzanne Wingate and Justin Smith had been living in their two-bedroom apartment for six years before they decided to take on a major remodelling project.
‘We were more than happy with the penthouse – it was light and spacious – but there was a downside. You could only access the roof via an entrance in another part of the apartment building, or by climbing onto a ladder on the balcony that led over the parapet wall,’ Suzanne explains. ‘We wanted to create our very own rooftop retreat – somewhere that would give us the chance to escape from all the hustle and bustle of city life.’
The owners: Suzanne Wingate, a business manager, and her husband Justin Smith, an assistant head teacher
The couple set to work planning a contemporary flat-roof extension, which would give them their dream private outdoor space with a large decked roof garden. They also included in their extension plans a master bedroom with an open-plan en suite that would increase their living space.
‘It was always our intention that the structure for the extension would be open-plan, both internally and externally,’ says Suzanne. ‘Justin and I especially liked the idea of combining the bedroom and bathroom as one open-plan inclusive space, primarily because it reminded us of a luxury hotel room layout and we wanted to capture that design sense here.’
The couple were not at all daunted at the prospect of managing such a major project themselves and took it on with unwavering determination while also planning ahead for their forthcoming wedding.
‘We began the work schedule in May 2005 with the aim of completing it by mid-October of that year in time for our wedding,’ Suzanne explains. ‘We had already decided against having a formal wedding and thought it would be a great idea to host the reception in our new extension. Unfortunately, it didn’t go to plan as the extension wasn’t completed until December.’
As with many major building projects, the couple came up against technical challenges and complications.
‘Even simple things became complex – for example, some roads had to be closed so the cranes could transport all the heavy steelwork,’ Suzanne explains. ‘Then, when the steelwork turned up, I noticed it was the wrong height, which meant the ceiling would have been ridiculously low. Luckily our subcontractor sorted out the problem quickly – if the work had gone ahead at that stage it would have been very difficult to alter the frame.’
The couple also had to cope with the chaos of living on site during the majority of the building work, as they wanted to conserve their funds and keep an eye on progress. ‘I remember trying to assemble our wedding cake in the midst of all the builder’s dust swirling around.’ Suzanne laughs.
After a rather chaotic six months, the previously empty rooftop was crowned with the translucent glass and steel structure showcasing their stunning open-plan sanctuary for sleeping, bathing and relaxing.
‘We love the aquamarine colour scheme – it goes so well with the wall of glass, while the limestone floor and underfloor heating add to the sense of luxury,’ says Suzanne.
The apartment’s new extension is connected to the floor below by a cantilevered walnut staircase, which had to be designed precisely to fit between the existing joists and steel beams.
‘We opted for built-in cupboards here as you can never have enough storage – what’s more, it hides the supporting framework,’ says Suzanne.
On the lower floor, there is a second bedroom and shower room, which previously had no access from the hall.
‘So we had to change the layout to accommodate fire regulations, which was a good thing as now the shower room can be easily accessed from the hall or locked from the inside, so that it becomes an en suite to the second bedroom, which is handy for when guests stay,’ Suzanne explains.
Three years after their extension project, the couple started on some more remodelling work. A new kitchen was installed with a seated island and breakfast bar to connect the dining area with the kitchen.
‘The kitchen had been rather disjointed, with a variety of wall units and open shelves that didn’t work well with the dining area – it just wasn’t user-friendly,’ says Suzanne. ‘The existing kitchen was too good to scrap though, so we sold it on eBay.’
The couple then started searching for new kitchen designs, eventually settling for a stylish Bulthaup style with contemporary bespoke units. As the kitchen is open-plan to the living and dining area, the designer suggested that they choose a dark tone to blend in with their furniture. v ‘She was absolutely right. The grey units also look fantastic against the brickwork,’ Suzanne enthuses. ‘I love the kitchen and can’t praise Bulthaup enough. It was worth the investment – everything works so well and there’s plenty of storage here. The electric extractor hood is extremely powerful, working brilliantly when we’re stir-frying, which is so important if you live in an open-plan space. Justin is a big fan of our Pyroclean oven. As he says, “You just whack up the heat and all the grease falls off like dust!”
‘It’s good having the island with the breakfast bar as we can sit and talk while preparing food and it’s the perfect space for informal entertaining.’
With their new contemporary layout in place, the couple gradually started changing the furniture in the apartment.
‘When we first moved in, it became apparent that the furniture from our old Victorian home looked ridiculous here as most pieces were too small for such a vast living space, so we sold most of it and started buying new items, mainly from clearance sales,’ says Suzanne. ‘I especially love the grand piano, but we had to arrange for it to be winched in here by crane – looking back, it was really bad timing as it arrived just before we started work on the new kitchen, so I had to wrap the entire piano in large shrink-wrap clingfilm to protect it. What’s more, when the floor was being sanded, the piano was so heavy that it took a team of 10 people to move it each time.’
The lower floor of the apartment has maple wood flooring throughout, which has a tendency to go yellow after it has been sanded. The couple were pleased to discover Osmo Floor Oil, a natural, non-toxic, environmentallyfriendly wax finish with a whitener that lightens the floor. It’s available at osmouk.com.
Now that their remodelling project is complete, Suzanne and Justin can enjoy the space they have created in their rooftop retreat in the city. ‘This space is just perfect for us,’ says Suzanne. ‘I love the roof garden and being able to look outdoors and see something green in the middle of central London – it’s great to enjoy spectacular panoramic views from the peace and comfort of our home.’