With two energetic young sons, it was only a matter of time before Kirstie and Simon Mikhail’s previous Victorian semi-detached house felt as if it was bursting at the seams. ‘It had three bedrooms, but one knocked-through living space, very little storage and a small garden,’ explains Kirstie. ‘We longed to have a home that was contemporary and bright, with a layout that worked for family life.’
The light-filled, extended Edwardian home that the Mikhails now live in offered them the space they needed. The redesign is a perfect example of how to open up a dark and dingy house – but also proves that size isn’t everything. By extending the back elevation by only 1.5 metres and making the best possible use of bi-fold doors and a sloping glass roof, Kirstie and Simon have created a home that works on every level.
The owners: Kirstie Mikhail, who restores furniture, lives here with her husband Simon, a software account manager, and their sons Max, nine and Oscar, seven
From the start, the couple could see that it was an exciting project. ‘When we put in an offer, the house had been on the market for 15 months, as it started out at a ridiculous price,’ recalls Kirstie. ‘It had the size and scale we wanted, but there was a lot to do. It had been uninhabited for a long time, so it felt musty, unloved and abandoned.’
As for the décor, it was characterised by 1980s patterns and colours. ‘A lot of the woodwork was blue, contrasting with striped Regency-style wallpaper, lemon walls and lots of Burgundy swagged curtains,’ says Kirstie. Yet the house also had an interesting history. Built in 1907, it was once the home of Sir Aldo Castellani, a renowned physician who treated the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. The couple’s aim was to revive the calm, classical aspects of this historic Edwardian house, but adapt it to suit a 21st-century family. Having worked with Simon’s brother, architect David Mikhail, on redesigning their previous home, they were keen to call on his expertise again for this project. The resulting plan was for a small but significant single-storey extension to the rear of the house, with two sets of folding-sliding glass doors and a sloping glass roof.
The plans also included a separate playroom for the boys, carved out from part of an oversized internal garage. ‘In summer, the bi-fold doors to the playroom open straight out onto the garden, which the boys and their friends love,’ says Kirstie. ‘Thinking ahead, it will be a fantastic teenage hangout, too.’
The original dark kitchen-diner was reworked as a free-flowing open-plan space, with doors leading into the living room on one side and a playroom on the other. ‘The end result was that we gained a light and fresh room that works as the heart of our home,’ says Kirstie. As the couple were only extending by 1.5 metres, planning permission was straightforward. However, the build had its ups and downs, and the family lived on site throughout the job.
‘It meant we were around for all the niggles that came up, but it was tough at times,’ says Kirstie. ‘We basically lived in the living room – it was where we cooked, ate and spent the evenings. We never resorted to ready meals, either. We had a microwave, but most of our cooking was done on a gas-fired barbecue in the front porch. I remember some tradespeople seeing me stirring a saucepan of soup on it, and they couldn’t believe their eyes!’
Inevitably, there were delays, and the planned six-month build turned into 18 months. ‘Having experienced a previous renovation project, we were prepared for complications, but we didn’t expect Oscar, then aged five, to break his leg falling off his scooter,’ says Kirstie. ‘He had a plaster cast for six weeks, so I had to help carry him up and down the stairs and give him showers.’ A month later, his brother Max broke his arm playing on the drive. Kirstie admits that the renovation could be a challenge at times, ‘but we got through it,’ she says. ‘It was like camping, but with extra dust and dirt.’
The family had one semi-functioning bathroom upstairs. ‘At one point, the windows weren’t fitted, so the room was open to the elements and freezing. When I needed a bath I had to ask the builders when their tea break was, so when they came down I could scoot upstairs for the quickest, least relaxed bath.’ Having experienced living in a completely open-plan space in their previous home, Kirstie and Simon are pleased that they now have the luxury of a separate living room on one side of the kitchen and a dedicated playroom on the other. ‘This layout gives us the main space for family time, but it also means that we are able to “close the door” on the boys’ toys at the end of the day.’ In the kitchen, the couple wanted to have a clean-cut, fuss-free look, sticking to a palette of granite grey against ice white and stainless steel. ‘We both love the functionality of the steel worktops – it gives a really professional surface that can take anything you throw at it.’
Kirstie used a local company, Seymour Kitchens, to fit the units: ‘I did visit a very high-end kitchen showroom, but they didn’t call me back. I do prefer to support a local business, as you usually get a more personal service.’ Underfloor heating was the final essential element, ensuring that the space didn’t feel cold or impersonal. Simon sourced all the flooring, lights and doors. ‘We didn’t want to live regretting someone else’s choices,’ he says.
In the living room, greys and neutral shades create an elegant, refined scheme, while a wood-burning stove replaced a chintzy MDF fireplace. Kirstie’s eye for design has achieved a tricky balance: integrating reconditioned vintage finds with the calm, uncluttered backdrop, she took her time sourcing furniture and decorative items. ‘I love visiting auctions, antique markets and even charity shops,’ she says. ‘Aged pieces of furniture are often of far better quality and add a real sense of character. With a little imagination, they can be brought back to life and used together with modern items to give your home a warm, livable feel.’
Kirstie has stripped and painted many of the pieces in their home and she now sources furniture for friends, giving each item a bespoke finish.
Upstairs, there are five bedrooms, one of which is used as a home office. In the master bedroom, an extra opening was created at the front to match the twin windows at the rear, and the old unattractive blue fireplace tiles were replaced with neutral metro tiles.
As a tribute to the house’s Edwardian roots, the Mikhails hired a joiner to make period-style latch doors and sourced the metal door furniture online. The master en suite reveals the couple’s taste for classic streamlined design, with a walnut vanity unit adding warmth to the space. The boys have a separate bathroom, with tiles in cool shades and punchy green accents.
The guest bedroom has the feel of a boutique hotel. ‘When friends come to stay, I like them to feel as though they are somewhere special,’ says Kirstie.
Jobs for the rest of the summer include re-painting the exterior and landscaping the garden. In the meantime, Kirstie and Simon can sit back and enjoy the dramatic change that has been created inside. ‘Simon likes the idea of building our own house one day,’ says Kirstie, ‘but I think that this project has proved how the house you own can be transformed in myriad ways, using clever architectural changes and interior design touches.’
|Windows and doors||£40,000|
|Electrics and lighting||£37,000|
|Plumbing and heating||£33,000|
|Blinds, curtains and shutters||£5,000|
|Furniture and re-upholstery||£5,000|