Redesigning to increase space

Having converted their loft and fitted a new kitchen and bathroom 16 years ago, the Joyce family decided to take on further renovation work to update the home they love

TODO alt text

When Jennifer and Patrick Joyce first viewed their unique Victorian property, it was, she recalls, a case of hearts ruling heads. The couple, both American, moved to the UK nearly 20 years ago when Patrick’s job placed him here. They later decided to stay, searching a quiet corner of Surrey for somewhere they could put down roots.

‘We saw our current home very early on in our search and we both loved it,’ says Jennifer. ‘There’s nothing quite like this in America – with the huge proportions, magnificent windows and lovely high ceilings. However, we could see that it needed an enormous amount of work, so we tried to be sensible and reluctantly ruled it out – ignoring our hearts.’

Fact file

The owner: Jennifer Joyce, a food writer and stylist (, and her husband Patrick, a sales manager, live here with their sons, Liam,12, and Riley, nine

The Joyces continued their search but, after seeing around 40 properties but nothing they liked, they noted that the maisonette was still on the market. The lure was too much to resist the second time around.

‘I think people had been put off by the amount of work it would obviously involve to modernise the place,’ says Jennifer, ‘but it was such a good price for what was on offer, we decided to go for it. It’s an unusual property – the top half of a huge house converted into two maisonettes. There’s so much light and space; it’s over 200m², which is bigger than some houses.’

The couple undertook a substantial makeover of the maisonette in 1993, when they first moved in, spending £40,000. This included totally replastering all the walls and ceilings, then wallpapering, painting and redecorating, putting wardrobes in the bedrooms and storage in every room, and, most importantly, installing a new kitchen and bathroom. And because the property originally had just two bedrooms, Jennifer and Patrick also converted the loft into a master bedroom with an en suite.

It was 15 years before the Joyces – now with a growing young family and with no intention of moving from the home they love – decided it was time to update their property further. ‘We had done bits and pieces of work over the years, but things were really looking dated by then,’ says Jennifer. She was particularly keen on having a brand-new kitchen installed – modern facilities being essential for her work as a food writer and stylist. And she had plans to expand her business.

‘I test all the recipes for my cookery books here, and the old kitchen wasn’t really up to it any more,’ says Jennifer. ‘I also wanted to start giving cooking demonstrations and lessons, so that meant it needed a new layout – ideally with an island unit or breakfast bar for people to sit round. Many of my books are about entertaining and we often have people to dinner ourselves, where I try out new recipes. I wanted an openplan space where I could cook and still chat to our guests.’

The Joyces hired architect Rachel Hayward to help redesign the space. ‘Rachel was recommended to us and, although her services cost £5,000, we consider it money well spent.’

After going through the couple’s wish list, Rachel explained that first of all the maisonette would need totally rewiring and re-plumbing to cope with all the planned updates and new appliances.

‘At £50,000 for the work required, this was a major cost,’ says Jennifer, ‘but there was really no point going ahead with expensive installations if the ancient plumbing and electrics just weren’t up to it. At least we are confident now that everything will be in good working order for years to come.’

Jennifer turned her attention to planning her new kitchen. She hired design company Sheen Kitchen Design, which also arranged the installation. ‘I’m sure I was a bit more intense than your average client,’ Jennifer admits. ‘I wanted something contemporary and practical, insisting on all sorts of specific storage, such as slots in cupboards for baking trays to be stood upright, but then this is not only a key room for us as a family, it also has to work professionally for my job.’

Bespoke wooden base units were chosen to contrast with white wall cupboards, pale granite worktops and a splashback of classic white tiles from H&R Johnson. Stainless-steel handles and fittings were selected from Sheen’s range to match a state-of-the-art £10,000 cooker from Wolf. Jennifer wanted three rows of open shelving, too, matching the base units, to give her easy access to bowls and utensils.

Work began by blocking the original door to the kitchen from the hallway, leaving access into it from an archway onto the dining room. This provided extra wall space for an American-style fridge-freezer, which had previously stood in the hall for want of a sufficient slot. The breakfast bar was then built in the dining room, in front of the arch. It, too, was designed to match the kitchen units – and to cleverly provide Jennifer with the demonstration area she needed, yet without encroaching too much into her working space or the dining area. ‘It’s also a great place for a casual meal or just a chat with my friends,’ she says. Finally, to keep the room as light as possible, pale stone flooring was laid and the walls were painted in a neutral off-white.

With the kitchen finished, the couple turned their attention to the rest of the house. Every room was repainted, but it was the spare bedroom that needed the most work. ‘We used to have a big four-poster bed in there, taking up rather a lot of space,’ says Jennifer. ‘I think spare bedrooms are a bit of an outdated concept, as there just isn’t the space in most houses. We decided to put in a comfortable sofa-bed instead and move the TV in from the living room. I’ve also set up my office in there, so it’s now really multifunctional.’

Without the television, the living room has become a relaxing space used more by the adults than the boys. There are comfy sofas and floor-to-ceiling bespoke bookshelves, painted in City Grey from Zoffany.

In total, the work took two months to complete and the couple found living with the disruption difficult at times. ‘Luckily, we were able to escape from the worst of the chaos by going on a family holiday,’ explains Jennifer, who says that the whole family are now enjoying their updated space. ‘It all went very smoothly, really.’

With the redecorating throughout complete, Jennifer’s love of vivid colour is apparent, with bold turquoises, greens, oranges, reds and purples adding a vibrant touch. ‘I love to add colour and am always looking out for accent pieces in my favourite shades,’ she says. ‘I’m a big fan of coloured pottery and glassware, and I buy a lot of it at a friend’s shop in Notting Hill, or when I’m on holiday.’

The Joyces are also tentatively planning more work – for when they’ve saved up some money and can face further disruption. ‘We want to divide our attic room into two bedrooms for the boys and then move down into their current bedroom,’ says Jennifer. ‘But that will probably be years away. For now, we just want to enjoy our home. I can’t see us ever leaving here.’


Re-plastering, re-decorating and bespoke storage£10,000
Fitted kitchen£35,000