Restoring a Victorian townhouse

Property development enthusiasts, Lucy and David Houlton were searching for a fresh challenge when they came across the perfect project in a large four-storey Victorian townhouse. Previously converted into bedsits in the 1960s, the couple excitedly set about restoring it to its original status as a spacious family home

‘There was a self-contained flat on the lower ground floor, with eight bedsits arranged on the levels above,’ says Lucy. ‘It was dark and gloomy but very spacious, with a floor area of around 2,400 square feet. Few houses in the street were that size, and we knew a similar renovated property would cost considerably more.’

The conversion work on the eight bedsits hadn’t been done to a high standard. Many of the original features still remained, which was to the couple’s advantage, as the landlord hadn’t gone to the expense of bricking up or ripping out the fireplaces and cornicing, or replacing the windows.

‘We realised we could turn it back into a comfortable family home by knocking through some of the internal walls to create larger living areas and decent-sized bedrooms,’ says Lucy. ‘We planned to open up the lower ground floor and transform it into a large open-plan kitchen-diner, and even considered an extension.’

Fact file

The owners: Lucy Houlton, who is a website editor, lives here with her husband David, a financial services director, and their two daughters, Lola, 10, and Edie, five

The couple changed their mind, however, about the planned extension. They felt that they should maximise the available space in the house. It would have been an expensive renovation, particularly as it would have involved moving an exterior staircase, which was made of concrete.

‘As we were not increasing the actual footprint of the property, we decided to plan the new layout without calling in an architect,’ says Lucy.

The couple had to obtain planning permission, however, to turn the multiple dwellings back into a single house before the renovations could start.

‘That was agreed without any problems,’ says Lucy. ‘The rest of the work didn’t need permission, but it had to comply with Building Regulations.’

Lucy and David’s renovation plans included knocking through five internal walls and reconfiguring the rooms. The entire house had to be rewired and replumbed and the roof repaired, plus a new central heating system needed to be installed before the plastering could begin.

After calling in quotes from several local builders, they chose a company that provided a reasonable quote and a timescale to suit them, giving them the chance to provide creative input if needed.

Although it was a major project, the couple and their two children lived on site in the lower ground floor flat. It wasn’t easy for the family to adapt from their former four-bedroom house to a one-bedroom flat – but there were advantages.

‘It made sense to live here and it saved us around £15,000 in rent,’ says Lucy. ‘Luckily, I work from home, so I was on hand to deal with any problems too.’

The family spent seven months living in the flat before the upstairs rooms became habitable. Meanwhile, the builders had converted two bedsits and the ground floor kitchen into a large L-shaped living room. They also transformed two first floor bedsits into a luxurious dual-aspect master bedroom stretching the length of the house.

Until this point, the build had gone relatively smoothly, but then the builders encountered their first major problem. The walls they had removed so far were thin stud walls, which were dismantled easily, but the one dividing the first floor bedsits was a structural, load-bearing wall.

‘More steel joists were needed to support the floor above than the builders had expected, so the work took a week longer than planned,’ Lucy remembers.

Converting an adjacent small dated bathroom and a separate cloakroom into a new family bathroom was a straightforward job in comparison.

‘We knew the two spaces would work better as one large room, so we gave the builders the go ahead to knock down the dividing wall,’ says Lucy. ‘Once that wall was removed, the doorway into the cloakroom was bricked up. The bathroom door, which had been hung at an angle, was straightened to give the room a neater shape.’

On the second floor, two of the bedsits were turned into the girls’ bedrooms, while a third became a guest room. The eighth bedsit is now a candyfloss-pink bathroom with a shower and freestanding bath.

Once the ground, first and second floors had been renovated, the family were able to move into their new living space and bedrooms while the builders started work on converting the lower ground floor flat into a large kitchen-diner.

Although Lucy was pleased that the project was in its final stages, the family didn’t have access to the flat’s kitchen anymore. She had to rig up a makeshift kitchen in the new living room, using a two-ring burner, microwave and kettle.

‘The hard part was having to run up and down to the bathroom for water, or to wash the dishes,’ Lucy recalls.

Meanwhile, the builders knocked through the dividing wall between the bedroom and kitchen in the flat, bricked up the bedroom door and fitted RSJs across the ceiling between the two rooms.

It wasn’t without its setbacks. The couple wanted to open up this level further, but the wall between the bedroom and living room was too thick to knock through without extra expense, so they decided against it.

‘We then discovered some major damp down there, so the entire floor had to be damp-proofed and tanked,’ says Lucy.

The flat’s living room was turned into a playroom, which doubles up as a guest bedroom. An internal staircase was then built to connect the self-contained level with the rest of the house.

‘That just left the kitchen floor to be levelled, and the units and appliances fitted in the space – I couldn’t wait,’ says Lucy.

Five months later, Lucy had her dream kitchen – a bright, sociable space with floor-to-ceiling storage units and a central island housing an induction hob and integrated cupboards.

Almost a year after the build project had begun, the couple were able to reclaim the house as their own, feeling especially proud that it had been returned to its original status as a family home.

Overall they were delighted with the work – and that it remained within budget.

‘Our builders had given us a fixed price quote,’ says Lucy. ‘Although there were additional costs, including the steel joists in the master bedroom and damp-proofing in the basement, we were fortunate to have enough money to pay for them out of our contingency fund.’

There is only one thing that the couple would have done differently. ‘Now that we’ve been living here for a while, we feel that we should have gone for a larger kitchen incorporating a living area, as originally planned,’ Lucy explains.

‘For the time being, we’re very happy with our new home,’ she continues.

‘David and I won’t be taking on another major renovation project just yet.’


Building work£85,000
Painting and decorating£20,000
Plumbing and electrics£6,000
Roof reparis£3,000