Transforming a Victorian home

'Our Victorian home has been completely transformed': Sara and Paul Forbes have extended and reinvented a dated terraced house, using creative design ideas to make their space unique. The changes they have made include joining two rear extensions to make one, creating more space in the process

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A glass-walled courtyard, stone ‘carpet’ and wardrobes that appear to float in mid-air are just some of the more unusual design ideas that have been incorporated into Sara and Paul Forbes’ newly refurbished Victorian home. The couple employed imagination and elbow grease to transform a terraced house in south-east London – which had not had an update in three decades – into a distinctly personalised space for themselves and their young family.

‘My brother lured us to this part of London in 1999, when he suggested pooling resources for a conversion project,’ says Paul. ‘We were turning a commercial building into flats, and Sara and I lived there for a while. When Tom was born, though, we decided we needed a more traditional family home in a residential area. We particularly liked the character of this street – and it was a real bonus finding a house that had been virtually untouched for 30 years.’

Fact file

The owners: Sara Forbes, a small-business accountant and lounge DJ, and her husband Paul, a director of dMFK Architects, live here with their children, Tom, six, and two-year-old Daisy

Set out over three floors, with four bedrooms and a storage basement below, the house had remained in the same family for decades. ‘There was no central heating and the only bathroom in the whole building was located downstairs at the back, so you had to walk through the kitchen to reach it,’ Sara recalls. ‘Not only was this layout awkward, but it meant that views and access out into the garden were limited.’

The dining room, kitchen and bathroom were contained within two single-storey elements, which stepped down the sloping site and created a long, narrow side passage. As an architect, Paul was keen to radically remodel this space-wasting configuration – planning to demolish the dining room and replace it with a two-storey extension on the same footprint. This would contain a new bedroom and bathroom on the first floor.

‘We debated whether the children’s rooms should be above or below ours, but in the end we decided to put our room at the top of the house and convert the bedroom next to it into a master en suite,’ says Paul.

On the ground floor, the second single-storey extension, which contained the cramped kitchen and bathroom, was to be rebuilt using reclaimed Londonstock bricks and given a slate roof, in accordance with Conservation Area guidelines. This part of the house would also be extended sideways into the original side passageway – Paul’s design included a glass roof to enclose this space, running the full length of the room. Two additional rooflights would also pierce the roof section above the newly formed kitchen-diner/day room.

‘We applied for planning permission early – between making our offer and completing on the sale of the house – which meant we were ready to start work immediately,’ explains Paul. ‘I paid my way through college running a small building company and have always been very hands-on, so I decided to projectmanage – co-ordinating the various trades myself – and get involved with as much of the actual work as possible.’

The first job was to tackle the walls. ‘The roof and windows were sound, but the plaster was falling off the walls and we needed to strip every last scrap from the building, leaving just floorboards and joists,’ says Sara. ‘The whole house was then rewired and new central heating installed – although our one regret was that we didn’t splash out then and have underfloor heating put in for the kitchen.’

With budget uppermost in their minds, though, the couple were determined to find ways to save money. They employed a quantity surveyor to prepare a detailed schedule of work and then obtained several quotes from builders for constructing the extension – a process that literally halved the final cost, saving them £26,000. They went on to employ the same tactics throughout the project, shopping around and checking online for the best prices to create stylish interiors without breaking the bank.

Having chosen their contractor, the family remained living in their previous flat, within walking distance of the house, while the building work went on. Paul managed to juggle working full-time with project-managing the eight-month renovation project. He visited the site every morning before work and again each evening. Later on, he took some time off from his job to complete the carpentry work in the kitchen, the family bathroom and the en suite.

The kitchen was designed as a single monolithic block of units, running floor-to-ceiling down one wall of the extension. ‘We wanted colours that would work at all times of the day. We chose a neutral grey-green for the units, solid walnut worktops, stainless-steel appliances and a dark brown painted splashback, which is lit from above by pelmet lights,’ explains Sara.

Lighting and glass play significant roles in this new open-plan space. A small external courtyard is enclosed with glass panels in hardwood frames and these match the glazed doors and fixed glass panel overlooking a new raised deck and the garden beyond. Pleated voile blinds below the glass roof can be operated by a motor and act to diffuse harsh sunlight.

The room has been furnished with a combination of contemporary pieces, such as the lime-green sofas, and more retro items. ‘In every room, we have invested in a few key pieces, such as the rosewood drinks cabinet in our sitting room,’ says Paul. ‘We found a brilliant shop in Nottingham that restores furniture classics, so a lot of the G-Plan pieces are from there. Other items we already had. Everything has its own story; it’s what gives a house its personality.’

Upstairs there’s a wall-hung furniture theme, with wardrobes in the master bedroom and storage units in Daisy’s room suspended from the wall, rather than being floor-standing. This idea started with wall-hung sanitaryware being chosen for the bathrooms to create a sense of more space. Both rooms have a contemporary feel, as do the rest of the rooms on the upper levels.

‘The transformation is amazing,’ says Sara. ‘The space now works brilliantly for the whole family and it’s nice to be able to enjoy it after all the hard work.’


Surveyor’s fee£1,000
Labour and materials£23,000
Heating and plumbing£10,000
Glazing and doors£15,000