Transforming a Victorian townhouse

Jennifer Williams has brought glamour and style to her elegant period home, while creating a more spacious and open layout. The five bedroom Victorian terraced townhouse in West London has been transformed with spacious living areas decorated with sumptuous furnishings in a range of tactile fabrics and colours

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Tired of apartment-style living, Jennifer Williams yearned for a spacious house that would give her young daughter Olivia plenty of room to grow.

‘The convenience of living in a flat was no longer important to me and I decided to search for a large property within my price range in west London,’ says Jennifer. ‘After a year of looking, I found a Victorian townhouse in a great location – although it took five viewings for me to see that it offered fantastic potential.’

Jennifer’s failure to connect instantly with the house was largely due to its existing décor, which was very minimalist in style, with built-in, dark veneered cupboards and a contemporary kitchen.

‘It was like walking into a giant bachelor pad. Although it had been refurbished completely, the interior was much too masculine for me,’ she admits. ‘However, the basement area housing the kitchen-diner clinched it for me, even though the units were not to my taste. I loved the bright, open space and began visualising how the house could be remodelled.’

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The owner: Jennifer Williams (right), who is a real estate developer, lives here with her daughter Olivia, eight

With her busy career, Jennifer didn’t have time to project-manage the renovations, so she called on the services of interior designer Gemma Zimmerhansl.

‘I knew Gemma personally, as her husband used to be one of my clients when I worked in the banking industry,’ Jennifer explains. ‘She was the perfect choice for the job because she has such great contacts in the design and building world.’

After a series of consultations with Gemma, Jennifer agreed that the best way forward was to reconfigure the ground and second floors, working to an initial three-month schedule, which would include redecorating the entire house.

‘We had an intensive briefing day going through Jennifer’s likes and dislikes,’ Gemma explains. ‘It was clear to me that Jennifer was open to suggestions, though she had a strict “no red” rule. However, she loves the colour blue, so I tried to incorporate that into the interior scheme as much as possible.’

To escape all the inevitable disruption of the renovations, Jennifer and Olivia continued living in their apartment nearby, while Gemma oversaw the work, project-managing and liaising with the builders and tradespeople.

As Jennifer was happy with the light and airy lower ground-floor kitchen-diner, there were no plans for structural changes. She had also decided to fit a new kitchen at a later date. However, she changed her mind as the build progressed, thinking it would be a better to renovate everything at once while the builders were on site.

‘I didn’t like the existing kitchen units and wanted a traditional style instead,’ says Jennifer. ‘I had my new cabinets painted as I don’t like exposed wood. The blue tones of the island unit are echoed in the sofas of the adjacent living area, using shades of teal to complement the kitchen.’

The dining table is made from 120-yearold elm and oak. It has been placed next to an exposed wall of reclaimed bricks, which the builders created to disguise an ugly breeze block wall.

As the house is tall and narrow, Gemma tried to maximise the width of the interior spaces wherever possible. On the ground floor, a small hallway tended to lead people past the living room, making it the least-used room in the house.

‘The builders removed the partition wall between the two spaces, retaining the structural support column, to create a large living room with an open-plan study area which works much better,’ says Jennifer.

The reconfigured layout now features stylish furnishings in a palette of neutral warm greys and silvers – a scheme that is enlivened by the plum accents of the chairs and rug in this space.

‘Mirrored panels in the alcoves either side of the fireplace increase the feeling of space and reflect the light here,’ says Jennifer. ‘I wanted a formal but relaxed room where I could entertain my friends and family. As my work involves spending a lot of time at the computer, the study area is the ideal retreat.’

Jennifer’s first-floor bedroom, with its own en suite, is both luxurious and relaxing. Featuring bespoke Italian flooring and a crystal chandelier, it’s inspired by old-style Hollywood glamour.

‘A team flew in from Italy to lay the flooring, which was cut into different pieces – it was a painstaking job,’ says Jennifer. ‘The effect is similar to marquetry – I think it’s an incredibly beautiful feature.’

The en suite reflects the smoky silver tones of her bedroom and features a bath with steps, which was inspired by the room scheme in Jennifer’s favourite hotel.

‘I spared no expense in my en suite, opting for a luxury shower instead of buying a new car,’ Jennifer says. ‘Admittedly, it blew the budget, but I really wanted it and have no regrets about my choice.’

While the builders were working in her bedroom they discovered bare, live wiring concealed behind the plasterboard. They capped this off then made it safe, before rewiring the space for a built-in TV.

‘A previous owner must have cut corners while renovating the house, so we spent a great deal of time undoing some pretty dodgy work and making good,’ Jennifer explains. ‘For example, the waste and soil pipes had to be re-installed as they had been fitted horizontally, so that there was no force for the water to exit the house.’

High on Jennifer’s wish-list was a girly en suite bedroom for her daughter Olivia, where she would be able to host sleepovers for school friends. She planned to create it by converting two small bedrooms on the top floor into one large space.

‘Gemma suggested removing the dividing wall and installing double doors in its place. The bedroom could then either remain opened up, or be easily separated for when a second bedroom is needed,’

Jennifer explains. ‘I wanted to avoid a sugary pink look though. Olivia loves her handmade fairytale bed and the soft shades used on the walls.’

Having spent nine months on the renovation work, Jennifer feels that she’s learned a great deal from the experience.

‘I’m delighted with the results,’ she says. ‘Gemma encouraged me to try decorating styles that I wouldn’t have considered. I’ve discovered that I’m more eclectic in my tastes than I imagined, and that traditional pieces can sit perfectly well with more contemporary materials.

‘My home now has the individuality and character that I believe was lacking before,’ she adds. ‘There’s a sense of cohesiveness, plus a relaxing feel, which is important.’

The costs

Building work£150,000
Kitchen£46,000
Fixtures and fittings£44,000
Decorating and lighting£38,000
Bathrooms£37,000
Flooring£35,000
TOTAL£350,000