Property: The clatter of tiny feet

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A London flat may be ideal for singles or couples. But what if there are young children to house as well? Fiona Brandhorst talks to two families making the most of their homes.

When actor Adrian Lukis was looking to buy a flat in London with his wife Michelle six years ago, it wasn't just a question of finance and location. It also had to suit a very active toddler.

So when they bought the top two floors of a Victorian property with its high skylighted ceiling and spiral staircase leading to galleried bedrooms, they were determined to make it work for their daughter too.

"It was fatally impractical for a toddler," says Adrian. "At first we simply didn't use the spiral staircase because it was just too dangerous. We put up a barrier at the bottom and shared one big bed in the bedroom off the living room." Happily, Anna has adapted well and has "grown up with the dangers just by watching us," says Michelle.

Adrian, who's currently starring in Peak Practice, spends much of his time on location in the Derbyshire countryside. So what's it like coming back to a shared garden? "Awkward. We don't like invading someone's else's space with a child." Their flat, however, in a quiet backwater south of the river, overlooks a park that the family likes to call its own.

"We often sit up here drinking coffee with friends watching our children riding round the park on their bikes", says Adrian. "They can have their independence without going out of sight," adds Michelle.

Anna's love of animals hasn't been restricted by living in a flat. Molly the cat is free to come and go as she pleases, while George the "house- trained" rabbit lives in his hutch in their former family bedroom.

As Anna has grown, the clutter of toys has been replaced by her "bicycle, rollerblades and riding boots" vying for space in the narrow entrance hall. "We've had to reduce clutter to a minimum so we could co-exist more easily," says Adrian. However, they've recently made a decision to expand their home by buying the ground floor of the house when it came on the market at the end of last year.

"It's a bit like playing Monopoly," says Michelle. "We tried to find another property locally and although we could think of a hundred reasons to move, we kept coming back to two reasons to stay; the view and the neighbours." All they needed was more space. They enjoy living in a "community that gets on with its life", giving them the anonymity they desire. On a good day it's only a 20-minute drive to the City or West End and Anna is firmly settled at the local state school.

Having more space will also solve the increasing problem of privacy. Michelle works from home as a psychotherapist and when she has an evening client, Adrian and Anna have to make themselves scarce. The ground floor would provide a study and Anna would like a playroom somewhere in the house. It would also release the upper-level master bedroom so that Adrian can have his longed-for "den" where he can retreat to study scripts or play his acoustic guitar.

Adrian and Michelle bought the first floor from interior designer John Gillah and he has been commissioned to redesign the new acquisition in keeping with the original's dramatic and theatrical feel. Now eight years old, Anna is bound to approve and she'll no longer have to share her garden.

Sylvia and Richard Clifford would only view ground-floor flats with the sole use of a garden when they were looking to buy a home five months before the arrival of their first child. The small rear garden is "big enough for a paddling pool" but it's not sufficiently screened from bordering backyards. "On one side of us the garden's unused and overgrown," says Sylvia, "on the other our neighbours have children and we get on really well, but it would be awkward if we didn't."

Like many conversions, the internal layout of the flat is "peculiar": the bathroom, for instance, is off the living room. "The biggest drawback is having the children in the room next to us in the evenings as opposed to somewhere upstairs," says Sylvia.

The noise level from the Cliffords' flat has increased considerably with the arrival of Louise, now three and Eleanor, 10 months. This is a worry for Sylvia, since the neighbour above works from home most of the time. She finds his occasional use of loud expletives emanating from above amusing but she's not sure what he makes of her "mother from hell tendencies". "It's all very well shouting at the girls at the time, but 10 minutes later I have to face him in the hallway when they are looking their angelic best. It's all very embarrassing."

The flat is near to good bus routes and a short walk to the station but, even better, it's literally on the doorstep of and thus in the catchment area of an over-subscribed local school. Flats in their street will always appeal to families with school-age children.

Living on the ground floor makes leaving the flat with the children easier. "I can flush them out into the hall when they're ready, so they can't keep running back for things. And they don't have to negotiate stairs."

Sylvia and Richard lost a reception room when Louise moved into her own bedroom but luckily they didn't have much furniture to re-house. However, the flat gets pretty crowded when they have grandparents or friends to stay. "Louise and Eleanor will outgrow the space and we can see privacy becoming a problem at puberty," says Sylvia." If we want a third child we'll definitely have to move."