Nicola and Nigel Green live in 1,500 square feet of a converted Victorian canvas house near Tower Bridge in London. Originally used for storing flags and marquees, it is now a modern "space" consisting mostly of one huge room with stripped floors, exposed brickwork and metal columns.
The ceiling beams still have signs for Wimbledon and Lords, reminding visitors of the building's original purpose. You might be forgiven for thinking the Greens are smart single types in a designer setting but the bright plastic toys which Ms Green likens to "volcanic lava erupting" give away the apartment's other inhabitants: Grace, aged five, Florence, two, and Millie seven months.
Open-plan living had always been a dream for the Greens, design consultants, who moved from their Wimbledon Victorian terrace when Grace was born. Why choose such an unusual property for your family home? "Living here with one baby was fine and I was told I couldn't have any more," Ms Green says.
Three daughters later, is the aspirational canvas house child-friendly? "People walk in and say `oh, it must be wonderful for children' and it is, but they do go a bit mad in this large space. It's hectic but I can watch them while I'm cooking," says Ms Green. She thought their home was unconventional until, "a mum at Grace's school said she couldn't have a party because of their dangerous metal staircases and I realised everyone in her class probably lives in a place like this".
The Greens, however, find their home is brilliant for children's parties: "We had the whole class, a children's entertainer and the parents in another corner with no problem." Are they purists when it comes to minimalism? "I am very ordered but there's more storage space than in a traditional loft," says Ms Green, who has given up trying to stem the flow of toys.
Living in a stylish space with children can lead to inventive adaptations which are not normally part of an architect's brief. "The columns are a bit dangerous but I've wrapped cushions around so they can't crash into them and I've tied the ladder in the library area with rope," Ms Green says. Are there particular aspects of life that are difficult? "It's hard getting in and out down the stairs with the baby and all our shopping is delivered - it's a bit like living in the middle of the country."
Down-river from the Greens, in a converted factory, lives a photographer. After 20 years in the States he was attracted to loft style living for himself and his two children who helped design the shell: "Their favourite place to roam was HMS Belfast where they liked to pretend they were pointing guns at the tourist boats."
This pastime resulted in the apartment's nautical theme: "There's a ship's ladder up to a galleried sleeping and play platform where you sit on deck. Adults can't stand up there and it's got portholes where the kids spy down to where I live and work - they love it."
When the architect had trouble fitting the ladders he was dispatched to HMS Belfast to "see how the Navy do it". The family loves the "avant garde" area but find the dearth of good schools a big disadvantage. "There's a lot of money round here but people are unwilling to put something back in to the community."
Mark Coulter, negotiator for Chestertons estate agency at Tower Bridge, says people tend to sell their warehouses when they have children. "It's like buying a sports car - fun when you're young but with kids you want something more practical."
Edmund and Rosalie Hall have no plans to move from their architect- designed space in Highbury, London, where they live with two-year-old Lola. After trying unsuccessfully to have children for 11 years they sold their "family home" and set about planning "a child-free pad".
"We took out all the walls and made one huge space with an open staircase in the middle," Mr Hall says. "When we found out Rosalie was pregnant it came right out of the blue but even then we didn't think about redesigning."
When Lola started crawling, the stairs became a problem. "We had the architect add stair rails which she wasn't happy about as she thinks the flat's too cluttered." The Halls find lack of privacy the main disadvantage of open-plan living but are compromising by buying the flat below and turning it into bedrooms. They do not see themselves heading for suburbia. "The space here is fantastic for children," Mr Hall says.
For the Greens, though, despite all the attractions of their lifestyle, it is time to move on. Has the lure of Betjeman's "chintzy, chintzy cheeriness" enticed the Greens to sell their canvas house? "We are moving to a more traditional house where we can walk into a garden," says Mrs Green, who has mixed feelings about leaving.
The other families in their block have also moved. "People tend to be a bit more sensible when the children reach school age. I love being by the river, where there is always something going on. If it were just us, we would stay. But we are choosing a whole new way of life."
The canvas house is for sale through Chestertons (0171 357 7999).Reuse content