When Brian Seaward bought his house at auction 13 years ago, he had previously only seen it by torchlight. With three days to go before the sale, he had no time to survey the property or to prepare himself financially, but the unique proportions of the house as well as its endless internal space were exactly what he had been looking for.
Built in 1839 as one of nine late-Georgian villas, the huge house had previously been used as a recording studio by Decca in the Sixties and, more recently, as a Masonic hall, before falling into the shambolic state in which Seaward found it. Uninhabited for six years, the house was all but derelict, surrounded by 6ft-high nettles and practically without a roof. Seaward had nowhere else to live, so he moved straight in. Sharing his new home with a family of pigeons, he began work on a renovation project that was to take 10 years and cost him more than £300,000. The product of his hard work is this truly unique, 6,186sq ft live/work property, situated in Tollington Park, just west of Finsbury Park, north London.
First of all, the house was stripped back to a shell. "There was little worth salvaging," Seaward recalls. "Dry rot had taken hold and, although I kept whatever I could, vast swathes of floorboards had to go, along with most of the original features of the house."
The ground floor, which had been subdivided into offices, was opened up and returned to its original layout of reception room, kitchen and dining room. Three bedrooms were reinstated on the first floor, where there had previously been a self-contained flat. "As we knocked down the dividing walls, the house revealed its original layout. I have rebuilt it to this plan, replacing many of the original features, and added my own mark, too," says Seaward.
After opening up the space on the ground floor, Seaward added an extra light source in the form of a huge skylight, sacrificing a small amount of bedroom space on the floor above. The light now floods down from the top of the staircase into the hall. And as well as changing the direction of the stairs, Seaward also designed a unique staircase with metal banisters incorporating Victorian crystal-glass balls. "I think the mixture of the modern elements imposed on to the Victorian features works really well," he says.
The reception room was opened up to create a 33ft space, and, in this room at least, Seaward was able to salvage the original wooden window shutters and the beautiful extra-wide floorboards, which are now stained dark-brown. He also copied the one remaining chimneypiece to create a second matching one for the other end of the room, finishing off with new cornicing and picture rails. The flat roof of the vast kitchen was also replaced by an eaved roof with large windows inset; as it opens on to the 21ft dining room, the feeling of space between the two rooms is remarkable. Here, Seaward also added another skylight above the dining table, bathing the room in a pool of natural light.
With all the structural work complete and the interior replastered from top to bottom, Seaward could finally embark on the decorating. As a still-life photographer, he was able to apply his artistic eye to balance his choice of strong, lively colours, creating a vibrant scheme tempered by the flow of natural light and generous internal proportions of the house. "I've always loved playing around with colour; I'm not a black-and-white person," says Seaward. "Putting paint on the walls is the fun and least expensive part of the project and I enjoy experimenting."
His unusually brave juxtapositions of colour have been inspired by travels through Spain, The Caribbean and Mexico.
"The areas of strong colour are broken up by the collections of pictures, mainly my own photos, and objects in their hundreds that I have hung on the walls," he says. "With the grey weather here in England, we need to add a bit of colour to our world."
As well as the colour scheme, it's the extraordinary space of the lower-ground floor that really sets this house apart. It consists of a self-contained, two-bedroom flat with its own patio garden, plus a vast working studio - totalling 4,000sq ft. "When Decca owned the house, they adapted this area for use as a recording studio, lowering the ground level to increase the overall height. They also installed an amazing sprung wooden floor, which, fortunately, was preserved in good condition." The sense of space in the 50ft studio is augmented by a mezzanine level running the entire length of the room. French windows open on to a wide, secluded garden. With a kitchen, cloakrooms and parking for several cars, this floor provides a workspace big enough for all the office - and if work's not your thing, you could fit three full- sized snooker tables into the space
After 30 years in advertising, Seaward has decided to sell his house and pursue a quieter life outside the capital. He says he will miss this house, especially its graceful proportions and space and easy access to central London. Although its immediate location is still on the up, in terms of sheer size this house is priced to sell and would make the perfect home for anyone needing a large work space - be they a record producer, a ballroom dancer or a snooker professional.
Get the spec
What's for sale: Five-bedroom live/work property arranged over three floors, including a self-contained, two-bedroom flat and working studio.
Serious kit: 50ft studio with sprung wooden floor; master bedroom with balcony; large garage and off-street parking.
How big? 6,186sq ft internal floor area.
Buy it: The property is for sale through Foxtons, Muswell Hill (020-8829 4040, www.foxtons.co.uk ) for £1,750,000.Reuse content