Buy Of The Week: Kennington

It wouldn't look out of place in the countryside, but a flexible family home in SE11 is just a short step away from Westminster
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The Independent Online

The SE11 postcode, in Kennington, represents one of London's most diverse, interesting and historical areas. Whether you live in a Sixties high-rise, a loft apartment or one of the many pretty Georgian properties in Walcot Square, Cleaver Square or West Square, Kennington is a magnet for those who want to be close to the centre of town. This explains its popularity with MPs, as well as young families with parents who want to be able to nip into work in central London and not have to face a big commute.

The SE11 postcode, in Kennington, represents one of London's most diverse, interesting and historical areas. Whether you live in a Sixties high-rise, a loft apartment or one of the many pretty Georgian properties in Walcot Square, Cleaver Square or West Square, Kennington is a magnet for those who want to be close to the centre of town. This explains its popularity with MPs, as well as young families with parents who want to be able to nip into work in central London and not have to face a big commute.

Bordering Stockwell and Vauxhall, Kennington has made the transition in recent years from an uncompromising urban sprawl into a more villagey location, with bars, restaurants and delis popping up in response to the needs of its younger population. In terms of both landmarks and transport, Kennington has a lot going for it. It's home to the Imperial War Museum and the new MI6 building, and is just around the corner from England's largest cricket ground, The Oval, which has a capacity of 16,500.

Getting straight into town is simple and direct: there are buses galore, and as well as nearby Vauxhall and Elephant and Castle main-line stations, there are also three Northern Line tube stations on the doorstep. The area is dominated by three main roads, Kennington Road, Kennington Park Road and Kennington Lane, the last of which leads to a private gated mews.

With four bedrooms, 34ft reception room, countrified garden and off-street parking, The Old Forge, currently on the market with Wooster and Stock, might give even the diehard country commuter the smallest twinge of envy. Originally converted from an 1890 forge, the building has been turned into a living space for an urban family. As well as a ground floor containing the massive reception room, kitchen, two bedrooms and two bathrooms, the incredibly high ceiling height has allowed for a mezzanine level (ideal for guests), with another bedroom, a bathroom and a study off the galleried landing. There is also a first floor proper, with another bedroom and bathroom with a dramatic sunken bath.

When Sue Welland bought the building in 1995, it had most recently been in use as an estate agent's offices. She bought the property with a group of friends as a part of a job lot of properties in the area, which included a large Georgian house and part of another building nearby.

"I had been living in a two-bedroom flat in Shepherd's Bush, and I met a guy in Spain who had the most amazing open-plan apartment. So when I went back to my London flat, I decided to sell it, and I spent 18 months touring the city to find the perfect project."

Welland eventually found The Old Forge by peering over a fence as she was standing on the roof of her car. "I quickly organised friends to bid for other parts of the job lot, with very little time left before the auction." The structure consisted merely of a shell with a round window, a concrete floor and a pair of double doors. "I wanted the amazingly large ground floor to remain as open as possible, so I added the mezzanine level to increase its usable size," she says. "And over the next eight years, it became a work in progress, as I continually added to it."

Welland's artist friends have left their mark on different parts of the project. One created the stained glass in the four portholes and eight internal windows, based on the theme of poppies, and another friend embroidered all the curtains.

She currently works for Future Forests (www.futureforests.com), which advises companies on how to cut down on their contribution to global warming, and she has used reclaimed materials wherever possible, including radiators, wood for the flooring, and kitchen and hall tiles that were sourced from an 18th-century French church. The lavatory in one of the bathrooms came from the old GLC building.

What strikes you as you enter the 34 x 30ft living room is the reclaimed oak hexagon-pattern floor, flooded with light that comes from the pitched and glazed roof with steel beams.

"I was working in Spain and was inspired by floors there," says Welland. "I wanted a floor that didn't circumscribe the building's shape, as floorboards with lines running in one direction might have done. The use of hexagons allows the effect of space to 'stretch' in any direction and, combined with plain walls, the floor becomes a 'picture' and looks dramatic."

Though the walls utilise a mainly neutral colour palette, interest has been created by the use of rough plaster on the walls, sometimes with powder colour added to the mixture. In the first-floor bathroom with its sunken bath, Welland has retained the original glazed creamy bricks at one end. "When I bought the building, I hadn't seen into the roof space, and I was excited to find these bricks exposed. In the rest of the building they have been rendered, but I felt that uncovering them all might produce a cold interior."

In the past four years, she has removed and rebuilt the mezzanine level, which now has two bedrooms and a wet room; she had to move out for nine months with her new baby while the work was carried out.

Welland is selling the property because she feels that she needs to inhabit "a new shape and a new challenge". The building still has enough scope to satisfy even the most ambitious future owner. "The house has a large footprint, and it also has planning permission to extend into part of the garden, so could become even bigger."

The Old Forge is for sale for £1.2m, through Wooster and Stock (020 7732 4757)

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