Life on the level

Cheryl Markosky talks to Neil Hogan about turning a Sixties bungalow into a modern home
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The Independent Online

Neil Hogan is creative director of an architectural and design consultancy. He lives with his wife Emma in a refurbished Sixties bungalow in Laleham, Surrey

My wife and I first got to know the Staines area when we came down to waterski on the lakes nearby. We were living in St Margaret's, Twickenham and wanted more space, a garden and a place where we could make our mark. We saw the bungalow about three years ago. You can't actually see it from the road, so its seclusion was one of the things that attracted us. It sits on an L-shaped plot with three other houses built on what must have been a large suburban garden, although there is no sign of the original house now. The Thames is just 50 yards away down the towpath.

"My firm, Spence Harris Hogan, does a mix of retail, residential and commercial work. At the moment, we are working for LA Fitness and thinking up new concepts for McDonald's. Working in architecture and design, I knew that a typical Sixties bungalow could be opened up quite easily. The great thing about a single-storey house is that because it has so few load-bearing walls, converting it is relatively cheap. As soon as we moved in, we set about making it light, airy and open-plan.

"First, we took out all the stud partition walls. There was a corridor running down the middle of the house that was a complete waste of space. Then we took out the kitchen and generally rationalised the whole inside of the house.

"We replaced the kitchen with a free-standing Ikea version. We had the plumber and electrician prepare the walls. Then I built the flat-pack units and 'walked them in' - builders' speak for setting them in place. It was all very economical and flexible.

"We turned five sets of small windows into bigger, sliding patio doors and because there were no structural changes, planning permission wasn't required. The radiators that were under the windows are now vertically mounted and fed from above. One problem with bungalows is that the plumbing is often concreted in, so we re-plumbed the whole house. You can easily run plastic pipes through the empty roof void, so it was really straightforward.

"As soon as we opened the space out, we laid wooden floors everywhere. We avoided the currently rather trendy dark wood and went for a rustic beech, which fits in better with the smaller spaces. The centre of the house is now our wonderful 23-foot kitchen/dining room. The style is minimalistic with lots of stainless steel, wood and pale walls - clean lines and no clutter.

"We've installed low-voltage indirect halogen downlighters with two or three dimmable light sources in every room. We haven't used many feature lights. My company does a lot of complex lighting design, but in this house it was a case of just putting in what seemed appropriate. The whole design concept was tailored to this house in this area. We could have spent more money and been more adventurous, but then it would have looked out of place. It was something of an experiment for us to move out of town and do a place up and we were relatively conservative, because Twickenham is still a rather traditional area. If the conversion had been too modern, it might have made it more difficult to sell.

"Both of the bathrooms are brand new - part timber, stone and tiles - so they have something of a hotel feel about them. I salvaged this huge four-foot diameter round porthole window from another job for one of them. I suppose we were a little more aggressive in the bathrooms.

"We put in an internal glass brick wall. In the afternoon and evening, light travels through the patio doors, then through the glass wall into the kitchen/dining room where we spend most of our time. In the morning we get direct sunlight, but in the evening we get this wonderfully soft diffuse light. Using natural light well is very important, especially in a relatively small house.

"We have built a big secluded wooden deck, so we have the luxury of walking straight through the patio doors - even from our bedroom - on a nice summer day. It is a bit surreal sitting here at the moment, because there is a flock of green parrots wheeling overhead. The rumour is they escaped from Heathrow.

"The bungalow cost us £240,000 and we spent £30,000 on the refurbishment. The job took about five months and we lived here, which I wouldn't recommend because you tend to slow the work down. I hired all the tradesmen separately, rather than using one building firm for the whole job. But to do it that way, you really have to know what you are doing.

"Many of these bungalows were originally aimed at the retirement market, but we came from living in a single-storey flat in London, so it felt like a natural transition. The only difference is that there is nobody above or below us. In North America, they appreciate that single-storey homes are great for kids. Some people put a second storey on top of a bungalow but that never made sense to us.

"A really big attraction is the river, which is only 50 yards away. We have a small boat moored locally at Penton Hook Marina. It's all so tranquil with the swans and the ducks.

"The house is in Laleham - a great little village. Our local is The Three Horseshoes, a pleasant pub with good food. We have good local shops and a Spanish restaurant close at hand. Staines is a very serviceable town, with the shops, multiplex and fast rail connections to Waterloo. My wife Emma, who works in marketing, uses the trains all the time. We're expecting our first baby in September, so when we sell this house, we'll be looking for our next project."

101 Staines Road, Laleham is on offer for £355,000 through Curchods 01923 230033

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