Those living in cities know that the biggest luxury is space. But in London, with the price of an average home inching towards £400,000, space is at a particular premium for the typical young buyer. However, with some clever thinking, more space can be created even in the tiniest of starter homes — though it helps if you are an architect.
When presented with the space challenge in their first property together, Pereen d'Avoine and her partner Mat Witts came up with the goods. They turned a dark studio flat into an airy, bright one-bedroom home. The couple, both 33, carried out the work on a micro-budget and, according to "before and after" estimates, they have more than doubled their investment by upgrading their flat.
The project began in 2011 when they found a studio flat in a converted bakery building in Bethnal Green, east London, for £285,000. They loved its location, plus the fact that the period building had almost 12ft-high ceilings.
The flat consisted of one large L-shaped room containing kitchen and living areas, plus a bathroom and small dressing room and, reached via a ladder, a small sleeping gallery above.
The property was dark because the entire space, about 750sq ft, was lit from only one side, albeit by a run of three windows in the front wall. With no windows at all on the rear wall, this was the bleak, shadowy side of the flat. Pereen, who runs her own architectural practice, Russian for Fish (russianforfish.com), and Mat, saw potential. Their first task was to apply to Tower Hamlets council for planning consent to add a window to the back, which was granted so long as it was in keeping with the rest of the building. Then they drew up plans to reconfigure the rest of the property.
"The main problem was the gloom. I would wake up in the morning and turn the lights straight on," said Pereen. "And the sleeping gallery had that precarious ladder. We wanted more privacy from the main room and somewhere for guests to stay."
In February this year, armed with a budget of £40,000, work began. The entire flat was stripped out including gallery, kitchen and bathroom. Then the builders set about installing the extra window and repositioning a new kitchen beneath it.
The kitchen was made to measure, using birch ply stained white, and the cupboards were built almost up to the ceiling to maximise storage. The rickety gallery floor was rebuilt and extended with a desk-height balustrade around it, and a slim set of stairs. Beneath that, where the original large bathroom had been, went a smaller bathroom and a guest lavatory. A dressing area gives masses of room for clothes. Finally — and crucially — the couple closed off a section of the main room to create their bedroom. This transformed their home from a studio to a one-bedroom flat, with room for guests in the new mezzanine.
Pereen and Mat wanted sliding doors, but as they were £5,000, they stuck with regular hinged ones for £700. The total new look cost £33,000, with a further £3,000 going on legal and professional fees and incidentals such as hiring storage space for furniture.
One of the most cost-effective tricks involved the floor treatment. The existing floor was solid timber, with an unpleasant dark stain. The couple painted it with regular white floor paint, then marked it out with a chequerboard of hand-painted black squares. "It is just the sort of thing you could do yourself," said Mat.
A local estate agent's opinion was sought before starting work. Though an extra 60sq ft of floor space was added by enlarging the gallery, the agent felt the refurb alone could add about £80,000 to the value of the property. "I think this is because we created an extra bedroom," said Mat.
"Though it was set out as a studio, it was big enough to divide up, yet remain spacious-feeling. And the mezzanine now has proper stairs, for our guests."
Getting the look
The couple used designer pieces with relatively modest price tags:
* White trestle table in the kitchen from made.com
* Canteen chairs with neon metal legs, from VeryGood and Proper (verygoodandproper.co.uk).
* Main light above the table in glazed terracotta, with bright pink cord, from Hand and Eye Studio (handandeyestudio.co.uk).
* Oversize, exposed filament bulbs in kitchen, right, and bedroom by Robin Muto at houzz.com
* Extra display space from free-standing Normann Copenhagen shelves (normann-copenhagen.com).
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