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Open House

Open House

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Published by Bernhard Blauel

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Published by: Bernhard Blauel on Jun 08, 2011
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Open house
HOUSE STYLE: A modernised, early Victorian house is one of many open to the public this weekendAlexandra Campbell
Saturday, 14 September 1996
When the architect Bernhard Blauel and his wife, Mina, werelooking for a family home in 1992, they had to anticipate theirneeds for several years ahead. Would the house be suitable fora new baby? What if they wanted to rent out a room, or theirtoddlers grew into teenagers who needed their own territory?Would they be able to accommodate an ailing parent? What if they decided to run their business from home and the businessthen outgrew the home?The solution, if you can afford it, is to buy a five-bedroomhouse in a desirable area with a granny flat and at least twoentrances. Such houses usually have a pounds 500,000 price-tag, so Blauel designed a completely flexible home within theframe of a derelict Victorian terraced house that cost only athird of the price.Currently, it is a three-bedroom house with a ground-floorliving-room that is open-plan to the kitchen, plus a large one-room extension that houses his office. If the office outgrowsthe home, it could become a stunning extra living room, but ithas been designed to divide easily into another two bedroomsand a bathroom or a separate one-bedroom flat for ateenager, nanny, grandparent or tenant. And because thewhole house was renovated with a steel frame, rather thanrebuilt with the standard method of load-bearing walls, tearingdown a wall or putting one up should be little more troublethan replanning a room. The living room could easily be turnedinto two rooms, and the kitchen could be open-plan to the hallrather than the main room. The plumbing and services, too,have been laid out with the aim of making access and re-routing a simple job.As an architect, Blauel first considered building from scratch,but finding a plot in London - or any other big town - is almostimpossible. And big warehouse conversions don't necessarilymake ideal family homes. That left the standard terracedhouse, whose two-on-two room layout and long, thin shape isfamiliar to every city-dweller.The Blauels found a rundown, flat-fronted, early Victoriancottage with a small backyard, conveniently located for theCity and the West End in Kennington, for pounds 69,000. Then
 
Blauel designed a layout that could absorb the typical changesof family life over several decades, setting himself a budgetthat guaranteed their money back if they wanted to sell.The Blauels faced the extra challenge of strict conservationguidelines, which limited what they could do. But Bernardspecialises in modern additions, or conversions for periodbuildings, that are sympathetic to the ideal, without actuallycopying the period style. "I worked with English Heritagethroughout the project, and they have told me that this is agood example of a period home evolving to meet the needs of contemporary life," he says. And although the interior looks hi-tech, with steel-mesh walls and open fireplaces, an owner withmore conventional tastes could easily replace them withbrickwork, and add mantelpieces and other period detail.All the walls had collapsed behind pebbledash render, and theinterior had to be gutted. "At one point," says Mina, "we haddemolished so much that the building society wouldn't give usenough money to go on to the next stage, because the actualvalue of the site was less than the sum of money we neededto borrow." This is, apparently, a common Catch-22. Buildingsocieties lend money according to the value of the house and,if you are doing a conversion, lend it in stages on theassumption that each phase adds value. Demolition doesn'talways come into that equation, and the Blauels, like manyother private renovators, had to finance the next stepprivately.To extend the cottage, they had to work within strict planningguidelines. They could add no more than 10 per cent of thetotal floor space, and the boundary walls were not to be raisedabove 8ft. The new extension runs across the back wall of theyard, linked to the original L-shape and creating a house thatgoes round three sides of a small patio. The Blauels sunk thefloor of the extension a few feet into the ground to give theroom a good ceiling height. Although they couldn't create newwindows, an opaque white glass and zinc roof give it both lightand privacy, while on the patio side, the "wall" is effectivelyone big window in sheet glass, so it has the airy feel of aconservatory. There are now five people working there.Even fans of terraced houses admit that light is a problem, asthe buildings are so long and thin. Blauel has created a housewhere light floods in from every angle by having a light-well inthe roof over the staircase, and another double-glazed,strengthened window, instead of the old back wall, facing onto the patio.

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