Mid-century masterpiece: one Hackney couple’s extraordinary renovation of a dark and gloomy terraced house
It is rare that Londoners reduce the number of rooms in a house during a renovation, but that is exactly what Rose Aldenton and Daniel Roper did to create their future family home, sacrificing a sitting room to improve the quality of their space.
The new heart of their east London home is not the kitchen. It’s the impressive library spanning two floors in a light-filled, double height space where Christopher Robin-inspired stairs double as seating.
This renovation is far from the typical rear and side return extension of a Victorian terrace. Period features were replaced with dark fumed oak joinery and rubber flooring in this mid-century-style contrarian masterpiece in the centre of Hackney.
Finding their perfect ‘pit’
Right at the outset, Aldenton and Roper’s approach was different. Rather than looking for their dream first home, the couple trudged road after road putting pleading notes through the letterboxes of the most rundown properties.
To buy within the postcode where they were already living, albeit separately — between Lower Clapton and Hackney Marshes — they needed to find the cheapest possible house, pre-renovated and unloved.
“We didn’t find what we wanted on Rightmove. Everything we saw was that combination of expensive and in need of work,” says Aldenton, an operations director in wellness and hospitality. “Then we walked past an estate agent sign outside an absolute pit,” she says.
It was a mid-terrace home where a family had grown but the interiors had become tired after years as an empty nest. “There were steep steps from the dining room down into the dark kitchen at the back, you had to be bent double to stand in the oppressive basement and one of the bedrooms had a toilet and shower cubicle totally visible from the bed,” she explains. “We knew immediately it was perfect for us.”
From a dark sitting room to a grand central library
Aldenton and Roper’s house on Blurton Road sits on the brow of a hill and is higher at the front than the back. There was a bedroom at the front, a dark living room in the middle of the ground floor and a half-height basement. The unsafe staircase led down into the old kitchen outrigger and an overgrown garden.
“The house is so formulaic on the outside, but we wanted a real transformation on the inside. We wanted to do something bold and exciting as well as increasing the square footage,” explains Aldenton.
When they approached architect Ross Perkin, of the practice Emil Eve, they wanted to improve access to the kitchen, the kitchen itself and increase floor space by converting the loft.
For Perkin, this meant having some difficult conversations. For example, to convert the attic as well as improving the downstairs and extending the kitchen meant finding another £150,000.
So, they decided to pour their money into improving the core of the house where they would be spending most of their time.
Rather than fully excavate the basement, pour concrete into new foundations and complete unnecessary structural work, they simply removed the cheap pine flooring that separated the ground floor from the basement, opening it up and creating a double height space where the old central living room had been.
A new quarter-turn staircase was built from white powder-coated steel, with richly toned fumed oak treads. This connected the kitchen to the library and up again on to a mezzanine landing with floor-to-ceiling oak shelves running up both levels. “Although they have lost a room, we know that double height spaces add value. It’s unusual to find one in this kind of property and it changes the whole experience and orientation of the house,” says Perkin.
The wide, shallow stairs double up as seats and become a “liveable” part of the house rather than simply a thoroughfare.
The space beneath the staircase is well utilised, too. “There’s a piano and music area under the stairs and a drinks cabinet. All areas are put to good use, but it’s not overcrowded,” says Perkin.
Sri Lankan vibes meet mid-century style
Removing the floor between ground level and the basement enabled them to do more than create the library. Offset is a guest bedroom and bathroom at the front of the house now making it a four-bedroom house in total with the other three on the first floor off the library landing.
The new rear extension housing the kitchen is made from pale waterstruck Petersen Tegl bricks, from Denmark, cut by machine to look handmade with a non-uniformity to complement London stock bricks used throughout the area.
Flush lime pointing borders the wide and deep window that wraps around the extension, finished in the same fumed oak — a more affordable alternative to mahogany or walnut. The bifold windows pull across to open up the back of the kitchen on to a neat lawned garden with a studio at the far end.
The palette of beige brick and dark timber, with white corian worktops and walls, lush green furniture and oversized house plants, is a nod to more exotic climes, specifically Aldenton’s love of Sri Lankan architecture, fused with the couple’s preference for mid-century interiors.
The centrepiece of the kitchen is the island made by joiner Square Peg Round Hole and on the floor is a sustainable rubber flooring that has both thermal and acoustic properties from The Colour Flooring Company.
In the bathrooms all surfaces have been coated in a pastellone plaster, a less shiny and more durable version of the fashionable Venetian polished plaster finish.
The renovation, coordinated by Roper who is a project manager in construction (Nice Lines; nicelines.co.uk), was completed in a speedy 10 months towards the end of the pandemic.
It has been a busy period for the couple. Aldenton and Roper bought a house, renovated it, got married and had a baby girl, Jasmine. “It was all very 2.4 of us,” says Aldenton.
But in those moments when she feels ordinary, just walking into their double-height library/music studio/bar reminds her that they created an out-of-the-ordinary space on a quiet street in Hackney.