Take a Victorian house, the sort a child draws, with a door in the middle and four windows evenly spaced.
Extend into the loft space at the back, adding two dormer windows overlooking the rear garden. Then build a centrally placed ground-level extension at the back to enlarge living areas and create two family bathrooms.
Now put a lobby behind the front door and cut the enlarged house in half, right down the middle.
Finally, add two new staircases and two kitchens… and hey presto, instead of one 1,400sq ft home, you’ve got two bright three-bedroom, three-storey family houses, a mirror image of each other and each with 1,055sq ft of space indoors plus a good-sized garden.
Deenie Lee, 38, who is in marketing, and her fiancé Martin Thomas, 39, a furniture and shop designer, had the idea in 2010, when they moved into the house Deenie’s parents had bought and let out seven years earlier. Deenie’s father had died and the plan was to create a family home for Deenie and Martin — they now have three-year-old daughter Lilah and son Griff, who’s one — plus a house next door for Deenie’s mum to let out.
It’s an absolute winner, and here’s how it happened. After her degree, in 2000 Deenie joined some mates renting an 1870 house in Brockley. The house was tired but had a good vibe and in 2003, looking for an investment, Deenie’s parents bought the place. Deenie moved out and moved on. She met Martin in Bristol in 2010, just before she was offered a job in London. The couple moved to the capital but soon realised how expensive it was compared with Bristol.
Their thoughts turned to the old Brockley house, which by then had seen so much coming and going that it wasn’t just tired, it was knackered. So Deenie and Martin considered a big renovation. Then they had the brainwave — to divide it. This was complex so they consulted an architect, but he only wanted to convert it into flats, so Martin decided to draw up and submit the plans himself.
Curiously, Deenie’s father had already had the idea. “My dad was a market trader,” Deenie says, “and he always said, ‘If you do anything with the house, divide it in half’.” This bit of Brockley was bombed in the war. The house had some cracks, not to mention different levels in the floors, and needed a good going over.
Martin worked up his plans, but the planners said the extension was too big. He reduced it — but then to his surprise, his application was rejected. The couple hired a planning consultant, went to appeal and won.
Martin saw that improvements could still be made, so he and Deenie invited a few architects over. Tim O’Callaghan, of new practice nimtim, loved what they had done and felt he could help them make the tweaks they were after.
He suggested opening up the design for better flow. Martin had put in a corridor and divided rooms to meet fire regulations, but Tim showed him that by putting in a sprinkler system they could have a more open-plan downstairs. Tim also knew how to level out the floors to get good head height in the new master bedroom. The couple praise their architect warmly. During the build he came along every fortnight and costed the job, to make sure that the builder stayed on time and budget.
Tim also suggested full-height wooden spindles going up the staircase. Painted yellow, they add flair. Another tip was getting an off-the-shelf kitchen, topping it with fashionable bamboo, and doing fronts in pre-finished ply that’s colour-washed so the wood grain shows.
In October 2015, the couple moved into a rented flat with baby Lilah and the build got under way. Opening up the ground floor to sliding doors at the back and putting a loo in a pod in the middle gives front-to-back sightlines. Upstairs are two bedrooms for the children and a family bathroom, while the top floor has a master bedroom under the eaves.
Martin built storage into the lower eaves and designed a stylish kitchen table and benches finished in beech, plus a brilliant system of ply shelves and distinctive metal brackets. But he warns that dividing the services was a nightmare. “The road was dug up three times for water, electricity and gas. There has to be a better way to do that.”
Every stage had its challenges, the biggest being that the entire house turned out to be six degrees out of true. Tim hid it by laying the floorboards diagonally. To pick up the motif, the tilers used a chevron idea in the splashback and bathroom tiling.
Now, instead of one tired house with wonky angles, there are two lively, bright family houses, full of good ideas.
GET THE LOOK
- Architect: Tim O’Callaghan at nimtim
- Normandy Grey bricks for extension: from Modular Clay Products
- Engineered oak floors: from UK wood floors
- Steel door handles: from SDS
- Masia tiles in kitchen and bathrooms: from Equipe
- Kitchen carcasses: from Howdens Joinery
- Bamboo worktop: from Worktop Express
- Pendant kitchen lamps: from Nordlux
- All bathroom goods: from Potter Perrin
- Shutters: from The Shutter Studio
- Pendant lamp in sitting area: from made.com
- Babouche yellow and Strong White paint throughout: from Farrow & Ball