Joe and Lou Abercrombie have turned around a tired 1930s home to bring out its best features while also adding much-needed living space. Becoming a successful author enabled Joe Abercrombie to relocate from a small flat in London to live in the suburbs of Bath with his photographer wife, Lou, in a rambling detached Art Deco house which has been remodelled and extended to suit their lifestyle.

When the Abercrombies first viewed the 1930s house it was more nightmare than fantasy, however: standing empty and in a pretty desperate state of repair, with leaking windows and dated 1970s interiors. “It was cold and a bit of a jumble inside, with the bathroom jutting out over the stairs and a tiny lean-to kitchen, but somehow we still liked the feel of the place,” continues Joe. “It’s built on a steeply sloping site, which creates a basement at one end, and the stair tower gives the house real character.”

The Project

  • Name: Joe and Lou Abercrombie
  • Build cost: £392,000 (£1,675/m²)
  • Build time: 1 year
  • Location: Bath

Unsafe electrics and lead pipework meant that the family were unable to move into the house until it had been rewired and re-plumbed. “We were looking for something we could make our mark on, and as this was our first renovation project we were fairly naïve,” admits Lou. “I don’t think we fully appreciated the scale of the work we were taking on.”

Once the building had been made safe, the couple opted to move into the house and live there while they decided how best to proceed. During this 10-month period they were able to get a good feel for the property and how the awkward layout could be altered, producing a detailed brief and a mood board to illustrate their ideas.

Local architectural practice Hetreed Ross had been recommended by Joe’s parents and so were invited to design and administer the construction of a contemporary extension and the complete refurbishment of the Abercrombies’ house. Joe and Lou were enthusiastically involved in the process, and Hetreed Ross worked closely with them throughout the construction period and on the interior design, too.

The existing house has been completely stripped out and renovated, with new high-performance windows fitted, improved insulation and solar thermal roof slates added. “They took out every door frame and all of the skirtings — there was really nothing left,” says Lou. “Very little was worth keeping, and it was easier for the builders to start with an empty shell, but at that stage we were quite shocked to see walls coming down and floors being taken up.”

A single storey side extension, roofed in stainless steel, creates an airy writing room, a utility, and a spacious kitchen/dining room, which is the centre of family life. Upstairs, the new master bedroom suite is contained in a curved drum extension which echoes the shape of the original tower. The basement garage has been given a new floor slab with underfloor heating, making a useful storage area, and the loft was converted to accommodate two further bedrooms and a bathroom, reached via a dramatic hanging oak stair in the semicircular stair tower.

“We worked closely with Hetreed Ross on the plans for our extension and renovation, passing ideas back and forth. They were constantly ready with information, inspiration and advice — always with an eye on environmental concerns,” says Joe. “They steered a bold scheme through planning without a murmur, and looking back at the brief they’ve delivered exactly what we asked for — a contemporary, efficient home that’s true to the character of the original house, full of light and interesting details.”

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