Originally called ‘the Old School Building’, the former schoolhouse turned warehouse that captured the eye of James Davies has had an interesting life. Set within the heart of Hackney, London, this conversion once acted as a temporary school and was attended by writer Daniel Defoe.

Landlocked by a doctors’ surgery, a block of flats and a residents’ car park, the derelict buildings had been all but forgotten until the vendor chose to sell at auction — a move that came as an unwelcome surprise to the occupants of the surgery, which at the time provided the only access to the building.

Obtaining access to the building was to prove one of James’ biggest hurdles — and one that needed addressing before any work could even begin on site. “As well as dealing with the freeholder of the site, I also had to approach the owner of the adjacent car park in order to arrange and purchase an easement to obtain right of way, not only for access but to also bring services to site — which required a huge 90m-long service trench to be built underneath the car park,” explains James.

Project Notes

  • Homeowner: James Davies
  • Project: School/warehouse conversion
  • Location: London
  • Size: 116m²
  • Build time: 13 months
  • Plot cost: £530,000
  • Build cost: £350,000
  • Value: £1,375,000

The brick exterior has been restored and a new courtyard created to allow the internal spaces to benefit from the light from the glazed openings

The creation of new openings (which feature metal Crittal-style windows) is the only noticeable change to the entrance to the old building. The brickwork has been painstakingly restored, too

James’ light-touch approach to the building was driven by his wish to leave the footprint of the structure unchanged, as well as retain the 6m-tall double-height spaces internally.

However, the geometry of the interior spaces was not symmetrical and so James had to work closely with a design engineer to introduce several detailed interventions behind the walls to minimise any visible structure within the tall, open plan space.

“We embedded steel A-frame trusses with cable rod connections to support the reused slate roof, and a high-level perimeter ring beam with concrete corner bonders was constructed to hold the original brick envelope together, allowing new large window openings to be formed,” James says.

The new courtyard to this conversion project allows for outdoor amenity space

The L-shaped building allowed an internal courtyard to be created, providing outdoor amenity space in this built-up area of London

“For me, this was about reviving an old building with a history and doing it properly. It was a lot of work, but it has all come together to create a home that I love living in. Walking through the corridor into the double-height space is one of my favourite parts of the building, and I love how successful the courtyard is, which brings in so much natural light as well as providing a pleasant outlook onto a parcel of outdoor space which is so rare to find in such a busy area of London,” concludes James.

Large vaulted ceilings in this conversion project create a sense of drama

A simple palette of raw materials helps to achieve the minimalist loft look. Polished concrete floors, white walls, steel-framed Crittal-style windows and sections of spruce panelling sit in harmony within the open plan double-height kitchen/dining/living space

The open plan kitchen living dining space in this conversion project in London oozes minimalist style

The interiors now feature a simple palette of a few raw materials. Spruce panelling has been introduced to some walls to add texture, as have the oak veneer kitchen cabinets

The bedroom on the ground floor of this conversion project in London opens out onto a courtyard

The guest bedroom opens out onto the new outdoor courtyard area through Belgian doors

The en suite in this conversion project is flooded with natural light thanks to a large rooflight over the bath

Spruce panelling has been used to clad the majority of the en suite bathroom to the master bedroom on the first floor, while a large rooflight fills the space with natural daylight without compromising privacy

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