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Its sometimes said that whatever you do in life should serve as a good example or a dire warning. So far, our London Edwardian terrace EnerPHit – PassivHaus uplift/ kitchen extension/ full renovation/ shop conversion/ eco-gadgeted / flats-to-house conversion hasn’t shown which it will turn out to be, but has the potential to inspire or warn a lot of people!
As a quick introduction, we went looking for a “project” property after 6 years in London. The idea was to extend, update and add a bit of value over a few years but the main intent was to have a nice family home. We’d chosen to stay in Wandsworth – we like the area, it has good transport links to our respective workplaces, and we have a gardening allotment (which sounds like a tame reason to stay in an area but the waiting lists in London are brutal). After a good few months of scouring real estate listings, scores of property viewings and two failed offers, Luigi – my husband – found a property listed online that caught his interest. He rang the real estate agent who gave an intake of breath at the query and then said something to the effect of “don’t come unless you are looking for a big project”. Not quite that bluntly but pretty close. He desperately understated. Bless him.
From the outside, the house didn’t look too daunting. There were some obvious cosmetic issues – the shop conversion facade was ugly, the front concreted yard equally so – but once inside all was instantly forgotten in the blinding power of the 70s blood red, velvet paisley and striped wallpapers. Coupled with the Christmas-icing artex ceilings and matching carpets, the room had an energy that if harnessed could have powered a small town. Our first response to the now-sheepish-looking agent was “wow, cool!” which should indicate something to you of our ability to handle pain.
Mesmerised, we investigated the rest of the house: two flats built over three eccentric split-level floors with features including an avocado bathroom suite (so bad it was good) and a walk-in food storage room which I promptly dubbed “the meat locker”. It was obvious that the place needed a lot of work. And a sledgehammer. Decor aside, no maintenance had be done in decades. Window frames were sincerely degraded, the top-floor roof sagged. Fireplaces had been used without working chimneys. The mustard-coloured (formerly white) ceilings/walls in the upstairs flat were testament to someones impressive nicotine habit. I couldn’t help shake the idea that a serial killer had been in residence. Or at least designed some of the rooms, the small cat-grave in the garden bed just adding to this. We ran.
From a safe distance, we thought it over. It certainly was a project! Beyond the layers of years the bones of the house were beautiful. Elegant lines – a lovely ‘feel’ to the climb of the stairs – the place started whispering to us. So we had a second look. Even with previous exposure, it was daunting – and even more details of neglect were apparent. But with a huge dose of imagination, we saw the potential, the opportunity and hell-why-not-it could-be-fun. Thus inspired: innocently, naively and arguably out of our heads, we put in an offer.