Vicki Cracknell and Nick Wharton have taken a poorly designed 1950s house in Bristol and given it a stylish eco makeover.

When Nick convinced his wife, Vicki, that they should bid at auction for a run-down and frankly depressing 1950s house in Bristol she secretly hoped they would be outbid.

This was the first time the couple had ever attended a property auction, and in two short minutes they had purchased the unattractive building for just £10,000 below their upper limit, leaving Vicki (pregnant with the couple’s second daughter at the time) somewhat concerned about their financial situation.

The Project

  • Name: Vicki Cracknell and Nick Wharton
  • Build cost: £275,000 (£1,095/m²)
  • Build time: 9 months
  • Location: Bristol

“We were already paying rent and now we also had a large mortgage to find for a house we weren’t even living in,” she recalls. “It was dingy, with just two bedrooms and a small kitchen. In fact the only redeeming feature was the quarter of an acre south-facing rear garden, which the previous owner had unsuccessfully tried to develop with several new houses.”

The couple were tempted to tear down the building and start again, but in the end they decided to keep the shell of the existing brick house and give it an extreme makeover. Seven architects were sent their written brief: ‘We want to create a house that is built to the highest possible specification with regards to sustainability… Our second key objective is to create a home that will cater for the evolving needs of our family over a lifetime, including an open plan living area at its heart, with other rooms providing privacy and quiet as our children grow up. The design must be robust and the materials should be easy to clean and maintain to cater for an active, outdoor family.’

“Nick is a very keen cook so he wanted the kitchen to be central to everything, and the dining table even more so,” continues Vicki, a teacher. “Also, we didn’t want to be worrying about marking a pale carpet when we have parties, so everything needed to be easy to wash down.”

Following the initial consultation period Designscape Architects of Bath were selected, and after discussions about the merits of retaining all, part or none of the existing accommodation, it was decided that the front part of the house would be left intact with a substantial new timber frame extension to the rear. The retained section has been over-clad with insulating render to improve its thermal performance, and benefits from a new slate roof and energy-efficient aluminium windows. At the rear the new extension contains a double-height dining space with direct access into the kitchen, and a new staircase leading to a first floor gallery.

“The ground floor is now slightly smaller than before, because we demolished the sprawling single storey extension, but we’ve built out over two storeys so overall we have more space,” explains Nick, a hospital anaesthetist. “Our ceilings are also far higher, which gives an even greater sense of volume.”

An integral garage was converted into a study and utility room to the front of the house and the new timber framed extension was built to the rear. Several sets of windows have been introduced on the west side of the house – in the playroom, sitting room, a bedroom and the master en suite – which allow afternoon sun to enter the building. Cedar shingles clad the rear extension at first floor level, and although these proved time-consuming to attach, the result is striking — adding texture and warmth to the straight lines of the building’s silhouette.

“I didn’t really want to buy this house in the beginning but everything has turned out so much better than expected, and the process of watching the build was really enjoyable,” she adds. “Now it’s a warm, bright family home where we plan to stay, and we still pinch ourselves that we’re lucky enough to live here.”

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