Just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, and a short walk from Harrods and Harvey Nichols, Alan Waxman’s mews house nestles behind the only gated entrance in Belgravia. But while the property has a prestigious address, a well-appointed façade and a beautifully designed and ultra-luxurious interior, it didn’t always look this glamorous. In fact, when Alan first saw it, the house was so run-down it needed a major overhaul; and, as far as he was concerned, only a hi-spec one would do. It’s a renovation which has been Alan’s labour of love for the last three years.
Alan is no building novice. He first began property developing in 1990, and has worked on nearly 40 major renovations in London. He also designs and builds properties for private clients. “I started out by buying rental flats to do up,” he says. “Over the years, the developments have become larger, more exclusive and more complicated.”
Alan asked a property finder to look in Belgravia for a suitable house for him. When the mews house was unearthed, he immediately saw its potential. “This place was a tired two bedroom rental before I began working on it,” he says. “The interior was old-fashioned, with 1970s décor, and it was bland, insipid, cold and dirty, with cheap wooden floors. The kitchen was on the first floor at the rear. I just remember white Formica everywhere.”
Alan’s plan was to make the two bedroom mews house into a three bedroom property with an office/gym; but he knew that this would be a challenge because space was at a premium. He decided to solve this conundrum in a drastic way: “It’s definitely been my most ambitious project to date,” he says, “not least because we decided to dig down into the basement to create another floor.”
Alan, who runs his own renovation and design company, Landmass Properties, bought the house in 2005 and immediately brought in his own dedicated team to kick-start the renovation process. There were no planning issues to hold the work up. “The most important thing for me was to concentrate on how I was going to utilise the space,” he says. “I thought it was vital that I made the inside living space as functional and useable as possible. It’s so crucial to get the layout right, first and foremost.”
The idea was to make the inside of the building open plan, spacious and highly contemporary — so his team moved in, gutted the interior and left a shell. “Mews houses were the private car parks of the 18th and 19th centuries,” says Alan. “They were very often built in a street directly behind grander Victorian homes, and the downstairs were used as stables for horses, while servants slept upstairs. Many have been converted into upmarket homes over the years, but few have outside space for gardens.”
Alan’s is no exception; but whereas most mews properties have two or three storeys, this one now has four, thanks to the basement excavation, which required the laying of new foundations. “That was definitely the room that caused the most headaches,” says Alan. “We dismantled the whole interior of the house and dug down 3.4 metres, which no one had done in London before. At one point, that space was just a hole in the ground with four walls around it.” There were between six and eight men working on the excavation at any one time, which was periodic due to the staged structural and temporary propping works, which were carried out over a 20-month period. At one point Alan and his team even uncovered some Victorian drains.
The effort was worth it because the result is a living room featuring a 62-inch plasma screen, banquette seating, a wine fridge, a coffee-maker, and even a cigar humidor. A glass-screened open fireplace in the middle of the room has flames flickering out of the floor, and a mosaic-tiled steam room has been built off the main room; there is even space for an office/gym. Plus, by digging down so deep, Alan was able to align all the ceiling heights (heights throughout the house are 3.2-3.4m) and ensure all rooms were of good volume.
A new kitchen was completely custom-built on the ground floor, with quartz stone worktops, stainless steel panelling and lacquered and stainless steel cupboard doors. Alan laid wide-plank, solid walnut wooden floors throughout most of the property and used a lot of glass and steel in the build, including the glass-sided staircase that leads to the kitchen and dining room.
Another key element of the renovation was the creation of an indoor 10-metre-high water feature at the back of the property, running from the skylight in the roof right down to the basement. This was built in an inner atrium and now features recycled water flowing from ceiling to floor and back again, against a bronze backdrop. Alan used natural limestone to line the walls and slabs of slate were laid to form the flooring. “I wanted to keep everything light and airy and bring a little bit of the outside in,” he says, “so I decided to build a retractable roof which opens automatically to let in sunlight and closes when it rains.
“We installed a series of pumps at the bottom of the water feature under the slate floor, which was a complicated process. The limestone we used to line the walls was incredibly heavy to erect, but the effect is impressive. Installing the water feature itself wasn’t too bad — although obtaining the precision was tricky.”
When it came to the interior fixtures and fittings, Alan worked with his in-house interior designers to create a sumptuous look. Muted shades of cream, white, mink, bronze, silver and gold complement the open plan layout on each floor. “We chose a fairly neutral colour palette that rises through the building to create a tranquil atmosphere overall,” says Alan.
Furniture throughout the property, including the plush banquette seating in the basement, has all been custom-made in France and Italy, while automatic Futronix lighting and K4 touch-screen technology – which offers a choice of music delivered via 20 hidden speakers – has been installed throughout the house.
“Luxury is the byword here,” says Alan. “It may be an old-fashioned word, but it’s what I always concentrate on.”
- Name: Alan Wickman
- Build Cost: £2,000,000 (£6,734/m²)
- Build Time: 3 Years
- Build Route: Self Managed
- Region: London