With its light, spacious interior and beautiful finishes, few people realise that Summerhill, the new home of Matt and Claire Podesta, is not a characterful self-build but in fact an astonishingly economic and clever transformation of a squat, boxy house built in 1976.

“If I’m honest, the main attractions were the south-facing, hillside plot and the fact that we could afford it. The only attractive thing about the house was that it had a spacious hallway and galleried landing” says Matt.

After an initial burst of activity when the couple stripped the walls and painted the whole house, the Podestas settled in and didn’t tackle any further work for two years. “We knew from renovating previous houses that it’s important to live in a house to know what needs changing, but we took longer than planned to get started as we were coping with a newborn, two young children and our business,” explains Claire, a graphic designer.

“Originally we thought the house would need to be extended to the side,” says Matt. “But we knocked the kitchen and next-door dining room into one as an interim measure, and found that it worked brilliantly. It made the space so useable that we realised we didn’t need to go to the expense of extending”.

Matt is a designer by trade and runs Podesta, which specialises in handmade kitchens and bespoke furniture, so he is used to creative challenges. “I spent hours and hours redesigning the house and we worked out that we could do everything we wanted within Permitted Development rights,” he says.

The work started in November 2008 with the concrete-tiled roof replaced with red clay tiles. After that, the mismatched windows were replaced with handmade timer frames. To make the house look more expansive, a wrap-around veranda of treated softwood was added to the left-hand side of the house, with a carport to the right. The original open porch became part of the hallway, and a new gabled porch of green oak with glazed double doors was built. Inside, all the skirting and architrave have been replaced by deep, moulded oak, machined in Matt’s workshop to a traditional design.

Key to the success of the project has been attention to detail. “At first, the builders thought I was a pain because I would go on about tiny details, but they quickly realised that I was after quality and craftsmanship and they loved working on the house,” says Matt.

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