When Rick and Cindy Wells chanced on a ruthlessly modernised Victorian terrace in North London, they knew it was the perfect place to stamp their mark on — and have added on a fabulous extension in the process.
“We’d never done major work before,” says Rick, gazing distractedly at the soaring, five storey rear elevation from its delightfully bucolic, pocket-handkerchief garden. “But we wanted a project so that we could create something different.”
The couple had sold their family home in Chelsea slightly before the market peaked in 2007 and were living with their three daughters in a rental home “watching prices go up and up,” according to Cindy. “We decided that the best thing to do was to buy somewhere that needed work — other places were becoming out of reach.”
Soon enough, they came across details of a house in Primrose Hill. “It wasn’t a house I could imagine living in at all when we walked in,” says Cindy, recalling its mess of multiple kitchens and jemmied-in bathrooms. “But I liked the fact that it wasn’t overlooked at the back and, if I stood on a chair on the top floor, there was a wonderful view.”
Despite the couple’s lack of experience in domestic renovations, Rick had worked with well-known architect William Tozer on the renovation of the West End bars that he co-owns. Tozer was invited to view the property and immediately gave it the thumbs up: “He could see that there was nothing to save — all the cornicing and fireplaces had long gone. It was a complete blank canvas,” says Cindy.
And so, together, the Wellses and Tozer came up with a scheme that would give back a little of the building’s dignity without straying into pastiche. Rather than the crisp, architect-chic beloved of many practices, Aggregate House has a rawer elegance. Its walls have been stripped back to brick; its staircases are made from large hunks of plain wood; the floors are plain-sanded boards; and there has been no attempt to replace missing fireplaces or fancy plasterwork.
The couple were able to extend the basement at the rear of the house under Permitted Development and have created a huge room that runs from the front to the back of the house and carries much of the structure of the rest of the building on concealed steel pillars and joists. The raised ground floor is semi-open with a bookcase partially concealing the view in from the front door, and a small wall half-separating the front sitting room from the piano. An add-on at the back of the space provides a wood-clad balcony balanced on top of the basement extension roof, and Rick’s spacious study. Cindy has her own office, three floors above, carved out of the old attic with, again, its own balcony sliced out of the roof profile. In between the offices are five bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Surprisingly the work only took six months, from September 2009 until March 2010, and the build appears to have been problem-free — but not enough to make Cindy keen to do it all again in a hurry. “I’ve said I’m not doing it again!” she smiles.
- Name: Rick and Cindy Wells
- Build Cost: £646,500
- Build Time: 7 Month(s)
- Build Route: Professionally-managed
- Region: London