Cathie Curran has artfully remodelled and extended her London terrace, using rooflights, wooden flooring and built-in storage to make it spacious, stylish and sunny.
You’ve got to love someone who uses acid hues with such seeming abandon as Cathie Curran. The more upmarket paint charts might describe her front door as peridot but, to you and me, it’s the most citrusy of yellow-greens and a clue that, hidden behind it, won’t be the sort of tasteful bland uniformity of its heritage-coloured neighbours.
And sure enough, the house has been remodeled in an unusual and thoughtful manner; the ground floor in particular completely reworked so that its Victorian layout is nothing more than a draughty, dark memory.
“It was seven bedsits when we bought it,” says Cathie, standing in the opened-out space that is usually a claustrophobic corridor from the front door to the kitchen. “I felt no compunction whatsoever about ripping it out completely.
Her need to knock down walls seems almost compulsive: not only has the partition between the living room and the hallway been done away with but the wall between front and back reception rooms did not survive her design. The back wall has given way to a large side return extension. The living area now forms a long ‘L’ across the front of the house and down the old side return perfectly fits a lounging area, a formal dining table, a sleek kitchen and a smaller breakfast table overlooking the garden. Tucked into what was the old kitchen is a snug TV area, a utility room and WC.
Was she not tempted to open up the space at the back of the house and create a kitchen running from party wall to party wall? “I don’t think it’s honest,” says Cathie, an architect with her own practice, of this more run-of-the-mill layout. “I don’t think it respects the nature of the house.” She is, however, lucky that her own side return is luxuriously wide and not the mildewed little side alley many Londoners will recognise. It comfortably accommodates a sleek white kitchen — the fluoro-yellow splashback behind the hob the only concession to her more exuberant palette. “It’s not like when you do something for a client and you have to say to other people [pulls a face], ‘That was not my idea, actually’,” says Cathie of the look. “If you don’t like this, then you shouldn’t be using me.”
Certainly, if this is her look, there is very little to object to in this unfussy modernity. The floors at the front of the house are gorgeously knotty, limed Douglas fir that give way to huge white slabs of tiles as the space becomes more utilitarian. A frosted glass screen can be pulled out halfway across to mark the boundary between reception space and the less public kitchen area, obscuring the dinner-making detritus while losing nothing of the guest-wowing length of the room. “I’m old enough to want a bit of informality but young enough to want a bit of formality,” explains Cathie.
The remodeling may have been extensive but the genesis of the concept was easy enough: “The whole starting point was that my husband and I have big families – I have five brothers and Vincent has three siblings – so we needed as many bedrooms as possible.” The house cost £1.2 million and was so shabby when they first bought it that they hired it out to Woody Allen for his production of Cassandra’s Dream — “Colin Farrell’s flat is our bedroom,” squeals Cathie in delight.
Of course, now there is nothing in the pale lofty space to suggest the sordid bedsit that Farrell’s character went home to: the landing has been carpeted in a pale and unforgiving shade of powder blue; the master suite is enormous and a light-reflecting white. “I didn’t want curtains, I just wanted to wake up to this brightness every morning,” says Cathie — although Vincent’s desire for a good night’s sleep won out over her sense of aesthetics, and blackout blinds have been fitted. Behind the bedroom is an enormous bathroom clad in pale-grey marble — even the shower tray is a huge slab of the stuff that has been imperceptibly polished into a dip in the middle. An elegantly sculptural bath stands in the middle of the room.
Given their desire for bedroom space, it seems a bit of a luxury to have turned over one of the original rooms to a bathroom like that but there is no shortage of places to put overnight guests. A bedroom at the back of the first floor has been reserved for Cathie’s mother and has its own bathroom – “she insisted on a bath; I didn’t think we’d be able to squeeze it in” – and, on the second floor, there are two more bedrooms, an office and a larger bathroom. Another door reveals a hidden, half-tread staircase that leads up to the converted attic. Like much of the joinery in the house, the staircase was custom-made by an on-site joiner, and what that man couldn’t do with sprayed MDF isn’t worth knowing: his shelving, cabinetry and storage are a triumph of understated practicality. “He was a genius,” says Cathie.
Unusually, she doesn’t have much criticism of the contractors at all. “Others came in to tender and they were having a laugh with the timings like I’d just got off the boat,” (Cathie previously worked for Richard Rogers, whose expansive portfolio includes Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5). The build took eight months – a little longer than planned but not bad considering the scale of the work and the quality of the finish – and cost the best part of half a million pounds, not unusual in this enclave of fashionable living.
The end product is no doubt upmarket, but Cathie is emphatic that the basic layout is what works in the house rather than any distractions in the fit-out. “Once you’ve got the space I don’t think it matters too much how you finish it,” she says. “I would have been happy with a screed floor.”