A Wandsworth Conversion

by theartofbespoke in Interior designed homes

How a South London couple turned a grotty block of bedsits into a stunning family home.

We’ve all fantasised about doing it – taking a building that’s rundown and unlovely, and transforming it into something spectacular. It feels like the ultimate creative project. Only there are practical benefits, too, as it’s one of the few ways to ensure you end up with a house built to your exact specifications. But what are the practicalities of undertaking such a project? How do you actually go about doing it?

What one Wandsworth family did was to engage the services of Battersea-based practice And Architects, who, having done around 300 similar projects across London, have some experience of this kind of thing. ‘The main change we made was to extend the existing basement, which was very small, and put in a glass floor with roof lights so that the light came down two storeys,’ says Rachel Nogueira, a director at the firm. ‘We then created a link from the basement to the garden, which is important – particularly in a family home.

‘Although basement conversions are becoming contentious,’ she says. ‘If you want to do a basement conversion in London, my advice is to do it soon.’

The client was a couple with four young children and they wanted some specific, non-standard rooms, such as a room to practice music in – including drums, as well as children’s play areas and a gym.’ This substantial semi-detached Victorian house now has ‘pretty much every room you can imagine,’ says Nogueira. That includes six bedrooms, four bathrooms, a sitting room, formal dining room and cinema room.

Nogueira is especially proud of the way the design has made a high point of what could have been a dingy basement. ‘We really brought light into the back of a north-facing house – particularly into the rear of the house,’ she says. ‘And we’ve provided a space where everyone can do their own thing, whether adult or child.’ She’s also pleased with the interiors, which the company’s in-house interior design team created. ‘There are lots of nice textures in the house, like the limestone in the bathroom and the leather-clad cupboards,’ she says.

The project a year and a half from start to finish, and was mostly a straightforward process. ‘Although basement conversions are becoming contentious,’ she says. ‘If you want to do a basement conversion in London, my advice is to do it soon. Local authorities are starting to ask for more information – for flood-risk assessments and that sort of thing – they’re definitely becoming more strict.’

So what other advice does she have for someone wanting to undertake a project like this? ‘It’s important to get the right professional team in place early on,’ she says. ‘You can find an architect by word of mouth, or by looking for architects who’ve worked in your area. Another good tip is to look on your local planning website. That way you can see which applications have been successful, so you can find out which architects have a track record of getting applications through in your area. Once you’ve made a shortlist, you should then interview them and meet their previous clients.’

And, more to the point, how much can you expect to spend? ‘The cost of doing a project like this can vary hugely,’ says Nogueira. ‘You can spend half a million pounds or you can spend 1.5 million.’ According to tradesmen-finder site Service Magic, the cost of converting an existing basement ranges between £850 and £1,150 a square metre.

Which makes it easy to work out whether or not it’s worthwhile. ‘In somewhere like Chelsea, where property typically costs around £1,000 per square foot, it will work out much less to build a basement than to buy a bigger place.’

And the good news is that most houses are suitable for a basement conversion. ‘Anything’s possible,’ says Nogeira, ‘it’s just a question of cost.’



Tom Sullam spent 10 years working in the City before jacking it in to become a photographer. Today he travels all over the world shooting interiors, architecture and landscapes. His clients include Candy & Candy, Harrods, Helen Green and Taylor Howes. To find out more about his work – and buy prints – visit his website.

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