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Before & After: An Awkward Space Grows Into a Comfortable Home for Two Sisters (Plus Boyfriends)

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Before & After: An Awkward Space Grows Into a Comfortable Home for Two Sisters (Plus Boyfriends)

August 9, 2019

Olivia and Catherine Crawford grew up sharing secrets and clothes as sisters often do. Five years ago, they decided to continue their sharing habit and bought a two-bedroom maisonette together in the Islington district of London. But as each added a boyfriend to the mix, things got a little too close for comfort.

“It felt like we were living on top of one another. We were all sleeping upstairs and living downstairs. You could hear every movement which was very annoying—and we shared one bathroom,” says Olivia. Rather than go their separate ways (which they couldn’t afford), the sisters decided to stay put and renovate.

Good thing Olivia happens to be an architect. On a budget of less than £150,000, Olivia was able to fit in an addition, which houses the shared public spaces (kitchen and living areas), as well as remodel the rest of the home. Today, their house boasts two bathrooms and, more important, the couples’ bedrooms are on different floors. Olivia and her boyfriend get the upstairs bedroom; Caroline and hers the downstairs.

How were they able to create more space and upgrade their interiors without breaking the bank? “The budget was tight, but I was keen to keep a high standard, so I up-cycled unwanted building materials from other sites, renovated old furniture, and sourced craftsmen to make lights I could otherwise not have afforded,” says Olivia.

Join us for a tour of this dramatically transformed home. And be sure to scroll to the bottom for the before shots.

Photography by Michelle Young, courtesy of Crawford Design. (Follow on Instagram @CrawfordDesign.)

The open kitchen is in the addition. Stackable chairs from Hay surround a handcrafted table by Ethnicraft. Note the stylish light switches (at left): “My best up-cycle!” gushes Olivia. “A client was throwing out her Forbes & Lomax invisible switches with antique bronze rotary dimmer. These are like pieces of art.”
Above: The open kitchen is in the addition. Stackable chairs from Hay surround a handcrafted table by Ethnicraft. Note the stylish light switches (at left): “My best up-cycle!” gushes Olivia. “A client was throwing out her Forbes & Lomax invisible switches with antique bronze rotary dimmer. These are like pieces of art.”
Also up-cycled were all the appliances. “My client gave me the warming drawer and steam oven, and my brother-in-law his Siemens range, all of which was only five-years-old.”
Above: Also up-cycled were all the appliances. “My client gave me the warming drawer and steam oven, and my brother-in-law his Siemens range, all of which was only five-years-old.”
“I bought cast iron pulls in a market in France. These were one of the most expensive purchases, but I think they give unity to the property as they are on all the cabinet doors . They’re quite unique—and good investment pieces as you can take them with you when you sell.” The walls are painted Farrow & Ball’s Strong White.
Above: “I bought cast iron pulls in a market in France. These were one of the most expensive purchases, but I think they give unity to the property as they are on all the cabinet doors [throughout the home]. They’re quite unique—and good investment pieces as you can take them with you when you sell.” The walls are painted Farrow & Ball’s Strong White.
“My favorite part of the project are the big glass doors and the skylights. The space honestly has been transformed. We now see the full width of our garden and it feels like it’s part of our living space,” says Olivia.
Above: “My favorite part of the project are the big glass doors and the skylights. The space honestly has been transformed. We now see the full width of our garden and it feels like it’s part of our living space,” says Olivia.
“Luckily for me, she gave me free rein to design the house,” says Olivia of her sister, a lawyer. “She trusted me to source and design my own pieces. She loves the flat, and I think I’ve opened her eyes to being braver and more eclectic in her design style.”
Above: “Luckily for me, she gave me free rein to design the house,” says Olivia of her sister, a lawyer. “She trusted me to source and design my own pieces. She loves the flat, and I think I’ve opened her eyes to being braver and more eclectic in her design style.”
The cast iron pulls show up here on closets integrated into the staircase. The flooring is engineered oak by Havwoods. “We invested in engineered timber floors on the ground floor, where people are going to be entertaining, and saved money by laying carpet down upstairs. The carpet also means my sister doesn’t hear footsteps above,” explains Olivia.
Above: The cast iron pulls show up here on closets integrated into the staircase. The flooring is engineered oak by Havwoods. “We invested in engineered timber floors on the ground floor, where people are going to be entertaining, and saved money by laying carpet down upstairs. The carpet also means my sister doesn’t hear footsteps above,” explains Olivia.
While the public living spaces are modern and sleek, the bedrooms, which are all housed in the existing structure, are more traditional, with Victorian high ceilings, decorative cornicing, and shutters. The second-floor guest bedroom (which turns into a den for Olivia and her boyfriend when the sleeper sofa is folded up) is painted Farrow & Ball’s Blue Gray.
Above: While the public living spaces are modern and sleek, the bedrooms, which are all housed in the existing structure, are more traditional, with Victorian high ceilings, decorative cornicing, and shutters. The second-floor guest bedroom (which turns into a den for Olivia and her boyfriend when the sleeper sofa is folded up) is painted Farrow & Ball’s Blue Gray.
Olivia and her boyfriend’s bedroom. Olivia stapled Khari blue linen fabric by Mark Alexander to an old headboard that once belonged to her mother. “I spent two months with different fabrics draped over the bed, testing out the styles,” she shares. The Porta Romana lamps were scored at a sample sale; the bedside tables from La Redoute were purchased at a steep discount. The walls here are painted French Grey by Little Greene.
Above: Olivia and her boyfriend’s bedroom. Olivia stapled Khari blue linen fabric by Mark Alexander to an old headboard that once belonged to her mother. “I spent two months with different fabrics draped over the bed, testing out the styles,” she shares. The Porta Romana lamps were scored at a sample sale; the bedside tables from La Redoute were purchased at a steep discount. The walls here are painted French Grey by Little Greene.
Olivia’s wardrobe closet is a another castoff from a client. “I played with the idea of building the wardrobes in, but I’m pleased with the decision to build shelves on either side and expose the traditional cornicing. I think this makes the room feel bigger. My contractor cut the oak doors in half vertically so we can open them easily without bashing into the bed,” she says.
Above: Olivia’s wardrobe closet is a another castoff from a client. “I played with the idea of building the wardrobes in, but I’m pleased with the decision to build shelves on either side and expose the traditional cornicing. I think this makes the room feel bigger. My contractor cut the oak doors in half vertically so we can open them easily without bashing into the bed,” she says.
Large ceramic tiles from Solus Ceramics make up the patio. (“These are far cheaper than concrete and won’t chip as easily,” notes Olivia.) The privacy fencing is fabricated from Iroko wood. As for the grass, it’s artificial. “It is the best thing for maintenance when you all have busy careers,” she explains.
Above: Large ceramic tiles from Solus Ceramics make up the patio. (“These are far cheaper than concrete and won’t chip as easily,” notes Olivia.) The privacy fencing is fabricated from Iroko wood. As for the grass, it’s artificial. “It is the best thing for maintenance when you all have busy careers,” she explains.
“My favorite time of day is at nighttime. When the garden lights are on and the living room/kitchen is dimmed down, it feels very moody and calming.”
Above: “My favorite time of day is at nighttime. When the garden lights are on and the living room/kitchen is dimmed down, it feels very moody and calming.”

Before

The former kitchen with dated cabinets and inelegant flooring.
Above: The former kitchen with dated cabinets and inelegant flooring.
The old garden, pre-addition.
Above: The old garden, pre-addition.
The traditional shutters and architectural details in the existing structure remain.
Above: The traditional shutters and architectural details in the existing structure remain.

For more Before & After stories, see:

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