A London Couple Design and Build the Home of Their Dreams for Less Than $110K

A London Couple Design and Build the Home of Their Dreams for Less Than $110K

By Lucy Wang
This vibrant remodel of a run-down London home proves that high design can be achieved on a low budget.

Fresh off their wedding and honeymoon, architect Richard John Andrews and his wife, Kristina, dove headfirst into a project that would scare off most newlyweds: a gut renovation of a ramshackle 1890s Victorian terrace house in need of "a lot of TLC."

Completed over the course of 14 months, the design-build project was a true labor of love. The couple opted to live on-site throughout the entire process, which meant packing the planning and design stages into just a few months to kickstart demolition.

The couple wanted their house to set a high standard in the London borough of Newham—an area that has long struggled with quality of housing. "We purchased the property due to the fact that it was originally a poorly looked after HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) and needed a lot of TLC," explains Richard. "The house had so much going for it—you just had to look hard!"

"We couldn't resist this beautiful shade of pink," notes Richard of the door color. "It was championed by Kristina, but I didn’t take much convincing. It would also draw a lot of attention and help the house to be easily found by visiting clients and potential new business."

"The self-build aspect of the project was a massive challenge," says Richard, who recently launched his eponymous architecture studio. "A lot of the work on a project of this scale takes two people, and there wasn’t two of us on-site most of the time. This made even lifting a large timber a logistical challenge which had to be overcome. Further to this were the psychological aspect of the build—maintaining the drive and morale needed to keep going for 14 months solid."

"The construction was split into six parts," explains Richard. "The side return, the rear extension, the neighboring boundary wall, the first floor bathroom addition, the glazing through-out the project and the patio area with box seat."

Twelve-hour work days, difficult weather conditions, and living amongst construction rubble tested the couple’s resolve. Although Kristina was fully invested in the build process, her work as a professional makeup artist often took her away from home for a week or so at a time, leaving Richard alone on the site. To keep costs low, Richard singlehandedly tackled the bulk of the labor—from groundwork and steelwork to brickwork and roofing—without the aid of a contractor.

To create a strong connection between the home and the spacious rear garden, the couple emphasized spaces at the rear of the home and added full-height sliding pocket doors for unobstructed views of the garden.

The home champions the notion that high-quality building design need not be constrained by a tight budget. The couple’s resourcefulness led them to repurpose the structure’s original London stock brick, and to reconfigure the constricted terrace house layout—typical of narrow London homes—into an airy, open floor plan that caters to the couple’s love of entertaining. The resulting design encompasses two bedrooms and one bath in approximately 430 square feet.

The brick pictured is original to the home. "We wanted to connect our new extension against the retained rear wall of our house as a feature and acknowledgement of the original building," says Richard. "The doorway/opening is actually the original doorway into our side alleyway and garden—we just removed the doors and tidied up slightly."

An existing bedroom was sacrificed to make room for a first-floor bathroom, which is fitted with a large skylight. The herringbone wall tiles are from Topps Tiles.

The crafty couple made all of the bathroom's copper fixtures, as well as the mirror. The 196 wheeled cabinet was an eBay find.

The freestanding bathtub is from Soak.com.

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"There is a sense of craft, and of honest design that has been constructed to flow throughout these spaces," adds Richard. "As our budget was restricted in places, we wanted to create a bespoke kitchen without the premium price tag associated with the word, ‘bespoke.’ We designed, treated, fabricated, and assembled the entire kitchen ourselves using simple cutting lists supplied to local timber merchants and basic joinery skills learnt firsthand."

Beautiful yet practical materials define the home—such as the Indian ink–washed plywood used for the kitchen cabinetry. Purchasing secondhand furnishings from eBay also helped keep costs low and add personality to the home.

A Cult Furniture pendant light hangs above a dining table that Richard constructed with hairpin legs and birch plywood from T Chambers and Son. The chairs, purchased from eBay, are original Robin Day 1960s polypropylene stackable school chairs. The bar stools were also eBay finds—sourced from a school science lab near Richard’s childhood home.

The neon pink flamingo, a wedding anniversary gift from Richard to Kristina, adds a punch of color and whimsy to the kitchen.

Richard is particularly proud of the cork used on the rear of the home, which he says works beautifully with the London stock brickwork. The sustainable material also inspired the project’s name: A Cork House.

"Cork is a massively sustainable material—it’s 100% natural, produced via additive-free industrial processes, totally recyclable, carbon negative, has a low embodied energy, and does not emit harmful compounds that affect indoor air quality," explains Richard. "It also has great thermal performance, a low water absorption rate, excellent soundproofing qualities, and it’s fire retardant. It is such a fantastic material—and it should be embraced more in UK architecture and in the construction industry for larger-scale developments, as well as small-scale residential projects like A Cork House."

"The sliding doors add to the ground-floor layout, especially in the summer where you can open up the whole space into the garden and the studio. It works so well, and makes us want to stay in London for most of the summer months."

Brick continues from the interior of the home to the exterior, emphasizing indoor/outdoor living. Some of the bricks were salvaged from demolition— but to get the quantity required for overall development, the couple worked closely with London Reclaimed Brick Merchants.

Completed in July 2017 for £85,000, the renovation is but the first phase of an ambitious three-part plan the couple have for their property. Richard recently completed the second phase—the Light Shed—which will serve as a studio for his fledging architecture company in the spacious back garden.

The couple have also begun work on the third phase—a loft project that will expand the home to four bedrooms and two baths to better accommodate visiting family and friends.

A new skylight floods the upper floor with natural light. The lighting fixture is from Rockett St George.

The stairs were stripped back to just the steps and upgraded with a new steel handrail and spindles. The treads were finished with OSMO ebony oil.

The simple plywood shelves provide a light contrast to the original Victorian floorboards that the couple finished with OSMO ebony oil.

The living room is a collection of local finds, family heirlooms, and new purchases. Of note are the K sculpture, handmade by Richard for his wife; the chest turned coffee table that once belonged to Richard's mother; and the vintage Southern Comfort mirror sign that Kristina has kept since meeting Richard in university.

The living room features Conran paint in Highland Rainy Slate. The dyed concrete fireplace hearth was poured in situ.

A Cork House ground-floor plan

A Cork House first-floor plan

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