Mark and Sally Wnek enlisted the help of interior designer Sue Timney to help them turn a warren of small rooms into big, flexible living spaces.
Employ an interior designer and you get more than a fistful of fabric swatches and a hastily constructed moodboard. A good interior designer is also an interior architect, a manipulator of space. They have the ability and imagination to see beyond what exists, to visualise what could be possible if a wall is removed or a new room created. Sue Timney took on the transformation of a Victorian house from a tenanted labyrinth of rooms and staircases to a roomy home for Sally and Mark Wnek, a couple with a young family.
Once the philosophy of the build had been agreed, and the clients fired up with enthusiasm for the project, the builders had to be convinced the new design could be constructed within the timescale and budget. Then the real work began. 'Before we could start work on the ground floor, or any reconfiguring of the house, we had to remove the gigantic chimney breast that ran the entire height of the property.' Sue explains. 'Sally was very clear that she wanted it taken out because it interrupted the space on each floor and had interfered hugely with the redesign.'
More importantly, the chimney breast was in the middle of what is now the kitchen's floor space and because of this the builders had to dig down by 8ft to satisfy building control. Once the chimney came out, a steel box frame was then installed, which was incorporated into the foundations and walls and ceilings of the kitchen to secure the building structurally. 'We set the kitchen units into this so that it looked deliberate,' Sue continues. 'We also had to build an additional wall parallel to the existing one to conceal the sliding doors that separate the kitchen from the living area. These doors slide along a track and disappear between the walls. Then we plastered around the opening to disguise the work.'
As the house had previously been tenanted, every storey contained a different flat. In some places, new wooden floors had been laid on top of the originals and there were also doors at different levels. They soon found out the reason for this though: plumbing had been inserted between the two floors in order to save time. The house was very dark when Sue first went to see it and she felt it was essential to lighten it. The roof had once had attic eaves, but had been extended in the Sixties to allow for greater space on the second floor. 'I also wanted to introduce drama in a simple way, and a wooden roof lantern seemed the best way to do it,' she says. 'I had built lanterns before, but never on a flat roof like this. The house is north facing and it helps to throw light down the staircase, lightening the very core of the house.'