Georgian Charm

Nestled in the fashionable central London district of Bloomsbury is a spacious and light-filled townhouse, once fallen into disrepair and now restored to its former breathtaking glory. Steeped in history with original fireplaces that were boarded up and aged wood panelling, it was transformed into a warm and contemporary family home 
by East London-based architects Charter Projects, who sloughed away years of neglect.

Set in a village-like atmosphere and surrounded by English garden squares, this storybook townhouse is, rather surprisingly, a stone’s throw from bustling Soho and the heart of London. “It is really quiet, yet we can walk to Soho in 15 minutes. There are some beautiful garden squares and the children-only park Coram’s Fields. Everything is on our doorstep including [food co-operative] The People’s Supermarket, which is the best independent supermarket in the country,” says the homeowner Elizabeth Reeve, a native of Australia. A living and breathing piece of Georgian London, this light-filled, five-storey terraced house dates as far back as 1722. Previously joined to the neighbouring property, the building was once used as a solicitors’ office and had fallen into disrepair with the layout a maze of awkward nooks and crannies including small kitchenettes for staff, a reception area, meeting rooms and a basement used for file storage.

“When we found it, the timber and panelling throughout the house was part painted, part covered up and part exposed in different areas of the property and was in pretty bad state – split, dry and discoloured,” says Reeve.

Heirloom Modern

Wanting the architectural history of the house to be immediately visible, the architects exposed the graceful curves and original panelling using French polishers to rejuvenate its natural colour and warmth. A grand stairway and geometric floor tiles from Mosaic del Sur take centre stage to create a breathtaking entrance.

Having made the aesthetic decision to strip back the wood, Reeve carried the look through the whole house by reconditioning all existing timber. The walls were then painted with lashings of elegant greys and a soft palette of colours to create light and modern rooms, and furnished in mid-century furniture sourced from auctions, markets and their travels. The idea was to design a perfect mix of reclaimed, aged timber with the extremely modern look of the kitchen and furnishings creating a harmonious contrast with the property’s traditional details.
“We wanted to remain faithful to the traditional architecture of the property, yet create a relaxed, lived-in feel. We didn’t want the house to feel like a museum,” laughs Reeve.

Historic neighbourhood

While the property now has plenty of modern conveniences, the townhouse has a Grade II listing from Historic England, a government body dedicated to preserving the country’s built heritage. The conservation body describes Grade II buildings as “of more than special interest”, with only one listing grade higher.

A daunting project because of the age of the property and its size, the conservation listing was the real challenge for the architects. “It was important for us to preserve the integrity of this building and Charter Projects worked to build a relationship with English Heritage, Camden Council and the relevant conservation bodies (as well as the neighbours) at the very beginning of the project,” says Reeve.

Although 18th-century buildings are relatively common in London, the Bloomsbury neighbourhood is significant due to its many notable residents – artists, writers and thinkers whose work greatly influenced the modern approach to everything fromliterature and economics to feminism.

“Father of evolution” Charles Darwin, architect George Dance and writer Charles Dickens all lived in the area at various points in the 1800s, while William Butler Yeats and JM Barrie took up residence slightly later. The “Bloomsbury Set” – a group of friends including writers Virginia Woolf and EM Forster, painter Vanessa Bell and economist John Maynard Keynes – all made their homes in the area in the first half of the 20th century.

Legendary musician Bob Marley lived in Bloomsbury 
for a time in 1972 and more recent neighbours have included contemporary comedians Alexi Sayle, Catherine Tate and 
Ricky Gervais.

Restoration Project

Wanting to create a modern family home, the owners were very conscious of remaining faithful to the Georgian features of the property. Keen to have an energy-efficient, high-tech home, Reeve took great care to ensure the period features were retained. Modern services such as the custom-made Bulthaup kitchen were discreetly threaded through the building to preserve its architectural and historical integrity. Gaining planning permission for some layout amendments made a huge difference to the space and the owner’s lifestyle. An internal partition was removed, opening up the kitchen into the dining area to create a large and light-filled entertaining space. A small glass conservatory and paving was added to the roof, creating a small garden on top of the house.

Reeve explains: “The flat roof was also a real drawcard 
as we knew we would be able to get planning permission for a roof terrace where most of the houses in the street had little or no outdoor space.”

Tip: When mixing décor from different eras, choose one as the dominant style and add pieces from other periods. Clean lines contrast well with intricate woodwork.

Collectors’ Item

Chris and Michel Ruygrok are fond of change: repainting a wall, refurbishing a lamp, rearranging the artworks or revamping a piece of furniture.

The couple view their home as an endless project, though they have plenty to do in their day jobs: Chris works as a kindergarten teacher and Michel is busy designing interiors. Both of them are very creative and love visiting flea markets and collectors’ fairs. The result of their shared passion is visible in every corner of their house – a large building in the centre of Haarlem, in the Netherlands, dating from about 1900. The property consists of two floors with an attic, and behind it stretches a garden covering more than 20m2.

Chris and Michel have lived in the house for a dozen years, but the couple have been making their mark on it for a great deal longer. Chris explains, “Thirty years ago, when I started my career as a kindergarten teacher, we would get to know the parents of the children in their homes. I first set foot in this house on one of these visits and immediately I found it to be a very special place. We became friends with the family living here and when Michel started his business as an interior designer and decorator, our friends in this house gave him his first project. So you could say that although we did not yet live there, the house already felt a bit like home.”

Estida, Michel’s interior design business, is based in Amsterdam – a 20 minute train ride away – and most of his focus is on hotels and restaurants. While most of his professional work is on a large scale, approaching a domestic space is different. “A house mirrors the person living there,” he says.

He continues: “Twelve years ago, our friends sold the house and we bought it. The foundation and structure of the house were in good shape, but it had to be renovated thoroughly. For eight weeks a contractor and a painting company were busy in the house. I went there every night to do the ceilings, the walls and to fit in a lot of personal accents, like wall paintings. Even after this big renovation, every year we start a kind of new special project in the house, such as the garden, the stairs or the attic. It is a never ending story.”

Over the years, the house has changed with the family. Their daughter Elizabeth, now 19, is student at the film academy in nearby Amsterdam. She splits her life between living at home and with her boyfriend. From a previous marriage, Chris has an adult son and daughter and she enjoys being a grandmother to several grandchildren.

Objects with stories

Michel and Chris love their urban surroundings. Nicknamed Bloemenstad, or “flower city”, Haarlem has been the centre of the Dutch tulip-growing district since the 1630s and even now is surrounded by fields of vibrant blooms each spring.
Occasionally, Michel dreams of being the lord of a manor in a more rural setting but, after years spent gathering and tweaking each part of it, he says would take a lot of convincing to leave this house. “Every object has its own story and all of them have been collected with much love,” he explains. “All things together make the interior. It accumulates all the time, and nothing is taken out.”

Click on the below images to enlarge.