How one architect transformed a bedsit into a sustainable family home — making his vision for London housing a reality

Most people would find it difficult to transform a Newham house in multiple occupation into a family home with flowing textures and innovative design. It was an opportunity to create a serene retreat in east London for Richard John Andrews and Kristina Ralph Andrews. The Victorian 1890s mid-terrace Victorian home, which Richard and Kristina bought in 2015 in a dismal state, is now Richard’s flagship project. It was designed to show clients how to break free from the run-of-the mill mindsets through a palette that is striking, versatile, and sustainable. Kristina’s fashion magazine shoots also take place here. “Our personal brief was that the home would be designed for now, but with an eye on the horizon,” says Richard, 36, whose architecture firm (; @richardjohnandrews) dreamed up intriguing resi and commercial projects with names such as A Crooked Barn and A Flipped House. I wanted to break down the constrained terrace house layouts that are typical of narrow London homes and bring a holistic approach. Our careers were also developed alongside the home’s evolution and made it the main piece of my portfolio. “Make a statement: The Light Shed is located in the garden. It was built to house Richard’s architectural studio. Chris Snook. Seven years ago, the house was purchased for GBP375,000. The couple organized a series of phases that allowed them to release equity as they renovated the house. It features a 12-meter square cork-clad extension and loft conversion, an opaque polycarbonate-roofed kitchen, dyed concrete fireplace hearths, and a translucent polycarbonate roof-roofed architecture workshop in the garden. Kristina, 33, recalls that there was a bed in each room, laminate flooring over the carpets, and magnolia paint slathered on wallpaper. It was lacking in any decent internal features. The single downstairs bathroom had been carved into two cubicles with a strip of light running across them. Fleas were also a problem in the house. Richard said that the house was “truly horrible.” “But the bones were great. The real selling points were the London stock brick facade and intact box bay windows. “Setting a high levelIt wasn’t just their design values that drove the project. Newham was long known for its overcrowded properties. This was due to high rents and a lack of affordable homes. Richard states that the house had to set an example for small-scale residential developments. “We wanted to have a conversation about how budget can be a constraint on good-quality building design. The couple received the support of a council planning officer who helped them get planning permission through in weeks. Richard spent 14 months away from his architecture practice and often worked on the site alone, often constructing brickwork, roofing, and groundworks steelwork. He says that this presented some difficult design and construction challenges, making tasks like lifting timber a logistical problem solving exercise. He also fitted the home’s 11 cast-iron-weighted sash Windows, which saved GBP20,000 by purchasing them from Poland on a supply-only basis. Kristina also helped to rip out the back of the house to make room for the extension. She also stripped the original wooden floorboards to their original glory, and stained them black. “It turns out I am excellent at tiling and pointing brickwork,” laughs Kristina, whose artistry has been showcased in British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, i-D and Dazed Digital (@kristinaralphandrews). “It’s not a million miles from my day job to work with a trowel.” The mirror in the main bathroom was even made from inexpensive glass purchased from Amazon, leftover roof flashing, and a piece MDF. This home is unique without the high price tag. The family now has two ground-floor living areas to choose from: one with blue-black walls, leather furniture, and a private members club feel; the other with lighter, brighter walls and indoor plants, plus typographical artwork. There’s also a loft extension that houses a master suite. The kitchen extension is their favorite family space due to the connection it creates between the outside and inside. Richard says, “It was important for us to keep a strong connection between home and garden and have a real emphasis on spaces at the back of the house.” The couple clad the extension with compressed cork. They chose it for its durability and high insulation factor as well as its aesthetic appeal. The couple designed, manufactured, and assembled all the cabinetry, staining it with toxin-free Indian paint. Richard says, “As our budget was limited in places, we wanted a bespoke kitchen without a premium price tag.” The family’s favorite space is the new kitchen extension, made of compressed cork. Juliet Murphy. The addition of full-height sliding pockets doors, nestled within a cork wall at one end of the kitchen space, allows for unobstructed views to the garden and The Light Shed, which Richard and an assistant built in 21 days. It’s now decked out with birch plywood shelving and furniture.Landscaping the south-facing garden into a series of outdoor rooms was the final chapter, completed last summer. It features gravelling, wildflower beds, and L-shaped sofas that break down the boundary between inside and outside. Chris SnookRichard has now moved into Forest Gate Works (@forestgateworks) as a co-working space. The house and studio served their purpose well. Richard states that he likes to think that the hundreds of people who have passed through our house and studio have been inspired. “We have seen a surge in high-quality housing projects in the region and believe that we have played some part in that. He does enjoy finding flaws in the house. “It’s all part and parcel of being a human being who is imperfect. Every flaw tells a story. Every success and mistake make up the very personal journey of creating our home,” says Richard.More design advice and inspiration can be found at the Homebuilding & Renovating Show ( in Surrey, June 25-26. For two free tickets visit it costPurchase price: GBP375,000 in December 2015Ballpark figure for the build and renovation: GBP188,000Budget breakdownGround floor extension and renovation: GBP100,000A Light Shed: GBP12,000Loft conversion: GBP70,000Garden makeover: GBP6,000Richard and Kristina’s top tipsDo work in phases over time so you can fund it in stagesMake the most of any good features in the building. The couple highlighted the London stock brick and bay windows. DIY: Richard and Kristina saved a lot of money by doing the renovation themselves.