One family’s epic mission to add space to a cramped north London terrace house — helped by the architect of their dreams

It is not an easy task to choose an architect for your extension project. You will be entrusting them to spend a lot of time in your home with their extended family of contractors. It’s like a partnership that combines business and romance. Are you going with your head, or your heart? Are you influenced by looks or do you conduct a thorough background check? When it came time to choose an architect to expand their four-bedroom Victorian home on Grenville Road in N19, Kate Robinson (42) and Matt (44) took a double-pronged approach. They liked the look of Morris’ previous projects and were diligent in verifying his references. Matt says that interviewing his past clients was the key to my success. “They were very complimentary about him and the way he worked alongside the builders, which was important for us because we’re busy people and didn’t want the responsibility of project management.” Their heads said yes, and their hearts agreed. He’s calm, creative, and he looks like an architect. He is all dressed in bright colors and has funky glasses. “This combination of thorough vetting and gut instinct proved to be wise. The Robinsons’ children, aged seven and five, were contemplating the classic London conundrum of whether to gamble on the housing market for more space, or stay put and expand. Matt says, “It was either move to a bigger place or change because it was too cramped.” “It is difficult to move in London. The children were in school, and we liked the street and the house.” The couple paid?750,000 for the 2012 property. Easy living: Reorganizing the interior spaces has improved circulation among rooms / Juliet Murphy. However, as they started their journey in 2019, they would face many obstacles along the way, from chaotic bureaucracy and the deadly combination of Brexit & the pandemic. Morris warns that “normally the problem is with the builders [or the client] running short of money.” “But this was a new kind of danger. “Getting permissionFirst, there was a planning application. Although the design was approved, it was not allowed to proceed. In early 2019, it was up to the Government to decide whether the temporary right to make rear extensions as part of the scheme would be made permanent. Morris submitted the plans twice to the council for the extension, one as a permit development and the other as a full planning request. It was an experiment that produced interesting results. He says, “We always say that permit development is a lot simpler.” “Sure enough, the planners returned with the permit for the full application and asked, ‘Could we reduce the height of the boundary wall?’ The plans were approved wholesale under permitted development, which was made permanent on May 2019. “It shows you can get a larger extension with permitted development than full planning. Morris says that this shouldn’t be true. They’re the same design. “Chic Gothic: The bold, monochrome look runs through the extended home / Juliet MurphyEverything goes sourEverything was in order to start work in 2020 when the pandemic started and the effects of Brexit began. Morris says that Covid and Brexit caused material prices to rise. It was very difficult for builders. Strange materials would run out. The price of timber, steel, and glass all went up after the run on sand. Normally, the challenge lies with the builders. But this was a different kind. The knock-on effects rippled through the entire construction industry and the delays started to pile up. They had to move the kitchen back if the windows wouldn’t fit, in order to get them in. After the Robinson family had moved out, they went on the first lockdown road to France to visit family. They settled in London for a few months in an Airbnb, but as the costs rose, they decided to move back into the upper levels. They were facing a worrying scenario with summer 2020 approaching and more lockdowns. Matt says that the thought of being locked in three rooms while trying to homeschool was frightening. Matt also said that 10 men were downstairs. The schools did not close again, and the builders made sure that the attic space was as comfortable for them as possible. Matt smiles and says that the builders did a great job building a temporary kitchen in the attic. It only leaked into the bedroom one time. “READ MORE” I built one of the UK’s most sustainable homes, where the energy bills cost only?200 per annum. This is the inside of the fun north-east London extension that was inspired by Epping Forest. Don’t Move. Improve! 2022 winners: Former Sixties’squats’ on The Dulwich Estate were named house of year. This was where the matchmaking seemed to have paid off. The architect and his team of builders acted as a buffer against the stress of the project. Morris admitted that this was the most difficult project he’d ever faced, but he showed calm and competence to his clients. Matt says that Nick the builder and Peter the builder were very phlegmatic about it. “I think they are used coping with things going wrong on projects. “While the country was in panic over a Christmas lockdown the building team was rushing to complete the project. Morris regretfully admits, “It’s always Christmas deadline.” “I try to avoid them because I’m so caught up with the emotional element.” The extension was completed on Christmas Eve 2020, despite all the nagging. Morris jokes that they only had a short time to put up the decorations. However, the joys of the build remain. Matt exclaims, “The pain has gone and we feel it every day.” The house was built in the same footprint as a Victorian terrace with an attic addition. It had been modified only lightly before the extension. All in the planning: Permitted development rules allowed a larger extension than a full request / Juliet MurphyMorris extended and reorganized the interior space, moving and organizing the bathroom under the stairs, and improving circulation between rooms. Matt says that it opened the Victorian dining room at back of the main house. “Before, there was a large table in the dining room that we used twice per year. It was a wasted space, but we now use it every day. “Bringing down the budget” Morris discovered opportunities to express the creative flair that attracted the Robinsons in the first place. They chose to use inexpensive vertical timber cladding for the ground floor exterior. Morris suggested that they did not paint the exterior (“an ongoing maintenance issue”) or leave it to weather (“it looks a little shabby”), and instead he created a DIY version of the Japanese art of shou sugi ba. This involves charring wood to preserve it while adding a striking smoky-black color. Morris explains that they are ordinary timber battens that would normally go under a roof. They are also cheap and can be burned on-site with a blowtorch. It’s almost like cooking. The children enjoyed watching the builders choose the right degree of charring. Exterior cladding: The timber battens were inexpensively charred with blowtorch to make the wood weatherproof. Morris used an Ikea hacks supplier, who took the basic unit from the Swedish flatpack specialists and applied custom doors and worktops. Morris used black valchromat, a type of MDF that is colored throughout, to carry the monochrome theme from the exterior to interior design. Another thrifty material choice that combines aesthetics with practicality was black valchromat. He says that it is inexpensive and has very few flecks of lighter colors when you look up at it. “And if you scratch it, you won’t find any other colour underneath.” Morris kept the monochrome look going throughout and convinced his clients to paint their staircase and fireplace a matching color. He says, “I promised them that it wouldn’t look teenage bedroom-like.” The Robinsons love the chic, gothic look. However, they stress that it may not always look exactly like the photos. Matt says, “It’s bright and fun, but I wouldn’t call it minimalist because all our clobber.” Matt says that there is one element of the project that will change your life. He says, “We love the cladding and the spaciousness of this extension.” “But the laundry room with a washer and dryer upstairs is a great addition to our home. It is great for two children, as it keeps all their clothes upstairs. It’s fantastic. “Get the lookPortela dining chair,?79 each, Floor lamp with white marble base, Designer EditionsBurnt Orange large pouffe-footsool,??59.99, Homescapes