1930s façade hides drama-filled make-over on Highgate home

Double fronted 1930 detached property in Highgate.

While retaining the original 1930s facade, the home was transformed into a double fronted property. - Credit: Will Pryce

While retaining the original period frontage of the Lanchester Road house, Kentish Town’s Mulroy Architects converted the property into an arresting modern home which has garnered praised by the Don’t Move, Improve 2021 competition.

While many people have upped and moved this year in search of more space or a bigger garden, perhaps Don’t Move, Improve 2021 is a timely reminder that sometimes you can work with what you’ve got.  

The New London Architecture (NLA) competition champions the best and most innovative home improvement projects in the capital, demonstrating well-designed homes can improve quality of life, and are often more affordable than initially thought.  

Contemporary extension on Highgate family home by Kentish Town's Mulroy Architects

The rear view of the property reveals the contemporary, light-filled and airy design in in full. - Credit: Will Pryce

One of the projects on the competition’s top 100 list is an extension made by north London-based Mulroy Architects on a property at Lanchester Road in Highgate.  
From the street, the residence appears to be a typical 1930s house, however, the modest suburban front makes way for a dramatic, light-filled family home that epitomises contemporary living.  

The property had previously been extended to the rear with a very large conservatory that blocked views of Highgate Woods. Combined with the elevation of the back garden, these earlier alterations made the home spatially and energy inefficient.   

Light-filled mezzanine library in Highgate home designed by Mulroy Architects in Kentish Town.

Letting light in and working with the elevation of the garden were key concepts of the redesign. - Credit: Will Pryce

Mulroy Architects transformed the appearance and performance of the previously drab suburban house by sweeping away many of the earlier adaptations and introducing a series of new extensions and alterations to accommodate the busy lives of the owners. They created expansive garden views and an additional 68 squared meters of space while reducing energy costs by about 50 per cent too. 

Retaining the original frontage was important for two reasons, says studio director Andrew Mulroy. The homeowner wanted to convert the single fronted home into a double fronted one, and it was also the greener option.

Bespoke kitchen table designed by Mulroy Architects in Kentish Town.

The kitchen boasts a bespoke table for daily family dining. - Credit: Will Pryce

“We did exercises to see if it was viable to knock the house down, and it was almost pound for pound," Andrew goes on to say, "so it didn’t make sense to put the house in the skip and build anew. It was much less wasteful to refurbish the existing property.” 

“There’s a popular perception if you knock a building down you benefit from not paying VAT,” he adds, “but the cost of the build often negates VAT savings.”  

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Reducing waste and energy efficiency were central to the refurbishment, as was letting light in and connecting with the garden. While the old kitchen was large, it was in the centre of the house and dark. The owner also has an extensive book collection so Andrew and his team created a mezzanine library with a viewing platform so that someone could sit in a chair overlooking the landscaped garden, overlooking Highgate Woods.  

Sunken living area of Highgate property which looks onto landscaped garden and Highgate Woods.

The kitchen overlooks the lower-level living area and onto the landscaped gardens. - Credit: Will Pryce

The left-hand bay is entirely new, replacing an unsightly garage with a new two-storey side extension that allowed the property to be turned into a double fronted house, and now contains a gym and bedroom above.  

By removing the later extensions, the ground floor layout was reorganised to create a new, two-storey living area overlooking the gardens. Rather than trying to flatten the garden - which would have created demolition waste - the internal floor level was dropped, and the ceiling raised to accentuate the character of the site. 

Bespoke library wall in Highgate home, designed by Kentish Town's Mulroy Architects.

Mulroy Architects created a library to accommodate the homeowner's extensive book collection. - Credit: Will Pryce

The kitchen, located at the centre of the new ground floor arrangement, features a bespoke table for daily dining and flows seamlessly into a much larger dining room that can cater for a further 20 guests. The dining room can be enclosed to create a more intimate atmosphere, thanks to deep pocket doors set within a feature library wall.  

The kitchen also overlooks an airy living area that occupies the lower level of the house and features a spectacular double-height bookcase and reading gallery. A large-bedroom suite has been added in an expanded top floor extension, with a balcony overlooking the gardens, and the energy efficiency of the original building was upgraded to match that of the new extension.  

Original frontage of 1930 Highgate property renovated by Mulroy Architects

The front of the property before the refurbishment. - Credit: Mulroy Architects

Amy Till, Don’t Move, Improve 2021 programme director said the design was innovative and improved the liveability of space in the home, adding: “Our judging panel were impressed with the dramatic and well-considered new interior spaces created and strong relationship with the garden.” 

The back conservatory of Highgate house extended by Kentish Town's Mulroy Architects.

The property's rear exterior before the renovation. - Credit: Mulroy Architects

Despite also featuring in Wallpaper magazine, the stunning design unfortunately didn’t make the Don’t Move, Improve 2021 shortlist. To see the top 22 projects, visit the NLA website. Finalists will be announced on the NLA website later this year.