When Kirstin and Haris Contaroudas’ London home became too small for their growing family, they doubled its size by buying the apartment next door and extending into it.
Most people, if they buy a studio flat, certainly don’t envisage raising a family there. However, Kirstin Contaroudas enjoyed her loft space so much that she bought the adjoining apartment and transformed her property into a spacious family home.
It was actually the search for a new car that originally led Kirstin to this leafy corner of south-west London. Born in Germany, raised in Trinidad and educated in the USA, she arrived in London in 1999 needing two things – a flat and a car. ‘I was going to the car showroom (my dream was a Porsche 356) when I spotted the For Sale sign on some loft apartments by the river,’ says Kirstin.
The units were among a mixture of 70 fully fitted flats and loft shells in the Piper Building. Built in the early Sixties, it was originally home to British Gas offices and a laboratory and takes its name from the avant-garde artist John Piper, who designed the coloured-relief panels depicting the spirit of energy that line the facade of the building.
‘I hadn’t even considered the area,’ admits Kirstin. ‘The Piper Building is a bit more gentrified than the New York-style apartment in Shoreditch I was after, but when I saw its loft-like proportions, that was it. I like the proximity to the river and the views – it gives a sense of space that you don’t often find in London.’
Kirstin worked with German architect Dominikus Stark to convert the shell into a studio and workspace. Eight years on, she had met and married her Greek husband, Haris, and started a family; the couple now have two sons – Aris, five, and Alexandros, nearly three. While they both love the location, it was clear they needed to rethink their living arrangements. ‘The original flat was an open-plan studio – we didn’t even have a separate bedroom; it was behind glass on the mezzanine. Then we converted my offce into a bedroom, and then ran out of space – if you can say that about a 150-square-metre place,’ says Kirstin. ‘Dividing the floor further to make more bedrooms would have ruined it. When Aris was a baby, he slept in our bathroom for the first few months.’
‘We did consider moving – we looked for a year and saw lots of nice places, but it was difficult to envisage moving to a terraced house after having such a sense of light and space here,’ says Kirstin.
At this point the couple hit on the idea of buying and developing the apartment next door. However, there was one problem: it wasn’t for sale. Undeterred, they managed to track down its owner in Canada and Haris, a banker, negotiated a deal.
While her previous work as a project manager for residential refurbishments no doubt helped with the redesign, Kirstin also enlisted the services of architect Stark once again. ‘We work well together, we’re very in sync,’ she says. ‘Luckily, my husband’s design tastes are similar – we love clean, modern lines – so while we came up with the design concept together, Haris left all the detailing and specifications down to Dominikus and me.’
The family decamped to Haris’ old bachelor flat in Maida Vale while the two apartments were gutted. Inevitably, there were a few hurdles to overcome during the building process, not least the fact that some of the building regulations had changed since the first fit-out.
‘We hadn’t anticipated any objection to the position of the staircase to the mezzanine-level family room on the grounds of providing a re-escape route,’ says Kirstin. ‘We had to change the configuration and add a fire curtain, which drops down across the width of the flat. This caused a bit of delay and added to our costs.
The structural engineer that acts for the whole building had also become more cautious with load bearings. ‘We had to have 20mm stone tiles in the bathrooms rather than the 30mm slabs we wanted,’ Kirstin adds.
Due to its third-storey location, another issue was getting materials into the building. ‘I wanted to go for a lighter wood than the original walnut flooring, and Dominikus suggested the Dinesen Douglas fir – I like the light colour with the white-soap finish, but the living-room planks are 11 metres long, so we had to crane them in via the balcony,’ she says.
Kirstin’s tenacity paid off. After an eight-month build, during which the neighbours were pacified with a lot of chocolates, the result is an impressive space almost double the size of the original apartment. Central to the property is a cavernous five-metre-high kitchen, dining and living area that stretches 11 metres wide with south-facing views of the Thames. ‘We wanted a big, open-plan, communal zone for everyone to meet and play, and then separate areas to withdraw to.’
From this central kitchen/dining/living area you can access the adjoining private areas; on one side is the master bedroom with dressing room, and en-suite bathroom on the mezzanine above; on the other side are the children’s bedrooms, family bathroom, utility room and study, with stairs leading up to a family room and guest suite on the mezzanine level.
The whole effect is light and minimalist without feeling cold. ‘I like clean, simple, modern lines and work with as few materials as I can,’ says Kirstin. ‘I always have white walls – or, at a push, some dark grey!’
Built-in furniture throughout gives a streamlined look, while the family room keeps the clutter of children’s toys and games away from the communal spaces.
Overall, it’s proved to be the perfect apartment and area. ‘We love the sense of space and light. It’s great to be in a lateral plane, with lots of room for the kids to zoom about on their bikes,’ says Kirstin. ‘The biggest drawback of having chosen a flat as our family home is the lack of garden, but we’re lucky to have a communal roof terrace and a great park opposite.’
‘In an ideal world, we would have liked the boys’ bedrooms to be bigger, but space planning was dictated by the location of windows and the supporting mezzanine steel. Also, it would have been great if the main door was not so close to the kids’ quarters – Aris, with his supersonic hearing, can detect all comings and goings.’
And what of the longed-for Porsche that drew Kirstin to the area in the first place? ‘Well,’ she says, ‘I got my dream apartment, but never the car!’
Words: Mary Zdankowicz Photography: Andreas Mikkel Photography/Dinesen