Victorian townhouse renovation and extension

Clare and Henri Bredenkamp have revived a dilapidated Victorian terrace last used as a university teaching space.

By Emily Brooks | 28 November 2017

Clare and Henri Bredenkamp have revived a dilapidated Victorian terrace last used as a university teaching space.

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Victorian houses have many virtues, but their narrow corridors are not usually considered one of them. Henri and Clare Bredenkamp, however, have turned this feature into a rather thrilling way to experience their home. You enter the front door and walk down a hallway painted in dark, graphite grey. From here you glimpse the top of a sedum roof, trees and sky. Descend a slim staircase and then… suddenly, you’re in a double-height room that’s all glass, volume, space and daylight. It works so well because of the startling contrast. ‘It’s like holding your head under water and then coming up for air,’ says Henri. ‘There’s almost a sense of relief when you come out the bottom. You’re thankful for the space.’

Architect Henri runs his practice, Studio 30 Architects, from an office in the property. He specialises in residential projects in London and was itching to create for his family the kind of place he was working on for clients: a grand townhouse over several floors, remodelled and extended to suit modern family life (he and Clare have a young son, also called Henri). Moving from north London to New Cross in south-east London meant cheaper house prices, but they needed to buy a wreck to really make the sums add up.

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And eventually they found one: a grand townhouse, yes, but one where no one had lived for decades. ‘The building, which dates from 1855, has an interesting history. It had been owned by Goldsmiths University since the Sixties and was used as a tutorial space, but it had been left to become derelict over the past four years,’ says Clare. On the market ‘as seen’, the building was still strewn with chairs, desks, textbooks and even an abandoned photocopier. It had been divided haphazardly into tutorial rooms, with no recognisable kitchen or bathroom; damp pervaded and you could see the sky through the roof.

The couple saw this as an immense opportunity – the lack of original features meant they could create something from scratch. ‘There was nothing to be sentimental about keeping, because everything had fallen apart,’ says Henri. ‘It meant we could be quite daring with the scale and style of the contemporary additions.’