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All together now

in the Telegraph magazine
Saturday, 25 January 2014

By Dominic Bradbury

Photographs: Rachel Smith

'The double-height space A bespoke library, accessible by ladder, climbs one wall of the double-height rear extension and helps to unite the two lower levels of the house.'

'The sitting room A dividing wall was removed to create a large sitting room on the upper-ground floor, which means light can now flow in from the front and back of the house. The two fireplaces here are the only original period features to have survived the rebuilding; Ben and Jane added a wood-burning stove to one of them. The blue sofa is from Ligne Roset (ligne-roset.com) and the George Nelson-designed ceiling light is from Modernica (modernica.net). The tall standing lamp in the corner is from Artemide's Tolomeo range (artemide.com). The sitting room ends in a gallery to the rear, overlooking the double-height space that connects with the floor below and the garden beyond. This is one of Ben's favourite parts of the house, with the view of the garden and its large sycamore tree. The wooden armchair by the balustrade is a vintage Scandinavian piece from Chase & Sorensen (chase and sorensen.com) and the cabinet by the wall is a junk shop find dating from the 1930s. The armchair is also a 1930s piece rescued from a skip - the rug draped over it was bought on a trip to Morocco.'

'The kitchen is a bespoke design by Ben, with yellow mosaic splash back tiles from Grestec (grestec.co.uk) standing out against the white walls and units. The grey rubber ceiling lights are from Muuto (muuto.com) arid the kitchen table was bought at a house sale and then adapted to suit, with the legs brought up to the height of the kitchen units.'

'The dining area alongside the kitchen features a bespoke banquette seat in oak, designed by Ben. The dining table is also bespoke. The ceiling light is from Skandium (skandium.com). The Scandinavian rocking chair came from Chase & Sorensen (chaseandsorensen.com). The vintage red and yellow Ray & Charles Eames dining chairs were found at Spitalfields Market and on eBay, but they are also available from Vitra (vitra.com).'

'The master bedroom is on the first floor of the house, where the original floorboards were salvaged, relaid and painted. The bed is from Habitat (habitat.co.uk) and the rug from Ikea (ikea.com). The bureau in the corner is an heirloom from Jane's side of the family.'

'Tess's bedroom The bunk beds were a gift from a neighbour and the cupboard is a vintage G Plan piece covered with a Piero Fornasetti wallpaper design, sourced on eBay. The curtains were made by Jane's sister, the interior designer Katie Hinckley (katiehinckleyinteriors@gmail.com). The fabric is by Marimekko (marimekko.com).'

'The exterior The back of the house has been substantially remodelled, and the top two storeys were rebuilt because of structural problems. The section to the right is original but it was reclad in sweet chestnut. A new steel staircase has been added to provide a direct link from the upper-ground floor, where the sitting room is, to the garden. The section to the left, with the large expanse of glazing, is a new addition and looks into the double-height space that ties the upper-and lower-ground levels together. Solar panels on the roof provide electricity and hot water for the underfloor heating. Ben also built a new single-storey studio in the garden.'

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The journey to convert three flats back into a family home in east London was full of challenges and obstacles, but the final result made the whole process worthwhile, reports Dominic Bradbury

'The family home that Ben and Jane Kilburn have created for themselves on a quiet east London street, not far from leafy London Fields, has an atmosphere of calm and order. Yet the story of buying the building and then converting it from three flats into a fresh and modern living space contained inside a period shell holds enough challenges to cause anyone some sleepless nights.

'The fact that Ben is an architect and Jane a solicitor was a big help along the way, but even for them the path was a daunting one. "In retrospect, it was like having a baby," Ben, a director of Kilburn Nightingale Architects, says. "If we had really stopped to think about all the things that could possibly go wrong then we probably wouldn't have done it. But it has been massively rewarding and now it definitely feels as though it was all worth it."

"The whole process was daunting but also exhilarating; it has been massively rewarding"

'Ben and Jane have lived in this part of London for many years, having spent a decade living in a smaller terrace house nearby, bringing up their three daughters, Tess, 11, Billie, nine, and Esme, six. The family hoped to be able to stay in the area but wanted more living space and a bigger garden. Four years ago, they found what they were looking for when a four-storey, semi-detached building came on the market.

'But the process of converting the house wasn't without its problems. The upper two storeys of the house were structurally unsound and needed rebuilding, and negotiations with the owner to buy the building broke down. The house went to auction where Jane managed to win by edging beyond the couple's agreed limit. Suddenly the family found themselves the owners and landlords to nine tenants.

'"The whole process was daunting but also exhilarating," Ben recalls. "The structural problems were quite scary but we had an idea of what we needed to do." Further stresses came along with the planning permission process, not to mention waiting for their tenants to vacate. From start to finish, getting the house completed took about 18 months.

'Yet the fact that the house had been stripped of almost all original period features, apart from two fireplaces, meant that Ben could rework the interiors, tailoring the house to suit the needs of the family.

"The light and the spaces work really well for the way we live as a family"

'Much of the upper-ground floor was transformed into one generous sitting room flowing from front to back, where a gallery now looks across a glass-faced, double-height space that was built as an extension at the back of the house. The lower-ground floor features an open-plan kitchen flowing through to a dining area and then to the garden. The rich quality of light. from the new glazing dispels any feel of basement living.

'The staircase needed to be rebuilt and the new version now carries you up to the top two floors and the five bedrooms, with one floor devoted to grown-ups and another to children. A playroom/studio was also tucked into the attic, making five floors in all.

'Integrated, bespoke elements - such as the banquette in the dining area - mix with family furniture, eBay finds and junk-shop pieces. The overall effect is tailored, individual and sophisticated. "The light and the spaces work really well for the way we live as a family. And it's great having an architect who understands how we live," Jane says with a smile.'