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"We played Tetris with the floorplan of our Sixities bungalow in Hackney Wick to create a courtyard home"

 (Juliet Murphy)
(Juliet Murphy)

We’ve all heard of someone who fell in love with a property at first sight.

Generally speaking, though, the homes in question have more going for them than this Hackney Wick property did when Clare Charman and James Curtis first clapped eyes on it in January 2022.

Back then, the late Sixties bungalow’s stand-out features were the brown wood laminate kitchen, swirly bedroom carpet and boxy, illogical layout featuring a tunnel-like kitchen and living room.

It was the first property that the deeply pragmatic pair — he’s a graphic designer and art director, she’s in digital advertising for a B Corp company — had viewed, but nevertheless they fell hard.

Clare Charman and James Curtis could see the potential in the space (Juliet Murphy)
Clare Charman and James Curtis could see the potential in the space (Juliet Murphy)

“As soon as we walked in, we could see its potential and we loved the outdoor space, which unusually, isn’t overlooked,” says Charman. “We could see how we could completely change the floorplan to achieve our desired flexible, indoor-outdoor space,” adds Curtis.

Also in its favour were great transport links and its proximity to green spaces including Victoria Park, as well as friends and family.

Having both grown up in London, the couple were starting to despair of ever finding anywhere affordable without moving further out of the capital.

Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones to spot the place’s possibilities and they quickly found themselves in a bidding war, eventually bagging the bungalow for £660,000 — £20,000 over the asking price.

The couple were keen to create an indoor-outdoor living space (Juliet Murphy)
The couple were keen to create an indoor-outdoor living space (Juliet Murphy)

While working out their next move, the couple were lucky to have several renovation experts within their circle of friends.

“Being creatives, we wanted to put our own stamp on it. We talked through our initial plans with an architect friend, but with the budget we had, it was too much of a stretch to give 15 per cent to an architect,” explains Curtis, who kept a vigilant eye on the budgets throughout the project.

Layout-wise, the pair were starting again, eliminating wasted hall and corridor space and a tiny third bedroom in favour of a more contemporary open-plan, indoor-outdoor way of living. All the internal walls were shifted about.

“Conveniently, being a graphic designer, I know how to use 3D programmes. We went through different layouts, playing Tetris with the floorplan until we’d created this perfect configuration.”

Glass doors roll back to open the house to the courtyard garden (Juliet Murphy)
Glass doors roll back to open the house to the courtyard garden (Juliet Murphy)

Now the couple’s bedroom and the main space both open on to the courtyard via floor-to-ceiling glass, bringing as much natural light into the space as possible.

The kitchen/dining/living room, courtyard and principal bedroom each take up around a quarter of the space, with the fourth quarter working hard to accommodate the entrance hall, bathroom, shower room and the study/guest bedroom, as well as integrated storage.

To boost the budget, Curtis decided to draw up all the plans and project-manage the renovation himself.

“I learnt how to create technical plans, not just for the layout but for things like the drainage and electrics, all the detailed elevation drawings that the builders needed.”

The guest bedroom doubles as a study (Juliet Murphy)
The guest bedroom doubles as a study (Juliet Murphy)

It helped that his friend Adam Paton had his own construction business, Adam Lloyd Construction, and was a sounding board and source of help throughout the project, even vetting Geri Construction, the couple’s eventual construction team.

“We didn’t take any decision lightly, we met five building companies and Adam helped us to unpick and make sense of each quote, which saved us money in the long run,” explains Curtis.

When they bought the bungalow, the couple were living in Curtis’s rented ex-council flat in Haggerston, Charman having moved there from her old flat in Broadway Market in 2021.

They took the tough decision to remain in the flat, paying both rent and mortgage for 12 months.

The bedroom also has access to the courtyard (Juliet Murphy)
The bedroom also has access to the courtyard (Juliet Murphy)

“It was a big hit to our finances, but we calculated that if we were trying to live on site, it would have taken double the time to complete the build if it had to be semi-liveable, so it made sense,” explains Charman.

Instead Curtis based himself in a café around the corner, where he could work but be on hand whenever a decision was needed.

“I have my own company so I was able to dip in and out of the build and catch up on work in the evenings and early mornings.”

The Budget

Construction: £110,000

Windows: £23,000

Bathrooms: £10,000

Flooring: £8,000

Kitchen: £4,000

Insulation: £4,000

Lighting£2,000

TOTAL£161,000

Estimate of bungalow’s value now: £875,000+.

Curtis says: “This is based on the one opposite selling now for £840,000 with a much lower spec.”

One of the biggest budget devourers was the glass needed for the big sliding doors that open up the bungalow to the courtyard beyond.

“The idea was to get as much natural light as possible into the space, with new skylights flooding the otherwise windowless bath- and shower rooms, too,” says Charman.

Pocket doors increase the sense of flow, as does the use of warm-toned oak for the floors throughout. The walls have been left in their raw plaster state.

“We wanted to celebrate the imperfect with lots of raw, natural materials,” says Curtis. In the same way, the pair have zoned the kitchen area by exposing the original timber beams in this part of the main space.

“Having lived in Berlin for four years, we took some inspiration from Berlin’s brutalist style and applied it to elements within our space,” says Charman.

Warm-toned oak floors and raw plaster walls add to the sense of flow (Juliet Murphy)
Warm-toned oak floors and raw plaster walls add to the sense of flow (Juliet Murphy)

The couple recently travelled together in Japan — where they got engaged — and wanted the space to reflect their love of Japanese calm and simplicity, too, referenced in the sliding doors and courtyard.

The oak dining table was handmade by Paton, while another of the couple’s friends, carpenter Joe White, stepped in to give the Howdens kitchen a bit of brutalist character, creating cast concrete countertops and plinths at a discount rate.

“We didn’t have the budget to go fully bespoke but these details gave the kitchen a unique character,” says Curtis. It wasn’t all a one-way street, though, as Curtis repaid Paton via the barter system, designing his website as a return favour.

It was the same with the Casambi lighting system, which automatically follows circadian rhythms — ensuring that spaces feel bright and cool in the day and dim and warm in the evening — contributing to natural sleep and better moods while tapping into the indoor-outdoor ethos here.

It was supplied at a discount by Lucent Lighting, a client of Curtis’s and he paid them back with some design work.

Brutalist elements nod to the couple’s time living in Berlin (Juliet Murphy)
Brutalist elements nod to the couple’s time living in Berlin (Juliet Murphy)

Today, life for the couple centres on the courtyard garden, which they raised to be on a level with the interior for a more seamless link, replacing artificial grass and concrete pavers with reclaimed York stone and wild, airy planting.

Even when it’s chilly, the courtyard now provides an escapist green vista from most points in the house. And whenever the weather is good, the glass doors roll back, effectively doubling the size of the living area.

Charman and Curtis have planted a little glade of silver birch trees, creating a focal point that lifts the eye up and away from the boundaries, while a pair of oak benches — again made by Paton — create versatile seating options.

“They’re at differing heights, to reflect the differing levels of the garden walls, we wanted it to feel dynamic and not too formulaic,” explains Curtis.

The bungalow exterior has been rendered; “Most people paint the render but we left it a concrete grey to match the rest of the space,” says Charman.

As you move from kitchen to garden, the bank of kitchen cabinets flows into the barbecue area — defined by “an unapologetic slab” of rust-coloured Corten steel — which gets regular use through the warmer months.

“We have lots of friends who live nearby and we love to host, so it has been nice to be able to create a really social atmosphere here, perfect in the summer and the winter has been super cosy so far, too,” says Charman.

The pair are delighted with the fruits of their labour, but this place doesn’t seem destined to be their forever home, as Curtis explains: “This will be home for a few more happy years but it has definitely given us the itch to do another project one day.”

Suppliers

Adam Lloyd Construction adamlloydconstruction.co.uk

Geri Construction gericonstructionltd.co.uk

Lucent Lighting lucent-lighting.com