It takes more than a dash of courage to trade what Rachel Short describes as ‘the best home we’d ever lived in’, for a derelict terraced house that had formerly been a squat – not least as that perfect home was the result of a long restoration.
In 2001, however, ten years after buying their former London home, Rachel saw the very first auction sign go up along the desirable, tree-lined terrace of Georgian houses in Cross Street, Islington and knew she had to view the property.
‘I’d said for years that I’d love to live in this particular street; it has got a real feel of community, a broad range of shops and residential homes and feels buzzy,’ she enthuses.
Her busy partner Henry was unable to make any of the viewing slots, but Rachel was not deterred by the barricading and grilles over the front door and windows, and saw it alone.
She also had the vision to see the potential of the house, as whilst it was completely uninhabitable, there were many original features, such as the the house was treated for woodworm and rot it was stripped back to its bare bones.’
Reader’s Home Awards 2013: Best Restoration winner
Location: A Conservation Area in Islington
Period: An 18th-century Grade II listed terrace
Size: Three bedrooms, one bathroom
Owners: Rachel Short, a psychologist, Henry Bartram, who runs a not-for-profit organisation in Zimbabwe, their son Edward and cat Dusty
Local painter and decorater Bryony Christie used six layers of discontinued paint found on eBay on the front door to achieve its lacquered finish. The door furniture was from Lassco
The restoration could then begin. With the advice of her architect, Rachel was keen to keep ‘the impact of the restoration on the existing fabric to a minimum, and use period appropriate restoration materials, such as lath and plaster to recreate the walls.’ The most significant intervention was the removal of partitions in the basement, which had always been a kitchen and scullery. Th is met with the approval of the conservation team, who also consented to an open staircase leading down from the ground floor into the kitchen.
The reclaimed Aga was found via Aga Living and the painting above it, like many in the house, is by Rachel’s father Tony Short
New additions were kept to a minimum, with careful restoration. In the kitchen alone, the original panelling was restored, the remnants of an 18th-century dresser were used to form a template for its recreation, and the original Portland stone fire surround was adapted to site a reconstructed Aga in the chimney breast, which had to be raised to allow for clearance for the range cooker. The Aga arrived in pieces, so the family had to cook on a Baby Belling for years after they had moved in, until they had the opportunity to have it rebuilt.
The family have lived with bare stairs for several years, but Henry was keen to have carpet so the runner was a compromise. The pink light is also from Twentytwentyone
Damaged plasterboard on internal partitions was replaced with oak lath and hair lime plaster, and small sections of paintwork were explored throughout the house to reveal the former colour palette, which Rachel and Henry then replicated. Panelling was repaired without damaging the accumulated layers of paint, and shutters were salvaged from various locations inside and out and restored or used as patterns for replacements. They also consulted a book that architecturally minded squatters on the same terrace had published, to recreate the missing woodwork and joinery throughout the house.
In Edward’s bedroom, the grey cable throw and bedlinen by Christy contrasts with the red Anglepoise lamp
Such attention to detail continued, yet the work did not always run smoothly. The house was squatted in during the renovations. ‘I remember knocking on the door and driving the Italian squatter across town to stay with a friend,’ Rachel recalls. There were disagreements with the local conservation team, who she describes as ‘dogmatic’, and due to set-backs because of various conservation issues and compromises, the couple ran out of money and their builders went off to do other jobs. Being ‘busy professionals with sceptical teenage children, we feared throughout that we would run out of money, patience and, at times, our marriage vows,’ says Rachel.
The bathroom, formerly a bedroom, is large and minimalist, with fittings and fixtures from Aston Matthews and towels from Christy
The finished home
However, with most of the work done and their former home sold, the family finally moved in during 2005, four years after buying. ‘Moving in was amazing. The house had suffered so much, but the surviving history has been recaptured through the love and hard work of everyone involved,’ says Rachel. The family continue to enjoy every inch of their restored Georgian home, and the buzzing location that first attracted them to it.
Her son and father are both architects, so Rachel shares her tips on choosing one.
‘If you are going to work with an architect, get a very good feel for their work. Ours really understood the scope of the project and the scale of the transformation we wanted. His mind worked in a similar way to ours, and the practice was local. Choose an architect that has an affinity with the sort of property you want to create – this is hard to judge, so talk to people who have had work done by them, and select yours with care.’