We tend to think of big houses as family houses - and councils often refer to them that way. But there are plenty of homes in England that were built for households that were larger than the modern family, households that included a couple of maids and a cook, sometimes a gardener or maybe a coachman.
And while there are still some people who have live-in staff, that’s not nearly as many as the vast Victorian or Edwardian houses we have.
These days, most eight-bedroom houses are better suited to being used as flats. But you shouldn’t assume that you can always convert them - the council might have concerns about traffic, bins, outdoor space or the quality of the flats created. And when the house is in a conservation area, all those issues can become more of a problem.
What’s more, in order to reach the client’s target of five flats, we would have to make a very big house even bigger…
The task was to create five new high-quality flats that exceeded space standards, extending the house while staying within the conservation area rules. We believed we had achieved this with a wraparound extension on the ground floor and a dormer loft extension. These were carefully designed to respect the traditions of the conservation area as well as not look bulky or overwhelming.
One of the ground-floor flats has its own private garden, while the rest of the flats share a large communal garden. That also provides space for an eleven-bike storage unit - finding enough room for the number of cycles required under the London Plan has become a tricky aspect of many recent flat conversions.
By providing two two-bedroom flats, two one-bedrooms and one studio flat, we knew the project made a useful addition to the mix of properties available in the borough while preserving the look of a traditional Victorian street. Because while we may enjoy the architecture of past centuries, our lifestyles are very different from the people who built these houses, and so their buildings need adaption to contemporary life. However, at this point, we ran into one of the stranger things that can happen in the planning system: the council simply didn’t make a decision and the months dragged by.
Left with no option, we put in a non-determination appeal, which means that if the council can’t or won’t decide, it’s up to a planning inspector to judge instead. Their task: work out if the benefits our scheme was offering outweighed a few small clashes with council policy. Their view: yes, they do and so (finally!) our clients got planning permission for the five flats.
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