How a local architect transformed his basic three-bed, one-bath ex-council house in North Sheen, Richmond, into a contemporary, stylish million-pound home
Words: Bethan Andrews
Mikko Laukkanen grew up in the Pacific Northwest of the US, in a rural community on the Columbia River. Here he had the freedom to spend his summers exploring the small islands along the river where he would enjoy building structures out of driftwood. He discovered an innate desire to create and to build, and his designs evolved in complexity and ambition.
Today, Laukkanen is an architect in Richmond, whose ambition has led him to transform his own property from a council house bought for half a million pounds to the perfect family home now worth twice as much. It might sound too good to be true, but the property in North Sheen is now worth £1.2m. So, how did it all come about?
Laukkanen and his wife Joanna were desperate to live in Richmond, because of the area’s great schools, and with their children starting to pass the toddler stages, they felt it was important to find a house with a garden – preferably one that Laukkanen could use his expertise to improve upon.
‘The house itself was a basic three-bed, one-bath ex-council house. It had a small kitchen and each room had an outlandish colour scheme, ranging from ochre to green and purple,’ explains Laukkanen. Although it was somewhat uninspiring and run-down, the couple saw the potential immediately and entered into a bidding war. ‘The long garden, though entirely overgrown, was the stand out feature of the house. We were most fortunate to have this, as it gave us the potential to add a rear extension and an office outbuilding, while still retaining a good garden size.’
Natural light, expansive views of the outside, a feeling of openness are critical to ensuring this space works
Laukkanen feels that much of the success of the project is down to the fact that he is a proponent of the ‘Great Room’ concept. The theory centres upon the importance of a large, open-plan family space taking precedence, which ensures the family spend the majority of their time together interacting. To achieve this, it was important to unify the separate kitchen and dining room, and Laukkanen was keen to add a large rear extension to open it all up fully.
‘Natural light, expansive views of the outside, a feeling of openness are critical to ensuring this space works well,’ says Laukkanen. ‘Therefore the extension rises to the four metre maximum height allowable with sloped ceilings, the end wall of the extension is almost entirely glass, and we specified six of the largest size skylights that Velux produce.’
He also feels that it is the evolving nature of the renovation that has helped make it a success, and the way in which it doesn’t have to be a finished product. ‘High-end finishes throughout were not within budget,’ explains Laukkanen, ‘but the simple palette of materials allows us the freedom to add colour, texture, and to change that whenever we wish through decorative elements such as wall art.’
It’s certainly a project that Laukkanen can smile about and take much of the credit for himself, having been the sole brains and graft behind a large proportion of the renovation. ‘I produced all the architectural work and project managed the build,’ he says. ‘Our only other consultant was our structural engineer. A general contractor carried out the construction work, apart from the landscaping, which I completed mostly myself.’ Astonishingly, the work was all finished within 18 weeks.
The simple palette of materials allows us the freedom to add colour, texture, and to change that whenever we wish through decorative elements such as wall art
Though a fairly smooth project, there were some disagreements. ‘Our own personal tastes vary a fair bit, so there was no small degree of debate and researching through countless options in order to find choices where our tastes overlap. The end result for the most part was that Joanna had free rein of the master bedroom, while the shared spaces were of the contemporary character favoured by myself,’ laughs Laukkanen. ‘To ensure cohesiveness we simply utilised a limited palette of materials throughout consisting of oak, wood internal frames to complement the oak, light walls and light carpet.’
After such an involved role in the build, there is always the risk that you could be sick of the sight of the place by the time it is finished. But Laukkanen and his family are very happy. ‘It’s wonderful to have the light, the space, to be able to constantly enjoy the garden and to feel the outdoors,’ says Laukkanen. ‘I hope we never take that for granted.’