This Edwardian home in Lewisham brings the outdoors in with a contemporary glass extension and expert floristry. Nikki Spencer takes a tour with owner Vanessa Hughes
When florist Vanessa Hughes first set eyes on the spacious five bedroom Edwardian home in Lewisham that she shares with her husband Tim, an accountant in the City, and their two children, it was perhaps not surprisingly that the large south-facing garden was a major selling point.
‘We were living nearby in a small Victorian terrace in Lee and had no plans to move, but then we spotted this house on the market and we immediately feel in love with it,’ recalls Vanessa. ‘It was set back from the road, opposite a park, with this huge leafy garden and this wonderful sense of space and tranquillity.’
Back then getting out into the 120 foot garden wasn’t that simple: ‘There were French doors from the family room but from the kitchen it was all a bit convoluted,’ says Vanessa. ‘The only access was via a back door and then through a shed at the side of the house, so it was far from ideal. We knew we’d want to use the garden for entertaining so one of our first priorities when we moved in was to open up the whole of the back of the house to make the most of it.’
They embarked on a complete redesign of the rear of the property, knocking down an external wall in the breakfast room and adding a large conservatory running the full length of the back of the house, with folding doors and a sliding roof. Light now floods into the house and they enjoy their garden whatever the weather.
‘On hot sunny days we open up the doors and the roof it’s glorious,’ says Vanessa. ‘Even in winter with the heat from the wood burning stove in the breakfast room it feels peaceful and relaxing,’ she adds. ‘Sitting looking out onto the garden listening to the pitter-patter of rain on the conservatory roof is quite hypnotic and reminds me of camping and caravanning holidays when I was a kid.’
But this was only part of a programme of renovations. While the house was in good condition, with all the original features including ceiling roses and fireplaces still in place, nothing much had been done to it since the 70s. Some of the bedrooms still had sinks, dating back to the 60s when the property was divided into bedsits.
Gradually they updated everything, while retaining the original character, refurbishing the kitchen and the existing bathroom, adding a shower room and also extending into the loft to create a large en suite bedroom, with fabulous views over both the garden and the park. They used a number of companies to carry out different parts of the renovations including bathroom specialists WC One in Blackheath.
‘Kevin from WC One arrived to measure up the existing bathroom just as the removal vans pulled away,’ recalls Vanessa. ‘We’d used them before when we refurbished and extended our previous house and again they were excellent.’
For the kitchen they used Magnet, and for the loft conversion Econoloft in West Wickham – both firms they had used previously and were happy to use again. Vanessa and Tim are both inspired by contemporary Swedish design, so when it came to decorating their home they wanted to keep things simple, creating a sense of continuity throughout the house with sanded floors and muted paint colours and window dressings throughout.
‘We deliberately chose neutral shades and then added texture with art and accessories,’ says Vanessa, pointing out a large modern pastel artwork by Sussex artist Mark Leach that they bought at Blackheath Gallery and forms the basis of the colour scheme in the family room.
Furnishings are an interesting mix of old and new. In the large high-ceilinged entrance hall there’s an impressive Georgian Indian chest, which has been in Tim’s family for generations, while the coat-stand and shoe cupboard, along with the bedroom furniture, are from Danish store Bo Concept. In the front room the woven cushions and side tables are from the Conran shop and one of Vanessa’s favourite pieces, the chandelier, is from B&Q.
While Vanessa and Tim were happy to keep the back garden much as it was, with its old established trees, shrubs and old stone bird bath in the centre of the lawn, they did redesign the front garden, replacing a paved area with a circular lawn surrounded by plants. They used Phoebes Garden Centre in Catford for the landscaping work while Vanessa sketched out the design and did all the planting herself, choosing a mix of simple box topiary balls, Heuchera plants, grasses and ferns.
She has always loved flowers and plants and several years ago she decided to swop a career in tax consultancy for floristry, studying to gain professional qualifications and then working for a leading florist in central London before setting up her own company, offering a bespoke service for weddings, events and parties.
‘The name of the company is Floral Hues – a play on my surname, Hughes,’ she says. ‘Flowers are an important part of our natural world, removing carbon dioxide from the air and providing food for honeybees, but they are also so beautiful. Whenever we deliver flowers, be it a simple bouquet or a complete design for a wedding, they always make people happy and make spaces look really special.’