Islington is full of old and beautiful properties, something we should all embrace and conserve as best we can, architect Ian Hay tells Helen Cahill

Any Islington local could probably talk for hours with local architect Ian Hay. The area’s Georgian architecture – ‘amongst the best in Britain’, in his opinion – is something he could happily chat about all afternoon. When I visited him in his home and practice off Upper Street, that’s exactly what we did. ‘Gibson Square and places like that are just fantastic,’ he raves. ‘It’s a complete, intact Georgian area and I love the houses with those massive windows.’

The revitalisation of King’s Cross and Granary Square gratifies his admiration for the area’s historic architecture. ‘It’s so exciting,’ he says. ‘Every time you go down there it seems there’s something new. The old buildings have been given a new lease of life completely, isn’t that wonderful? Like the front of St. Pancras station. That beautiful façade has always been there, and we haven’t seen it before!’

In a similar way, Ian seeks to enhance period buildings with his modern style. ‘I think the combination of the Georgian and modern style works well,’ he says. ‘They’ve got lots in common, they’re both very elegant. So I like to keep the sense of the original house when I’m developing.’

He’s achieved that with his own home. It’s an award-winning overhaul of a damaged property he bought at auction. Previously a church stood behind it, but that was bombed in WWII. Ian believes this caused fires in his building, because when he started re-constructing it he discovered the joints were charred. ‘Most of them were tiny twigs,’ he recalls. He retained as many of the original walls and features as possible, but gave some a modern twist – like installing a log-burner into the former fireplace.

Unsurprisingly, he’s making a success of transforming other people’s homes. While many medium-sized practices suffered during the recession, Ian, who works alone, had plenty to occupy him. ‘I’ve been very lucky,’ he admits. ‘In fact, that was one of my busiest times!’ He found people still developed their houses because the financial strain of moving was worse. ‘The thing with moving is, with stamp duty, it’s very expensive,’ he explains. ‘People prefer to build on their houses if they need more space.’

This often means expanding outwards into the garden, or upwards onto the roof. Ground-floor extensions tend to be easier. ‘It’s more enjoyable because you’re more likely to get permission for it,’ Ian tells me. Gardens, once a service space in Victorian and Georgian houses, are now living spaces. Although they are often tricky, Ian considers roof extensions as environmentally important. ‘There’s a shortage of habitable accommodation. In my opinion, we should be making the most of every square inch,’ he asserts. ‘It’s a big issue; we should be using spaces efficiently. If you stand up on a roof and look at the surroundings anywhere in London, you can see how much space there is up there.’

Islington is mostly conservation area, so planning restrictions abound. They are based on aesthetic principles Ian whole-heartedly supports – he’s the last person to oppose measures preserving the area’s celebrated beauty. ‘That’s what this business is all about – making the most of restrictions,’ he tells me about overcoming planning restrictions. ‘If there’s a problem, you find some way of accommodating it. Quite often, you come up with something better than the client had imagined.’

Working alone means Ian can more easily handle the conflicting elements of a project – client’s wishes, technical problems and planning restrictions. ‘It’s a matter of negotiating your way to a solution,’ he smiles. Consequently, he’s very hands-on. ‘That makes my practice a bit different from others. I get involved with projects all the way through myself,’ he explains. Rather than expanding, he would prefer to continue with smaller commissions, which allow him to be fully responsible.

Residential development can be a stressful process – you need to trust your home is in good hands, that it won’t be ruined by an inconsiderate architect who ignores your input. So, beside his design talents, Ian’s easy-going manner might partly explain his success. Visiting him, you’re welcomed with an offer of green tea – just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to talk.

11 Halton RoadN1 2EN; 020 7688 1589;

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