Designer John Osborn, a master at maximising space where it is at a premium, shows Lorraine Crighton-Smith around the stylish family home he built himself in SW4


When John Osborn came across a plot of land for sale on Clapham’s Abbeville Road he knew this was the opportunity he’d been dreaming off – the chance to build his ideal home.

Having worked as a tradesperson after leaving school and later training as an interior designer, John utilised his experience by being completely hands-on during the project.

Planning permission was already in place (arranged by the previous owner, a developer who auctioned off the land after a lengthy fight with the council and local residents). John had to ensure that the exterior of his self-build was in keeping with the area – pseudo Victorian – but inside he had free rein. A tour of the bespoke four-storey house that he shares with wife Louise and their three children, reveals that there’s more to this spacious and stylish property that meets the eye.

‘I could go free-for-all on the interior but, not being a Victorian terrace, I tried to put some features in,’ says John. ‘I also wanted a nice, grandiose entrance because it’s a big house but without the same depth as most Victorian houses.’

The ground floor houses ‘everything that you expect on the ground floor’ – a kitchen, a living area and a dining area. Stairs lead down to the basement, which you can also access from a nifty floor hatch disguised on the kitchen floor.   In the basement is Louise’s gym (she’s a personal trainer who now works from home), a guest bathroom, a spare room (‘A work in progress at the moment. I don’t think you ever finish’) and a utility area, including a laundry space and the boiler. ‘I’ve made the stairs in such a configuration that allows a laundry chute in the centre,’ says John, matter-of-factly as I marvel at the innovation. At the back of the basement, where clever tricks using mirrors and light wells allow natural light to flood in, is the living room: ‘you can see the view as if you’re looking out of the window, rather than just blue sky. It’s great.’

The living room’s pièce de résistance is the ‘disco wall’, which ‘can change different colours and you can make it fade,’ reveals John. ‘We host supper clubs here. We clear all the furniture out, and this turns into the dance floor and the gym becomes a cocktail bar,’ he adds. ‘The soundproofing is excellent’.

As we work our way up the stairs and take in the different vistas – and the bedrooms and bathrooms (the master bedroom has its own roof terrace) – the size of John’s project becomes apparent. While his hands-on approach meant he could design and build the majority of the house himself – at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing the work – he entrusted a small team of labourers to help out and hired a basement company to dig down and build the ‘box’.

‘Architects can be very talented in their aesthetics but I’ve never met one who understands how it actually works on site,’ he says. ‘It’s an advantage, understanding how things go together on site. If you understand how things work, you can makes better, more informed decisions when designing.’

In today’s market, John’s self-build was considerably cheaper than if he had purchased a property of the same size and specificication in SW4. His most expensive purchase? The white oak internal doors imported from Italy. Given that he made most of the furniture (and the building) with his own hands, we think that’s fair enough.

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