London’s period housing stock can prove a challenge when looking to create a more contemporary home. Karen Jensen-Jones meets a couple who found a way

One of the interesting things about Greenwich, as well as the grand views and its maritime history, is undoubtedly the wonderful architecture. And not just those palatial royal buildings, but the unique, listed houses that line many of its historic streets. When Janette Ripley and her husband Ed moved to Greenwich from Canary Wharf in 2008, it was actually a compromise rather than an appreciation of the fine architecture.

‘I lived in Canary Wharf and worked in Shoreditch and really enjoyed my urban way of life,’ remembers Janette, who runs her own market research company with her husband. ‘But Ed lived in Crouch End and he wanted to live somewhere with a community spirit and cafe culture. In the end we compromised and decided on Greenwich and now we love it. There’s certainly a cafe culture and we have an independent fishmonger, butcher and florist on our doorstep and I’ve even seen Morris dancers up the hill.’

It wasn’t long before the couple found themselves with several house viewings and quickly put in offers on three houses in neighbouring roads: ‘My favourite house was a smaller property that needed no work at all and that was appealing, but this house is much bigger. It needed lots of work but in the end we decided to take on the challenge.’

The Grade II-listed terrace, built in 1750, hadn’t been refurbished for years. The first thing the couple did was rearrange the rooms upstairs before tackling the difficult ground floor space.


Contemporise a period property with a bold colour on a feature wall

‘We moved the walls on the first floor to create two bedrooms and a shower room and converted one of the top floor bedrooms into a large bathroom. It was very straightforward, even though we had to reinforce the bathroom floor due to the weight of the bathtub. The real challenge was the ground floor space,’ says Janette.

With an old fashioned maple kitchen, very little storage and a small sitting room that you come into straight off the street, the property needed a total makeover: ‘We discovered the house had been a butcher’s shop up until the 1940s so it’s unique, but needed updating, especially as we have a three-year-old toddler.’

With the middle part of the house feeling dark, Janette’s idea of a glass box extension was the ideal solution for bringing more light into the house and gaining extra living space and storage.

‘We found Mark Titman in The Guide Resident. He lectures in architecture at Greenwich University and runs his own design practice specialising in modern designs that are in keeping with traditional architecture,’ says Janette.

‘He has experience working with the local planning department so we knew that he’d be invaluable in gaining planning permission for us – not an easy task for a Grade II listed building in a conservation area!’

‘We work closely with whichever planner we are allocated to make the best compromise if need be,’ says Mark. ‘We also love it when our clients have a germ of an idea for their home and their lifestyle which accrues into a pearl of a project. The delight grows from the client and not just the designer.’

The work started in May and finished in October and came with its share of setbacks – including a problem with the glass for the extension.


Mark Titman runs his own architecture firm specialising in modern extensions for period buildings

‘As the walls aren’t straight in an old house, it’s hard to line up the glass and the calculations have to be spot on,’ says Janette. ‘Unfortunately the glass didn’t fit and had to be re-measured, but once it was fitted it looked fantastic. The glass is also very sturdy, thermal efficient and lets in so much light. We’re delighted.’

Mark agrees: ‘These days the glass is usually made up as a sandwich of two or three layers, between which a gas such is filled to act as insulation. The crucial structural component is the glue holding the elements together, which occurs at a molecular scale. It’s very technical.’

Much more fun was choosing the kitchen: ‘Without a doubt, it had to be a modern German kitchen,’ says Janette. ‘I loved every kitchen at LWK Kitchens in CanaryWharf who import German Hacker Kitchens – the quality is first class. I decided to go with purple glass units because they work well in both the kitchen and the sitting room. They also reflect the light and that helps to brighten up the middle of the house.’

The purple theme runs throughout the ground floor in many of Janette’s soft furnishings and with dark wooden floorboards, beautifully stained by Sanded Floors from Upper Norwood and white walls, she has created a streamlined, contemporary style.

‘I like to mix old and new together as there’s an element of surprise to that kind of look,’ enthuses Janette. ‘The wood burning stove from Sustainable Fires works well alongside the sleek breakfast bar and stools and the classic wood dining table fits perfectly in the modern glass box extension.’

Equally the elegant Georgian exterior gives no clue to the modern glass box extension at the back of the house. It seems moving to Greenwich was a compromise well worth making.

Most Read