Amazing space: The 1970s St Albans home transformed beyond recognition
PUBLISHED: 11:25 03 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:04 03 June 2019
Matt Chisnall Architectural Photograhy Ltd
St Albans architect Scott Batty tells Jane Howdle how he turned his dated 1970s home into a modern masterpiece.
Head down Cunningham Hill Road, past some of St Albans' grandest and most expensive properties, and you'll reach Barncroft Way, a more modest selection of 1970s detached houses built on what was once the grounds of Cunningham Hill Farmhouse.
The Grade II listed building is no longer the area's most eye-catching address, however - that credit belongs to the home of architect Scott Batty, 47, who's been plotting its painstaking transformation since moving in with his family three years ago.
And while the new larch-clad exterior couldn't be more different to its neighbours' traditional tiles, Scott's intention is to enhance the original building "rather than just obliterate it and make it look like it was a brand new house".
So what made him make the move from Fleetville's College Road?
"We were just desperate to get something on a nice street that we liked, and we did like it," he says. "That's why we wanted to work with it rather than erase it."
Scott believes the quality of the original build is better than a lot of homes constructed in the 1980s and 1990s, adding: "The way that we live has changed, but this was well built. The materials are good, it's solid."
The original window places remain, but new, often larger, windows have now been installed, creating a lovely light space internally, not to mention a vastly more striking exterior.
Then there's the cladding. Bright larch has taken over from the original tiles, and Scott hopes it will last for 25 years. The current yellowish tinge will fade to grey and silver over time and won't require any treatment or maintenance, he says.
"We kind of dropped this tea cosy on top of the house, with all this cladding and insulation and windows," he explains. "When the sun's on it you really get the texture."
Plans are afoot to add a deck to the rear of the property, creating an outdoor room and making a feature of the apple tree that sits in the middle of the garden - believed to have once been part of the farmhouse's orchard.
Internally, the original parquet flooring has been preserved, while the chimney in the corner of the sitting room has been reintroduced and a log-burning stove added.
"We didn't want to do a pastiche of the '70s but it is a 1970s house so we wanted to make reference to it without it being a bit kitsch," Scott explains - a balance he admits has been difficult to get right.
When I visited, there was a ladder in place of the bottom section of stairs, the plan being to refurbish the original staircase rather than replace it with a newer model.
"We're not gutting, we're not ripping things out if we don't have to we're just trying to be clever about what we do with things - which takes a lot of thinking. I do a lot of thinking before building anything."
That much is clear. Every stage of this renovation has been meticulously planned - and no one knows this better than those tasked with making the family's dream a reality.
Scott met builders PDCR for 15 minutes every morning throughout the first stage of the build, then looked closely at their work each evening.
"That was reassuring for all of us I think, because they knew I'd catch something before it went too far," he says. "Often they hadn't got it quite right. We set up the right way of working. I think the builders enjoyed it! They said it was a big learning curve. In a good way I think!"
The kitchen has remained true to its original floorplan and, instead of going all out with a vast on-trend island, Scott and wife Abigail, 46, opted to maintain its modest size, which will work in conjunction with the new utility area.
"The reality is neither of us are massive cooks; it's big enough for us, it works. We'd rather have that space for the living area."
New cupboard doors sourced from Modern Laminates in Watford and fitted by Scott have completed the look.
"There's lots of things I know I can't do but in terms of stretching the budget I knew there were things I could do. And we're getting there. I won't say it hasn't been stressful!"
While Scott has been exceptionally hands on throughout the build, Abigail has also been on board with all of the decision making. "We've discussed everything," Scott says. "It took two years to design it. We made all the decisions together - I think she'd say that. She's really pleased with the way it's come out."
This is very much a long term project for the couple, who share their home with children, Benedict, 10 and Esther, nine. The family have stayed put throughout the build, the first phase of which took place between April and September 2018.
Smaller jobs such as the staircase are ongoing, with phase two set to commence next year.
As anyone who's ever renovated can confirm, a build isn't always the best thing for neighbourly relations - though there haven't been issues for the Battys, who remain on good terms with their neighbours. "Most have been supportive given all the noise and everything else," says Scott. "It's gone well.
"I would say this but it's been the most successful project I've done, but I think that's because of that working method with the builders and me being here all the time which obviously I can't do on other projects."
The second phase will see the conversion of the adjoining garage space to include a boot room, a utility room, a workshop and a guest room with its own bathroom.
"We didn't need to extend, we just knew we needed to use the space we'd got better," Scott explains. "That's why we didn't need a massive kitchen because we've got all this overflow. Once this is done that space will work as part of the kitchen."
Upstairs there are four bedrooms and a new wet room, with an area of Esther's room set to become an en suite. At the heart of the project is Scott's desire to "build in flexibility" in case the children would like to stay at home once they go to university. "We're trying to future-proof this. We think we're going to be here a long time."
Another feature of the build is a double height sun-space to the front south facing corner, over the front door. Low winter sun heats the air in this space which then naturally circulates back into the house - free air conditioning!
"It does work," Scott says. "Yesterday I stood in there and it was like a heater was on. The heat coming through that window was amazing."
While the downstairs living space is complete, the second phase of work is unlikely to be finished until 2021 - possibly never!
"Being realistic I think it could be two years," Scott says. "Maybe it'll just be one of those things that keeps going. We're enjoying it. This is great for us as a family and it's great for me as an architect being able to do this now having worked on other people's houses for however long.
"We've had complete strangers knocking at the door saying it looks great," Scott adds. "And that's the best thing I've ever had as an architect."
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To find out more about Scott's work, visit www.scottbattyarchitect.com.
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