A home of very grand designs

Timothy Barber
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Buying an old home to do it up is one thing. Doing it in the teeth of a major recession, in a house with no heating, collapsing ceilings, shot plumbing and rampant damp, and living there while you renovate it from scratch, is probably rather beyond the call of duty. It’s arguably rather a miracle that BNP Paribas banker Michelle Ricci and her husband Lars managed to turn this Islington house into such a beautiful, stylish slice of crisp minimalism at all, given they had to spend the winter of 2007/2008 warming themselves round a single heater.

Less hardy folk might have thought twice about taking on such a task. Despite its dilapidated state, however, Michelle immediately saw the potential of the four bedroom, five floor Victorian townhouse on Devonia Road, a few moments’ walk from Islington Green.

“The building was almost falling down, and it was damp, dark, dusty and stale – it still had the original horsehair plaster walls and some ceilings were sagging so badly you could reach up and touch them,” she says. “But what struck me was the space. I got lost the first time I went in, and I was immediately thinking how I could breathe life into it.”

The key was to flood the house with light. The building had been divided into a trio of flats – extraordinarily, three generations of the same family were living in the different flats, and had been doing so for decades. Having taken down the divisions, the house’s new owners removed the back outer wall and replaced it with a two-storey glass panel. They also added a fifth floor to what was a four floor building, with a top floor balcony facing out over Islington, and an indoor balcony overlooking the rooms below.

The look of the house is pale, stripped back and airy, but the house’s historic features – it dates from the middle of the 19th century – have not been forgotten. “We went for a minimalist overall theme, but have tried to reintroduce the Victorian features like fireplaces and architraves,” says Michelle.

There are no synthetic materials in the house – floors are of American walnut wood, while gleaming polished concrete is in the kitchen and bathroom. Underfloor heating runs beneath.

“It’s been a romantic project, you feel you’re taking on a bit of history and giving it new life,” says Michelle. “I hope that in 200 years time someone will live there and think that we did something pretty special with it.”

The house is now on the market for £2.5m, through Cluttons: 020 7354 6666