THAT CAUGHT OUR EYE
Client of the Month: How Kris and Giulia Turned Four Flats Back into One Beautiful Victorian Villa
Wimbledon Villa gets a lot of attention for having London’s longest private indoor pool, but Kris and Giulia’s story has a lot more to it than that. If anything, it’s a love story, with a house that captured their hearts so deeply that they went to extreme lengths to keep living in it.
How did you come into owning Wimbledon Villa?
Kris: That’s a long story. We moved into this house in 2006, except back then the property was divided into four flats, with us on the ground floor. We lived there for four years until our family expanded and we knew that we were going to have to move out.
We had a long walk in Wimbledon Common and talked about how cool it would be if, instead of moving out, we were able to buy one or two of the other flats.
Giulia: I said, go ahead, because I thought it wouldn’t happen. All the flats had their own landlords, we would have to talk to each of them and convince them to sell.
Kris: Long story short, we ended up buying all four flats in the course of a couple of years. Let that be a lesson or anyone who doesn’t think that miracles can’t happen!
You must really love the house to have put so much effort and money into acquiring the whole property.
Giulia: The house has a humongous garden. We did some research when we were thinking of moving out and visited friends’ houses, and we just couldn’t find any house or even a semi-detached that had a garden anywhere near this size. This house is very unique in this area for its amount of outside space.
Kris: It’s a beautiful Victorian house that dates from somewhere in the 1880s. Neither of us are from Britain, so for us it’s quite special to have that classic London house. We went to the Wimbledon archives and looked at pictures of the street in the early 1900s and we felt like we could do something special by putting the house back together.
On top of combining all the flats, what were your objectives for the design?
Kris: Well, first we had to wait a couple of years, because we were out of money after buying all the flats. So that gave us a lot of time to think about what we wanted while we lived in this big apartment block all by ourselves. The first thing we did, before we met John, was convert one of the flats into bedrooms, because we didn’t need three kitchens and five bathrooms!
Giulia: It was important to us to keep the same look on the exterior, and remove features of the house that weren’t original and restore some that had been lost so that it looked entirely Victorian. We didn’t want any modern extensions, even in the garden, because we loved the traditional appearance of the house.
Kris: We were very sensitive to the history of the house, but there were certain things about Victorian houses that we didn’t like, such as the draftiness and the small rooms. We were determined to keep it a clearly Victorian house while making it modern and liveable on the inside.
Why did you choose to work with DGA for this project?
Giulia: We talked to a lot of different architects and we found that John has a great knowledge about the structure of the house as well as the design. Some architects are focused on the interior, the soft side of architecture, which for us was of secondary importance. Most of all, we wanted to have a solid, high quality house and we thought that John would be able to do that part really well.
Kris: He took us around some of the houses he’d built, including his own, and we could see that he was able to design both very modern and classic properties, so we felt that he would be able to strike the balance that we wanted with the traditional exterior and more modern interior.
Of course, we can’t talk about Wimbledon Villa without mentioning the pool. Whose idea was that?
Kris: That was my idea.
Giulia: From the beginning.
Kris: It took a little bit of work to have that one accepted into the overall plan. That was one of the elements where, at some point, we were looking at the design and felt maybe we weren’t being ambitious enough. You know, where was the ‘wow’ factor? That was the genesis of the pool, which definitely added a lot to the project in terms of the ‘wow’ factor and…
Kris: [laughing] In terms of costs. But also in terms of satisfaction. From an interior design perspective, the pool probably caused us the most stress, and probably caused DGA the most stress as well, because we were agonising over every little decision while they were working to deadlines.
Giulia: This shelf or that shelf, which tiles to pick.
Kris: In the back of our heads, with everything else in the house, if we didn’t like something in the coming years, we could break it down and fix it. But that would be really hard, if not impossible, with the pool. So we had to get it perfect the first time.
Was it worth it?
Kris: Oh yeah, it’s great. I can go and have a swim before work, the kids can have pool parties and things like that, it’s fantastic.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the project?
Kris: What scared the bejesus out of me was when Philip invited me down to the site and showed me the first hole that had been dug in the basement, about a metre square and three or four metres deep. Every 30 seconds, this hole was filling up with water.
I became very familiar very fast with all the different techniques for controlling flooding, which all had one thing in common: they’re all very expensive. So we were having to consider these complex, multi-pump systems and sinkholes, but then a couple of weeks later the water just stopped. No one quite understood it, it was like a computer bug.
After some investigating, it turned out the neighbour’s storm drains ended at the boundary of our property, so we had to negotiate
with them on how we were going to divert the pipes away from our basement. Luckily, we got off reasonably well from that – we hadn’t bought a house on top of an underground river!
What are you enjoying most in the house now, besides the pool?
Giulia: That’s hard, but I think what I love the most is the underfloor heating. This house was cold for years, and now I can walk around barefoot it the middle of winter, yet the room never gets too hot. Everywhere, the house stays at the temperature that we set it to, when before we would have the heaters on all day in winter and the house would still be cold.
Kris: I was worried that, because the house would be so big – bigger than we’d have built it if we were starting fresh – that we would lose the family. The kids all have their own rooms that they could disappear into, if they wanted. But that hasn’t happened at all.
Instead, we all naturally gather in the open plan living space on the ground floor, where everyone can do their own thing but still be together. If anything, we’re spending more time together now than ever. But that’s also where the underfloor heating is, so maybe we’re all just drawn to the warmth.
Finally, what advice do you have for other people who are thinking of taking on a similar project?
Giulia: You shouldn’t rush your decisions, it’s important to take your time. I think we caused a little bit of a headache for John, because we were not in a hurry. But in the end I think that was a good thing, because we have very little regrets in terms of our choices.
Kris: I think most importantly, you’ve got to have a team with you that you feel comfortable with, personally compatible with and that you can fundamentally trust. And that’s what we felt with John and his team.
Because that relationship will be tested, and tested over and over again. In runs both ways, from us to the architects and back again. It’s a big project, with a lot of money behind it and unbelievable complexity, so there’s going to be stress, and you need people who know how to work in those conditions and how to guide you through them.
It sounds like a terribly negative thing to say in terms of advice, but on the other side of all that very, very hard work is a house that we built and we love. We haven’t built it with an eye to reselling it or making money off the development, we’ve built this house exactly the way we wanted, and that’s something you have to do once in your life, if you can.
If you’d like to know more about the excavation works involved in projects like Wimbledon Villa, click here for Philip’s latest advice blog. To learn how to get an indoor pool on your own, click here for our guest blog from Paul Whitely who designed and built the Wimbledon Villa pool.