Client of the Month: Kate McKinlay Restores Her Grade II Chelsea Townhouse
Kate McKinlay outside her vineyard, Domaine de Mourchon, in Seguret, Provence.
Kate’s Georgian townhouse in Chelsea was overdue a makeover, but a false start had made her nervous about the difficulties of renovating a 1720s Grade II listed house. Luckily, she found us.
What’s the story behind the house?
The house is an early-Georgian Chelsea townhouse which my parents bought in 1980.
It had unfortunately undergone radical refurbishment works, which had removed most of the original period features, which was a bit of a travesty, being that it was a Grade II listed house.
My mother did her best to get rid of the anachronous additions and bring back its Georgian charm – which was still there, just heavily disguised – but her budget was limited at the time so she wasn’t able to fully restore the house.
Around 15 years ago my parents moved to France along with the rest of the family and we had let out the house ever since. Our business is wine making, so it was important for us to have a reliable source of income.
After the most recent tenants moved out, we decided it was time to give the house the care and attention that it deserved.
Why did you choose DGA for your project?
Initially, my parents were working with a local designer/architect who had a flair for all things Georgian. He was very charming, but I came to suspect that his ambition outstripped his ability to deliver our brief.
I don’t think he grasped that we wanted a very practical renovation as we wouldn’t personally be living in the house. When he suggested that we should look at furniture and fittings before we had sorted out any of the planning issues, I realised it was time to find someone new.
It was not adding up for me, at which point fate intervened.
A friend of mine where I live in France introduced me to John, who lived nearby. We literally met in the square of our small market town for lunch so I could pick his brain.
He told me how much more difficult the planning process was in Kensington and Chelsea than we had been led to believe. I quickly realised that we had been naïve and hadn’t done our due diligence, particularly when it came to listed buildings.
I immediately noticed the contrast between John, who was very pragmatic and realistic, and the architect we had been working with, who was more fanciful and beguiling.
After our meeting, I took a look at the DGA website I saw they had worked on many projects similar to ours. It was clear that John and his team were a much safer pair of hands, so we started working with them instead.
What was your first meeting at DGA like?
After having lost money on the house from starting on the wrong foot, I was super cautious and wanted to see everything laid out in detail, and that’s exactly what they did, from planning to completion.
It made much more sense to talk about the harsh reality of it all before choosing colours and materials and soft furnishings.
What had previously felt like this rather terrifying big, murky pot that I had to keep stuffing money into finally started to make sense. I just felt very grateful that this fortuitous meeting had put me in safe hands.
How did you find the design and building process?
After the initial brief, John introduced me to Michael and Clodagh, who managed the project, and Jemima, who worked on the interior design. Their communication was excellent throughout.
I had never done something like this before, so I didn’t have the language of architecture and construction. But they made it very easy for me to understand the entire procedure and the decisions I had to make.
Our project was always going to be quite neutral; we wanted it to remain fairly generic to appeal to tenants. I was concerned that they would find it frustrating not being able to work to their usual state of the art end of design.
But I never sensed that at all. In fact, if anything, Michael was fantastic in how conscious he was of our goals and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about working on such an old building.
We were staying very objective in its style but still wanted to maintain a high level of quality, and Michael, Clodagh and Jemima achieved that.
Are there any remnants of the 1980s design additions?
No! John and his team wanted to authentically restore the house to its former glory.
In a way, I feel like we should have kept a small part of its 80s makeover to reference that stage in its life, like how you hold on to some really naff piece of clothing you had as a teenager.
How do you feel about the house now that the project has been completed?
I’m really pleased with the results. Jemima’s cleverly neutral colour scheme somehow respected the age of the house whilst feeling modern and in-touch.
It’s not a flash Chelsea house, it’s a house with dignity. It has an understated class.
DGA really held onto its heart and soul and, if anything, brought more of it back. It can hold its head high with a bit more pride now.
Do you have any advice for someone considering a similar renovation in Kensington and Chelsea?
Yes: do your due diligence.
Research all the boring but important stuff first and don’t get charmed by the frills and spills and soft furnishings.
Finally, how did you end up running a vineyard?
A decade ago, my father Walter’s two-year search for the perfect vineyard ended on a hot, dusty, rock-strewn hillock a mile or so from a beautiful little village in the Rhône Valley, called Seguret. The gnarly, twisted vines looked to be in superb shape, the farmhouse less so; just two walls were still standing.
He built a new house and winery for his family and the rest is history. You could say it is in my blood to take on ambitious projects.
Kate and her family produce exceptional French wines . You can learn more at their website at www.domainedemourchon.com