Under stair WC Concept

Now that our party wall is up, I’ve been mulling over the interior design of our future extension which will include our kitchen, a pantry and laundry area, and a new WC underneath the staircase.

The previous owners of our house always referred to the area under the stairs at ‘The Coal Hole’, and even left us a little lump of coal under the stair (which I later learned here is for good luck!).  I therefore decided to use this as a starting point. First up, I did a little bit of research into the history of coal in Victorian times when our house was built for more inspiration.

Here are a few things I discovered:

  • In larger Victorian homes, coal would have been stored in a cellar beneath the front steps.  The cellar was filled by pouring the coal down a tube capped with a cast iron cover in the pavement.
  • In smaller houses without cellars, like ours, there would have either been a coal bunker in the back yard, or the owners would have made do with the space under the stairs. This space was indeed called a ‘coal hole’!
  • Coal was delivered in bags by horse drawn carriages as show in the photo above of a delivery in Lambeth in 1938 (which I found online in the Lambeth archives here)
  • Canaries were sent down coal mines in the 1800’s to test for carbon monoxide as they were more sensitive to the gas so could detect it early. (Yay! An excuse to use my favourite colour yellow!)
  • Canary resuscitation boxes were invented to stop this cruelty. Once they showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning a door would be closed and a valve opened, allowing oxygen from a tank on top of the box to be released and revive the canary.  (This is shown in the image above from the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester)

A Rendered Wall

We feel a little like we are living next to an enormous adobe mud hut at the moment (!), but here is the latest view of our party wall now that it has been rendered with sand-cement.

You can see the lines of the block work behind because the mortar is still drying out. We were going to have the wall painted white once it dries just to bounce the light around and so it looks a little more finished until we build our side extension, but I actually quite like the soft beige sand colour.  The colour actually works quite nicely with the London stock brickwork on our houses, so we’re going to leave it for now to see how it looks.

The slot that you can see in the wall is where our future steel column will go, and that will get filled up with insulation soon. We are still waiting for the coping stones to arrive, and then it will be done!

As we are paying for our half of the wall now, we decided to keep the re-instatement simple to keep costs down. The concrete pavers were re-laid even though a few got chipped in the process. Legally you don’t need to pay for a party wall until you use it, but as we are hoping to use it soon, and wanted a few adjustments to it to suit our future works, we decided it was better to pay now.

The image on the left is the eventual view we will have from within our extension looking up through our skylight.


And up, up, up goes the wall!

Over the past three weeks our party wall has gone up, up and up!  Current planning regulations in the UK allow for a party wall to be 2.5m, which means you typically achieve head room of only 2.1m at the boundary internally if you have any solid, insulated roof. (This is why most people install a roof light down the whole gap).  If however you are on good terms with your neighbour, and you both have extensions planned, you can agree jointly to go taller than this so that you both benefit from taller interior spaces.  I know of one other pair of houses on our street who have built their extensions together and gone a little bit higher on the boundary. Our wall however will be almost 3.75m.  Eeek!

I have to admit, that even as an architect I lost quite a lot of sleep over how tall our wall was. It looked so small and insignificant on a little A3 sheet of paper at 1:100 scale.  I became just like one of my nervous clients and had to keep reminding myself (with a little help from my architect friends) that:

  • It seems much taller than it really is because we’ve been looking at a wide open space for 3 weeks while they sorted out the foundations (ie. we just aren’t used to it)
  • It will look fine once our extension is built and this becomes a soaring great interior space
  • The wall height matches the high point of the sloped roof one storey portion of our houses
  • We are only covering up a view of a big plain brick wall (not a view of the glorious countryside… or even our garden!)
  • The sun still reaches our interior spaces as we are oriented East-West so the sun shines down the gap (If your street runs East-West, and therefore your house faces north-south – this sort of thing may have more impact!)
  • For dramatic spaces you need to be brave

The wall build, which needs to perform thermally until we build our extension, and then acoustically once we are both living side by side,  is as follows:

  • The 100mm blocks that make each leaf are medium density standard grade blocks from Lignacite which are made with 48% recycled aggregate.
  • The 100mm of full-fill cavity insulation is Earthwool DriTherm Cavity Slabs by Knauff.

The Nursery

Well, here it is… a complete view of our little nursery!  (Photographed at last)

You will remember the planning stages here,  the day Alex installed the book shelves in our ‘book nook’ here, and when we put up our rabbit hooks.  If you want a reminder of what it looked like before as our study, click here, or as our bathroom when we moved in back in 2014 click here.

Fixtures and fittings:

  • The chair in the book nook is an Eames LCW chair in black stained oak (purchased 4 years ago). It has found a new home in this little corner.
  • The green cushion on the chair is made with vintage house fabric from Habitat, purchased on Etsy store Retro68
  • The pink and coloured throw on the chair is from
  • The book shelves are in fact Mosslanda picture ledges from Ikea
  • The changing station is a standard changing mat that we velcro-fixed to the top of a set of three Nordli drawer units from Ikea to keep it in place.
  • The three little picture frames by the door are Ikea Hovsta picture frames. They are ‘birch effect’ – but are pretty convincing and ideal for inexpensive ‘art’. In our three frames there is a postcard I bought in Amsterdam last year, a photo of Alex and I when I was nine months pregnant, and one of the birth cards we received that had a cute message on it.
  • The Irish Moss seaweed print is a limited edition from Molesworth and Bird. I purchased it in a wonderful little design shop in Lyme Regis called Ryder and Hope where Alex and I went on our last trip away before our little one joined our family.  I got it framed at the Southbank Art Store.
  • The rug is from Wayfair – also available at the easier to navigate Modern Rugs website. I’d already purchased it for our study so used that as a starting point for the black and white and whitewashed with pops of colour colour scheme.
  • The black and white cross fabric is a Robert Kaufmann pattern which I purchased from Etsy store Modes4u. I got my friend Cathy to make a quilt out of some of it.
  • I also got a blackout roller blind made by Crosby Blinds. There you can supply your own custom fabric and so I provided them with more of the same fabric.
  • I hung all our birth cards on a black ribbon which I nailed to one of the ceiling beams to add a splash of colour.
  • Paper swan mobile from The Scandinavian Design Company
  • And lastly, the three little wooden animals on the window sill I picked up at a street market in Prague years and years ago when I first arrived in the UK in 2004.

Spring Garden Flowers

There were some issues with the foundation concrete pour (mainly it was made too high), so while that is being rectified, here are some spring flowers to brighten your post Easter week.

I ventured into our garden and collected these for the guest room, grand hall and bathroom to give the house a little spring lift for my mom’s visit from Canada.


Digging in the Trenches


I’ll try to spare you all too many pictures of a muddy building site… but here is the progress outside our guest room window.

The trench for the concrete foundation beneath our shared party wall has been dug, our shared manhole to the public sewer has been relocated, and the somewhat complicated underground drainage runs re-modified.

Onwards and upwards!


A Salvaged Door Knocker

On our street about half of the houses have their original solid wood 4 panel doors with face motif door knockers. The other half have what I recently learnt are called ‘Carolina doors‘ with six panels and an arched window. (You can see the two different doors here when I posted a photo of our holiday wreath). I can only assume that when all of the houses were owned by the one landlord, he decided at some stage to replace all of the more damaged doors on the street with a job lot of these Carolina doors.

In any case, it is our eventual plan to replace the front door with something like the original ones… so I’ve been keeping my eye open for both a wood door with the same profile, and a cast iron knocker that would be true to the original (shown in the image of the green door).

At our summer street party last year, one of my neighbours told me that the face on the knocker was the Roman god Mercury and that she found one on ebay for her front door as they tend to come up for sale from time to time. A six month long ebay watch later,  and two eventually came up for sale!  One was fully refurbished and selling for £70, and one for £35 which needed cleaning up. Well, as you all know by now, I like both a deal and a project, so I bought the one needing a clean up.

And a few more historical notes about our door knocker:

  • The ebay listing noted that this particular knocker is listed in the Kendrick Catalogue of 1876: Decorative Household Metalware – which is right around when our house was built.
  • Mercury is the god ‘of shopkeepers and merchants, travellers and transporters of goods, and thieves and tricksters‘ according to Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
  • Mercury is often portrayed wearing winged sandals, or in the case of our door knocker, a winged hat.