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When George Clarke was refurbishing a 1960’s London house he brought it into the 21st Century

Since moving to London as an architectural student in 1996 I’ve broadly lived in the same post codes in West London.

I know for many London can be a vast, anonymous city, but I prefer to think of London as lots of small villages, each with their own identity, stitched together to make a large urban metropolis.

Village life in London makes the city easier to handle. My ‘village’ is an area that covers Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove down to Shepherds Bush roundabout.

Because this house was an ‘unpopular style’ it was half the price of a Victorian house

George Clarke George Clarke Architect and TV presenter

Village prices

Property prices in this area are stupid. Really stupid.

They haven’t doubled in the last 20 years, they’ve increased 5-fold.

The housing stock is a predominantly Victorian and Edwardian sitting alongside post-war developments that include high-rise towers such as Trellick Tower and Grenfell.

As the area has become more affluent and with property prices increasing, the desire for homeowners to refurbish their existing homes has gone through the roof.

My architectural practice has refurbished over 50 houses in this ‘village’ alone over the last few years. Upgrading and refurbishing existing buildings accounts for the vast majority of our work.

Back to the 60’s

In 2014 I decided to start looking for a new home in the area.

I’d always lived in Victorian and Edwardian homes, but this time I wanted to do something different.

On the first day of looking on property websites I came across a 1960’s house that sat in the middle of a modernist terrace that I knew well.

It was 5 minutes walk from my previous house and also some good friends of mine lived on the end of the terrace. I’d always loved their house and I used to joke that if they ever wanted to sell it, I’d like first option to buy.

Now I had the chance of buying exactly the same style and type of house just a few doors down from them.

More realistically priced

1960’s architecture often gets a bad press. Most of that negative press is fully deserved, but there are some 1960’s developments that are truly beautiful.

This small modernist terrace in London, in my eyes, is an architectural beauty. Six very simple 4-bedroom houses, designed to fantastic space standard, beautifully efficient in their layout and each house with a decent sized front and back garden.

The contemporary front and back elevations, with their full-width ribbon windows, were crafted by an architect that knew exactly what they were doing.

What is even more amazing is that because the house I was buying was an ‘unpopular style’ it was half the price of a similar size Victorian or Edwardian house just a couple of hundred yards away. It reminded me of the 1960’s house I grew up in in the North-East (the home my Mam and Dad still live in) and I just had to have it.

Forward to the 21st Century

The architectural bones of the house were amazing, but it needed to be dragged into the 21st century, so I began a substantial refurbishment of the house, which included lots of energy saving moves.

First, I changed the old boiler to a more efficient one. Then the old, leaky, drafty single-glazed windows were taken out and changed to very high-performance, metal-framed, Velfac windows that weren’t just double-glazed, but triple-glazed to improve the energy performance as well as the acoustic performance of the house. I can hardly hear a thing outside when the windows are closed.

Poor quality radiators were removed and replaced with modern, efficient ones. I went mad with insulation. I didn’t just dry-line the inside of the external walls and upgrade the insulation in the roof, but because I was doing so much work internally I super insulated all of the internal walls and floors too.

I do this because it prevents heat transferring from one room or floor to the next. The heat is kept in the rooms where you need it.

This is all way beyond what the building regulations requires, but it make a massive difference to the level of comfort in the house and massively reduces heat loss.

Into the future

Now, I’m about to install a new Ecodan air source heat pump, which takes heat from the outside air, compresses it and creates enough heat to power my radiators.

This is amazing clean, cheap energy that reduces the need for my gas boiler.

Photo-voltaic panels are going on my flat roof soon too!

All of these steps not only reduce my energy bills and are obviously good for the environment, but they massively improve the levels of thermal comfort in my home too. It’s a wonderful place to live. I just need to change my gas guzzling car (which I do feel guilty about!) to an electric one and I’m sorted.

Let’s get going

We have 27 million existing homes in the UK, many that were built well over 100 years ago, generations before the building regulations were introduced or ecological design was even thought about.

We have an exciting opportunity to refurbish these millions of existing buildings. They already have a substantial amount of embodied energy within them and many old properties add charm and character to an area.

We need to harness that by creating a Great British Refurbishment initiative.

If my tired and unattractive 1960’s house can be upgraded to a beautiful, comfortable, and highly energy efficient home on a pretty reasonable budget, then as far as I’m concerned, any home can be transformed from an ugly duckling into an elegant swan.

George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter, a founder of TV production company Amazing Productions, and creative director of George Clarke + Partners.