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House of Assaf: a tale of 2 storeys

After many happy years of building memories and with 2 growing teenagers, Urban Front co-founders Elizabeth & Nabil Assaf were keen to stay in their spacious but not-ideally-configured 1970's bungalow. So they dreamt big and went full steam ahead with a magnificent makeover that included a whole new upper floor as well as new features and fixings throughout (including all of the doors, naturally). Elizabeth gives the insider detail below. 

What was the plan for your house?

Our main aim was to transform the entire property by building an upstairs floor, so we could add to and enlarge our existing bedrooms and make better use of the existing space. Internally, most of the ground floor was staying as is except for the hall/ living room where the stairs were going. We started off wanting to leave some of the floor the same downstairs, but ended up changing the hallway floor and redecorating. 

For the exterior, we knew it might be difficult to get permission for render or cladding, but decided to ask anyway. Although render wasn’t going to be possible due to the fact that we are on the border of a conservation area, the cladding was accepted as it was determined that it would blend in with all the nature surrounding us.

The windows were also initially drawn in quite small to achieve planning, but we went back and applied again with larger windows – these are one of our favourite features when inside the rooms upstairs. Mainly, we wanted to make sure the house kept its 1970's feel but looked updated and contemporary.

The details
Hallway floor:
Fired Earth
Hallway wall paint: Farrow and Ball Studio Green and Dulux Timeless
Staircase: Formosa Staircases
Steel Chandelier: Rocket St George
Doors: Raw Oak with white oil and Milano V Oak with ebony oil  Urban Front
Lighting: Tom Dixon/ Lutron
Book shelves under stairs: Tee books
Wallpaper: London Art Wallpaper, Geisha 
Building Contractor: Iwanski Design
Architect: Jane Duncan Architects
Windows: Westcoast Windows

Was it difficult deciding on a front and garage door because you could essentially have anything you wanted?

Yes! We're so lucky to be in the position where we can make our own doors, but in some ways that also made it harder to make decisions.

We ended up choosing a bespoke design for our front door which has now become one of our ongoing designs (Bari). We wanted the front door to echo the cladding and therefore used the same concept of raised, different level elements with a concealed handle.

On the other hand we thought the garage door should remain simple so that the front door stood out and as it was going to be a bifold due to it’s small size, it felt like the right choice. We chose Fumed Oak because we knew we were letting the cladding grey and wanted a dark wood front door so that it would stand out.

Internally, we also replaced all the internal doors to full height in beautiful, white and ebony oiled European oak. 

How did you decide on the major elements like the cladding and windows?

The windows were quite a straightforward choice. The downstairs windows were done a few years ago in aluminium, so it made sense to keep the same colour and style upstairs.

The biggest thing was the cladding – we really took our time deciding on the type of cladding. We initially wanted to use a company specialising in cladding but ended up (for cost reasons) making it ourselves. We did quite a few samples first and decided on varying width, unequal cladding in Iroko. We knew we wanted it to grey and blend into the environment.

With cladding I always advise clients to think about what it will look like in 6 months after installation instead of immediately after fitting.

How would you describe your style for the interiors?

That’s a hard one. I like contemporary but not too minimal – I like who we are as a family to come through in our design and to feature places we’ve been.

I especially like texture and earthy interiors – leather, wood, and steel. I only bring colour in with accessories. My husband has a thing for yellow so there are quite a few yellow elements throughout the house like the yellow steel beam upstairs.

Your advice on choosing the right front door?

Definitely try to get out of your comfort zone and be bold - consider design, security and use (practicality). Your front door can say a lot about you in the small details like the handle, the colour and the size. Simple doors can also have impact.

And finally, what useful lessons did you learn from taking on this project?

Check and double check everything even if the architect and builder have already said it’s fine! Also, do go and see all the products you are buying or get samples, they don’t always look like they do in pictures. Try to work with a budget as it’s so easy to overspend. Do change things that you’d already decided on midway through your project if they feel wrong, it’s so worth it in the end.

A few times we rushed things and I know now that if we had taken more time to think about the options, we might have chosen differently. Overall though we’re very happy with the outcome.