Words – Will Foster

Photographs – Michael Franke

Originally published in the Financial Times


Our poorly planned 1950s house does not work for a modern-day family. What small changes can we make to improve our day-to-day living?


If only we could upgrade our homes like our cars and phones. Just think, when your house was built, you may have been lucky enough to be driving your first car, a Morris Minor, and your family would gather around a television the size of a small fridge. If you peel back the layers of your house, you are likely to find a solid concrete ground floor with a now fashionable timber-block parquet or terrazzo finish. You can take advantage of its construction with some minor surgery. Create more floor space by removing all those radiators and laying a slim underfloor heating system with a super-insulated loft. You will have made a noticeable difference with little major disruption. There is a wide range of windows and doors available that will greatly improve your house’s ability to stay warm, keep out unwanted noise and let more natural light in. A tell-tale sign when I am visiting houses during the day is which rooms have the lights on. Simply changing the door to glass to allow natural light into the room will improve the enjoyment of the space. The internal configuration of your house is most likely not the favoured open-plan living of today, but the internal walls will have the purpose of keeping those lean timber floor joists up. Instead of removing walls, you can create larger openings with double doors. This gives you the flexibility of opening up without major construction work.

If you are feeling ambitious and need the extra space, start with looking into converting your roof. The house’s foundations potentially have enough strength to carry an extra floor and this period of roof can be adapted with the right structural engineering advice. You can kill two birds with one stone by also adding well-needed insulation. The trick is to work with the house. Spot the opportunities and think about what makes a difference to your family.