A former Georgian coach house in South-West London
A sensitive renovation has transformed a dilapidated Georgian coach house into a quirky family home, full of fascinating architectural details and period charm. Photographs Rachel Whiting
Although the coach house in south-west London that Alix Bateman now calls home was built during Georgian times, it stands on the site of the original Manor House of Clapham. ‘Old plans show that our house is actually in the position of the kitchen for the great house,’ she explains. But by 1825 this section of the original building had changed use, becoming part of a stable yard until it was eventually given to the church next door in 1903, along with a sitting tenant.
Its upkeep over the next century was managed with a paltry sum, which meant that when the church finally came to sell, the coach house was in need of total renovation. And that’s when Alix stepped in. Although six months pregnant and adamant that she didn’t want a project, the building won her over: ‘It was unique and had so much potential,’ she explains, adding that its locale added to the allure – next door is a Georgian church in grounds dating back to the early 12th century and opposite is a small chapel that is now run as a community pottery.
Once work began and the bones of the building were uncovered, Alix often chose to leave walls and floors in their distressed state. Materials that were not original to the house were removed and replaced with salvaged, or more sympathetic, alternatives. The only significant alteration to the property was the clever conversion of the covered side passageway into the family’s living space.
This had been the original thoroughfare for horses and carriages, and it was accessed through large wooden gates that were beyond repair. Alix replaced them with a wooden frontage in the same style, which satisfied listed building requirements. Folding wooden doors were added at the back to allow access to the patio, and large windows were fitted inside the original brick arches to the side.
The result is a space filled with light and full of character that not only reflects the building’s heritage, but is also the perfect backdrop for its current contents. Alix and her son Ply share a love of collecting, and the house is filled with an assortment of curios and period pieces they have picked up over the years. As a collector, as well as a former antiques dealer, Alix says nothing gets her out of bed faster than the prospect of a trip to a flea market.
‘I’m at the gates at 6am with all the mad men in macs, awaiting the market’s opening,’ she confesses. And her early starts have certainly paid off, as evidenced by the enviable collection of Georgian furniture she’s amassed.
‘I took my cue from the bare bones of the house and its period features,’ she says. ‘Good bits of Georgian oak furniture just work so well alongside striking contemporary lighting and slightly idiosyncratic objects or furniture, and this keeps it looking current rather than becoming a pastiche.’
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The original Georgian sitting room at the front of the house is not only Alix’s study, but also home to Ply’s burgeoning collection of fossils, taxidermy and other Darwin-esque oddities that are displayed on a couple of Georgian bureaus – highlights include a woolly mammoth rib, a rattle snake’s rattle and a bleached hip bone from a horse, which he found on a beach in Antigua. ‘He’s amassed such a collection that he opened it up to the public during a couple of the local church fairs, in order to raise vital Lego funds,’ Alix says.
Ply’s collection also earns its keep by providing interesting props for the photoshoots, private parties and events that take place at the house, as part of the little location business that Alix has developed in recent years. ‘The exterior of the house is quite unusual and arouses people’s curiosity,’ she explains.
‘I get a lot of folk tapping on the window mouthing, “What is this place?”, which led me to hosting mini one-off pop-up events such as artist and author talks, craft workshops, supper clubs, parties and sometimes filming.’ From time to time, it’s even let out as a boutique B&B with ‘special places’ accreditation from renowned hotel critic Alastair Sawday.
It is like an old curiosity shop, with layers of history in every nook. Alix’s desire to preserve the character of her home has ensured that quirky details such as the original ‘squint window’ still remain – this narrow aperture in the kitchen allowed coachmen to watch over horses and carriages arriving and leaving.
And an original sash window that looked into what was once the yard, now the living room, comes into its own at parties and events, adds Alix, explaining that it can be thrown open to create a DJ booth, a bar or a miniature proscenium through which singers can perform.
‘I feel very lucky to have found such a special building, and really privileged that I could give it this new lease of life and be a chapter of its history,’ she says. The entire house it seems, along with its contents, really is a window into the past.
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