Cromwell Place, Highgate

Families in Victorian homes often find themselves with an abundance of bedrooms and a shortage of living space. That was true for this north London family, who found all their shared living space was concentrated on the ground floor of their generously proportioned, three-storey home.

For this busy, musical family of six, the challenge was to design open-plan spaces that could accommodate everyone, with the flexibility to shut rooms off when needed – what we call “contained open-plan living”.

We increased the living space by adding a glass-roofed extension at the back of the house. This forms the hub of a U-shaped floor plan and connects the kitchen with the other living spaces. Folding wooden doors allow for different configurations: both free-flowing movement between rooms and contained discrete use.

The key to success was finding a solution for the ‘difficult middle room’ – in this case the dining room. Often darker than the rest of the house, middle rooms pose a design challenge. Without a clear function, they can end up becoming little more than space to pass through.

Converting it into a book-lined music room provides a sanctuary of calm amid the bustle of home life. Family members can close the folding doors and practice an instrument or study in quiet.

With its fireplace and piano, the music room has a clear purpose and a different feeling to the adjoining rooms. Setting windows into the wall above the folding doors ensures the room receives natural light whether the doors are open or closed.

Getting the access to the kitchen right was also important. We designed a wall of cupboards running the length of the central wall with a peninsula kitchen to one side. The dining table sits at the end of the kitchen where the glass-roofed extension provides space to expand the table to seat twenty for large family gatherings.

This is successful open-plan living in action. The space has been carefully designed to work in different contexts to meet shifting family requirements. These change from day to day, evolve as children mature and are particular to each family.

This extension has even housed a ping-pong table, demonstrating the flexibility and liveability of the design solution.