Category: Great Brownings

Great Brownings hallway and landing

Updated 13 February 2019

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Based on the photos, I appreciate that the hallway and landing don’t look all that different from how they looked before (new wooden floor downstairs and new carpet upstairs aside) but the old photos didn’t quite capture all of the damage caused to the walls by the previous owner’s fixtures and fittings, messy wiring snaking around doorframes and of course, the wobbly cardboard ceilings. With all of these issues fixed, these parts of the house really do look a whole lot better in person than they did before.

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I’m glad that we insisted that the carpet fitters install our (admittedly very thick and unmalleable) carpet as a runner on the open tread staircase, exposing a strip of the wood on each side rather than agreeing to one of their lazier suggestions of carpeting the whole of each step (which is what was there before) or leaving them bare (slippery, lethal hazard).

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We still haven’t quite decided what we’re going to do with the space under the stairs – at the moment, it’s just somewhere to put that Tom Dixon jack light. We’re also not sure whether to do anything about all of the wooden panelling and balustrades – it could do with some kind of treatment to restore it to its best.

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The tall-pronged coat hooks on the way to the loo are from SCP as my rather flimsy replica Hang-It-All definitely wasn’t going to be able to hang all of our bags and other crap.

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We still haven’t worked out how on earth we’re going to change the lightbulbs in the chandelier.

26 November 2018

One of the main selling points of the house for us was the main entrance and hallway – we really liked the double height space, long mid-century chandelier, open-tread staircase and the way in which all of the rooms upstairs and downstairs seem to branch off it in a logical way.

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While we like the timber-clad wall, timber staircase and timber balustrade on the upper floor, it is a bit of a timber overload when you walk in, which will probably intensify when we lay the new wooden flooring, which is sort of the same colour as the stairs and the wall.

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Some of our neighbours have painted the timber wall white, which does bring out the staircase and balustrade more and reduces the timber overload somewhat but we don’t think we will – it seems a bit sacrilegious to permanently paint over it, even if it is a bit 70s ski chalet/porno.

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In terms of furniture, there’s a space under the stairs where the previous owner had her piano – we’re not sure what to do with this. We liked the idea of putting up a mirror on the wall behind the staircase like one of our neighbours to create an interesting reflection of the stairs and possibly some kind of sideboard, again like a lot of our neighbours have.

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We’re currently in the midst of redecorating so there’s a big scaffold in the middle of ours – we made the unwelcome discovery that all of the ceilings upstairs were made of wobbly cardboard (apparently a thing in the 60s) and so had to reinforce it with plasterboard before plastering over it. A layer of white paint, wooden flooring downstairs and carpet upstairs and we should be done. I still haven’t worked out how we’re going to readily change the lightbulbs in the chandelier when they run out though.

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Entry to be updated once it starts looking decent.

This collection of objects looks rather on the bland side but I thought the overabundance of timber was probably enough of an assault on the eyes.

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1. Mid century version of a chandelier – I’m pretty sure this is original from when the house was built because I’ve seen it in one of the other houses on the estate

2. Alvar Aalto 66 chair recycled from my current flat

3. Fake Eames Hang-It-All recycled from my current flat

4. Rug from LaRedoute recycled from my current flat

5. Mackapar shoe rack from IKEA – shoe racks are fundamentally ugly things but are preferable to shoes being strewn about the place. I think this one looks vaguely like something from Norman Copenhagen if you squint.

6. More coat hooks – these vintage teak ones are from eBay

7. Giant Hovet mirror from IKEA recycled from my current flat – this can go under the stairs (in an imitation of one of our neighbour’s flats)

Great Brownings study

Updated 12 February 2019

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As planned, my study in the new house is a ported and condensed version of my old study (a lot of Marie Kondo-inspired getting rid of stuff that didn’t spark joy was necessary) with a new String unit and a Muuto e27 pendant lamp which I picked up in the Twentytwentyone sale. The frosted glass desk looks more early 00s than ever but the view from said desk out onto Great Brownings almost makes up for it.

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10 December 2018

We plan to use this narrow single bedroom next to the master bedroom as a study.

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I plan to pretty much port and condense my existing study into this smaller space, save for some new bits of String shelving and storage that I picked up in the sales.

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It’d also be nice to replace my old desk with something slightly less evocative of the early 00s when we can afford it – I like this Eierman desk, which is quite reasonably priced compared to all other higher-end desks I’ve looked at.

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At this stage of our renovations, the walls and ceilings have been freshly replastered and painted so all we need to do now is to lay the carpet, fit the blinds (we’re going for those vertical blinds throughout – having seen them in our neighbours’ house, we decided to copy them even going as far to use the same company that our neighbours used) and we’ll be done.

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Entry to be updated once it’s finished.

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1. SCP pendant light bought from an SCP warehouse sale and never used (it’s a slightly less neutral shade of pink though)

2. String cabinets and shelves – again I picked up a heavily discounted sliding door unit from an SCP warehouse sale without having anywhere to put it in my current flat so I was determined to put it to use somewhere

3. Utensilo wall unit recycled from my current flat

4. Modernica rolling wire chair from SCP warehouse sale

5. Kartel Componibilli unit recycled from my current flat

6. Vintage desk lamp from a Berlin flea market recycled from my current flat that needs rewiring because it’s most probably a fire hazard in its current state.

Great Brownings renovation – lessons learned

After four months of daily calls and meetings with different contractors, missed deliveries, trips to Argos and Leyland for supplies and consecutive weekends spent sanding and painting walls, the renovation job on our house is finally finished.

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While our project seemed to go more smoothly than this renovation of a Parkleys Span flat that I followed on another blog (though this could be due to the fact that theirs was a sensitive, faithful mid century restoration and ours was most definitely not), it wasn’t all smooth sailing. With the benefit of hindsight, I thought I would set out some (basic) things that I should have known at the start of the process.

1. It makes more sense to engage one contractor to do everything (or subcontract work if they don’t have the specialist expertise) than separate contractors who have to having to share the work space and who end up blaming one another for problems or mess. We didn’t appreciate this and ended up hiring a separate builder, plumber, electrician, blinds fitter, rubbish removal company and carpet fitter – this situation was less than ideal.

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2. It’s important to get on with the builders as people because out of all of the contractors, you will be dealing with and seeing an awful lot of them. Thankfully, the builders that we used were great – they were transparent and communicative in relation to costs, competitively priced, paid attention to small details, seemed invested in our project, had a very “can do” attitude to everything (unlike another builder we saw who tutted, shook his head and generally couldn’t hide his dismay at everything he’d have to do to our hot mess of a house) and were generally nice people.

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3. When builders provide an estimate for painting, it seems really expensive for a task that doesn’t really require any skill or expertise, especially when compared to some of the stuff that they do which definitely does require skill and expertise. As such, we decided to ask the builders to paint everything downstairs but leave the whole of the upstairs for us to paint in an attempt to save on costs. I’m not sure if I’d do this again – while we did save a fair bit of money and there was some satisfaction to be derived from doing a little of the work ourselves, it took us weeks and there is a marked difference in quality between the rooms that were professionally painted and the rooms that we attempted.

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4. If you want smooth, matt walls but the existing walls are covered in layers of old wallpaper, the only way to achieve a flawless result is to painstakingly strip back the walls to the plaster, sand it down, fill in holes, repair damaged plaster, paint and then paint again. We ran out of energy towards the end of the project and decided to slap lining paper on top of old wallpaper in certain rooms to save time (including, unfortunately, the master bedroom) and it just doesn’t look as good – you can see where the lining paper joins up and it has already started to bubble.

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5. Decorative mouldings on wardrobe doors are easy enough to prise off but they leave marks which are almost impossible to get rid of. We would have just bought new wardrobe doors for the master bedroom at the outset if we’d known that repeatedly sanding, filling and painting them would only achieve a not-quite-perfect result.

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6. Tile paint applied over the top of tiles with a textured or embossed surface looks a bit shit, quite frankly. I did one bit of border and decided I’d had enough and that the pink tiled walls would have to stay.

7. A dated bathroom still looks dated even with a few choice embellishments. While the ensuite does look a bit fresher with the wallpapered panel painted over and a new vinyl floor and shower curtain, it’s still the same pink bathroom with rust spots in the bathtub covered up with Tippex.

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8. It’s important to look at a large enough swatch when choosing a carpet. I thought I’d picked out a cool toned light grey one for upstairs but once it’d been fitted, it looked decidedly more oatmeal (the brown tones and flecks weren’t as obvious when looking at a small sample).

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9. Getting a blinds specialist to fit measure up and vertical blinds is worth the additional expense. I’ve attempted to buy off-the-shelf blinds and cut them to size in the past and it’s always resulted in a bit of a mess so it was a real luxury to have them measured up and then installed in the space of a few hours.

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10. A replica George Nelson bubble lamp from a Shenzhen-based eBay seller costing a fraction of the price of the real thing was always going to look akin to a flammable nylon swimming costume stretched over a clothes hanger. I learned my lesson, swallowed the expensive import duties, shipped it back and bought an ex-display model from SCP.

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George Nelson apple shaped bubble lamp from SCP

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11. The actual cost of a project is about 20% more than the anticipated cost.

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Great Brownings, Dulwich SE21

Great Brownings, Dulwich SE21
Scandinavian-style mid-century estate surrounded by woodland
Architect: Austin Vernon and Partners
Year built: 1966

After years of looking for a mid-century property in the right location, at the right price, on the right estate and with the right number of original features intact, we finally found a house that fulfilled most of these criteria in Great Brownings.

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Resembling something out of a Scandinavian fairytale, Great Brownings is a rather unusual estate of gingerbread-looking houses integrated into the steep slopes of the Dulwich Woods.

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The estate was designed by Austin Vernon and Partners in 1966 and was built across tiered levels, connected by brick and stone staircases and walkways carved into the natural landscape. Unlike the buildings in the more conventional Austin Vernon and Partners-designed estates nearby (such as Lings Coppice, Walkerscroft Mead and Giles Coppice), the Great Brownings houses were built with timber frames because the steep slopes of the land prevented easy access for normal heavy building materials.

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Properties on the estate range from two-bedroom apartments over the garages to four-bedroom detached houses, all built in a consistent style with white cladding, either terracotta or grey slate tile and either pitched or sloping roofs.

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The house that we ended up buying is one of the grey slate tiled four-bedroom houses. As far as we’re aware, all of the four-bedroom houses originally had the same layout with the main entrance at the side of the house opening into a double height hallway which branches off into the living room opening out onto the rear garden on the right hand side and the dining room and kitchen opening out onto the front garden on the left hand side. A timber open tread staircase leads up to the upstairs landing overlooking the double height void and branches off into four bedrooms (two double (one with en-suite), two single) and family bathroom.

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Although it was apparent that the house needed quite a bit of work and we were a bit nervous about the non-traditional timber frame construction (which thankfully didn’t end up being a problem for our mortgage lender), we fell for both the house and the estate almost immediately. The tranquil, wooded setting was something we’d never have expected to find 15 minutes away from central London and the style and layout of the house (large windows, quadruple aspect, double height hallway/void, patio doors on both sides of the house, lots of timber) were unlike anything else we’d seen during our search.

Two of our neighbours were kind enough to let us have a look around their beautifully renovated homes, which gave us an idea of the potential of these houses.

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Both houses provided us with plenty of inspiration for what we’re going to do to ours, including knocking through the existing separate kitchen and dining room, redoing the floors in something resembling the original hardwood floorboards, fitting vertical blinds and reinstating the original timber porch. Although neither of our neighbours opted to do so (and their houses look tidier as a result), we will also be replacing the hot air heating system with a traditional wet heating system with radiators due to the fact that I am a chronically dry individual.

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Clearly, we have some way to go before our house resembles either of these stunners but what we do have are a plan, spreadsheet, a list of the names of some tradespeople and a healthy amount of self delusion as to the probably gargantuan size of the task ahead. I plan to document the renovation process over the coming months, most likely starting with the kitchen.

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