Finkernagel Ross opens up a Victorian house in north London


Nathalie Priem

Central to the success of Finkernagel Ross’ reworking of a Victorian house in Highgate, north London, is a dramatic lightwell that transforms the previously cramped and dark interior into a spacious, well-lit modern family home. Appearing to cut through the building, the lightwell slots behind the original rear facade and the main body of the house, creating connections between the floors.


Glass floors allow daylight to be diffused down the through building from a large rooflight that spans almost the full width of the house. A three-storey bookcase located within the lightwell provides space for the homeowners’ large collection of books and art. Supporting the delicately detailed shelving and bracing on the rear facade is a ‘cage’ of four steels that is concealed within the wall and tied together with ‘rings’ hidden in the floors.

On the ground floor, the existing front and rear reception rooms have been knocked together to create a calm, quiet space that is partially lit by the main rooflight two storeys above. Steps descend from this space through the bookcase to a double-height, frameless glass extension containing the new family living area. Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors to the rear further enhance the connection with the sky and the secluded garden. The glazing is chased into what was previously external brickwork, emphasising the juxtaposition between old and new.

The glass extension comprises a kitchen, dining and sitting area. A kitchen cabinet is transformed into a drinks unit for parties, with the doors sliding seamlessly into the wall. A second cabinet opens into a breakfast bar. Two oak worktops are each made form a solid piece of timber, kiln dried over a four-month period. A pivoting fireplace ties the space together visually and resembles a needle running through the building when viewed from the outside, suggests the architect.


An office overlooks the extension from the first floor, separated only by a glass balustrade to allow visual and acoustic connection to the family living area below. The master bedroom, which faces the street and adjoins the office, incorporates an en-suite bathroom with a bespoke handmade worktop and shelving. A guest bedroom to the rear of the house overlooks a roof terrace located atop the new extension.


A new basement level houses a games room, temperature-controlled wine room, toilet and utility area. The ground-floor bay window has been extended down to the basement to provide additional natural light and ventilation. A planning condition stipulated that the new basement should not be visible from the road, so a strategically-placed grill shields the new bay window from the street.

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Finkernagel Ross
Structural engineer
Elliott Wood
JK General Building

Glass extension
Silvan Flooring
Wooden Horse
Wood burning stove
Focus Fires