Buying off-plan was just the beginning:how one couple ‘changed everything in sight’ to create two extra rooms – and their perfect family home. by Philippa Stockley.

Buying a house off-plan during a financial crash takes some guts, but that’s what married French couple Alexandra and Matthieu did. Now in their mid-thirties, they met as economics students in Paris, and work in the City. They moved to London in 2009, married, and rented near the Angel while looking for somewhere to buy. Angel was the only area that Alexandra wanted — she loves how central it is — but everything was far too expensive. Then online they spotted a small off-plan development.

The asking price had already dropped by a third. “We looked on the Tuesday and bought it on the Thursday,” she says. However, buying off-plan when prices are falling is high risk. “Friends said, ‘Don’t do it,’ but we did,” she adds. It takes a leap of faith and imagination to buy a building site. The brochure showed a smart, high-spec three-storey house with a lot of white and glass, making a bright three-bedroom, three-bathroom home with a neat courtyard garden.

On the whole they liked the design, and anyway were not allowed to alter it until they owned it. Once they had moved in, they had a chance to assess the space. They were not keen on the large staircase with a solid white balustrade that dominated the hall. They liked the all-white kitchen though it had a “slightly clinical” white floor running into the open-plan sitting room. And a big, centrally sited downstairs bathroom seemed to cut the ground floor in two.

On the first floor, a huge master bedroom had a staircase in the corner rising to a massive bathroom above. Open to soaring eaves, this held an enormous central tub with a double shower. “It was a big wow factor, but it wasted space and I rarely used that bath,” Alexandra says.

When their first child, Antoine, was born in 2012, the couple thought about more space. Their neighbours were planning a basement so they looked into doing one too. However, practical Alexandra realised she really didn’t want one, let alone deal with the expense. The couple’s thoughts often returned to that big bathroom and void above their bedroom.

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