The practicalities of juggling family and working life were central to the revamp of Caroline and Felix Milns’ Chiswick home and studio.
Working from home or homing from work? It’s a fine balance that many of us have had to negotiate over the last couple of years. But for Caroline and Felix Milns, running family and firm side-by-side has been part of the equation since the early days of Zulufish – their award-winning architectural design and build practice.
When they bought and remodelled their detached Victorian villa in Chiswick a decade ago, they dug down into the basement to create a substantial office that is both separate yet seamlessly integrated with the property. It’s a space, much like the rest of their home, which has adapted and evolved with the couple’s growing family and business.
“Living where you work means you really start to understand who your client is from the start."
Felix Milns, Co-Founder
And grow the business has since it was officially founded in 2005. After buying and renovating their first project – a flat in Streatham – at the turn of the millennium, it wasn’t until their fifth or sixth that the prospect of turning what was then a second job into a fully-fledged career began to take shape.
Back then, every property they worked on was breaking local sales records, and Felix was balancing the renovations with a career as a travel journalist. “I’d be on a canoe going down the Amazon, taking photos and making notes but also fielding calls to order skips and sheets of plasterboard,” he reminisces with a smile.
Creatively speaking, the couple has it covered: “My strength has always been spatial layout planning, while Caroline’s background in design and textiles means she’s the person who layers on the finishes. Together, we’re a good team,” says Felix.
Today, he remains an adviser, while also running HUX, Zulufish’s sister company that creates bespoke kitchens, cabinetry and furniture. Caroline heads up the interior design arm, having previously worked for Monkwell Fabrics as well as Helen Green and McVitty Interior Consultants.
Zulufish operates across the whole gamut of design and build projects, with full house renovations the company’s bread and butter – something which held the couple in good stead when it came to their own home.
Caroline and Felix fell in love with its Victorian façade – which is about all they kept of the original structure. To bring their vision to life, every floor, ceiling and internal wall was knocked down and rebuilt. The staircase was moved to the middle of the property to open up the hall, while the basement was excavated to create the aforementioned office. A rotten roof meant the top of the house “had to be cut off like a boiled egg” and a reinforced concrete ring beam of steel installed so that the structure could be rebuilt.
“It was a major undertaking, but what that does is it enables you to start with a sort of blank canvas,” muses Caroline. “For a couple fascinated about design, it was the perfect opportunity to create something very timeless – a home for modern living.”
At its core, the sprawling kitchen, dining and living space was once multiple rooms now cleverly reconfigured into one, with designated areas that feel intimate and functional.
“Sometimes these types of extensions at the back of the house can be a bit boxy, but what we’ve done here is to zone the space,” explains Caroline. “The fireplace creates a point of interest and gives us a bookshelf this side, which we can hide the TV behind. But, more importantly, it redefines the space.
In spite of these distinct zones, a sense of continuity and flow comes through in the choice of materials. Tactile textures and bright bold patterns – like the patchwork tiles by Patricia Urquiola in the hall – have been layered to create a welcoming, live-in feel. From embossed porcelain floors to a brushed metal splashback and moulded Art Deco-style ceiling, subtle patina dials up the warmth throughout.
Sentimental objects, furniture and artefacts often provide the starting point for a Zulufish renovation, which also takes into consideration how people live in a space. “Understanding the family dynamic is key,” says Felix. “Our children are 13 and 11 and this house has seen them through that early childhood age. Designing with a family in mind is about creating a home that really works when your kids are that age but also one that you can grow up with.”
Evolution aside, other Zulufish trademarks include maximising natural light and space. In the couple’s home, this has involved introducing roof lights and repositioning the stairs to flood light into the central core of the house. “If you want to live fairly minimally in London, you’ve got to work hard to use every square inch of space you’ve got,” notes Felix, adding that this is where the bespoke storage solutions offered by HUX really come into their own.
“Sometimes these type of extensions at the back of the house can be a bit boxy, but what we’ve done here is to zone the space.”
– Caroline Milns, Co-Founder
Working on projects locally in West London also plays to the couple’s strengths. Not only are they familiar with councils and planning considerations but, crucially, what it’s like to live in the neighbourhood.
“I had a call from someone yesterday who is buying a house on a road where we’ve done a few projects,” says Felix. “Living where you work means you really start to understand who your client is from the start because you know what point of their journey they’re on. You also know what their lifestyle is likely going to entail, because we live and breathe the same area.”
Recent projects include a home with a double-height atrium and “wow appeal” in Wavendon Avenue as well as a number of listed properties in the Bedford Park conservation area that mix old with new. “Being here, we genuinely know what can and can’t be achieved,” adds Caroline. “I think people really value that expertise and knowledge.”