Even the most passionate renovator might be put off by water-logged flooring, hair-encrusted paintwork and a mould-flecked mortuary-stark bathroom.
But for young husband-and-wife architect team Madeleine Ike and Jonty Hallett, they were simply minor details in what they knew instantly was their dream project.
"We had been looking for a long time for just the right flat, but after an endless parade of soulless places, this one immediately struck the right chord," says Ike, 32, of the one-bedroom garden apartment.
"The place needed so much love and care, but because of our architectural and design backgrounds, we could look straight past the years of accumulated grime and shoddy repair jobs to see the potential. The Victorian proportions and scale were still grand, and the private garden was an added benefit."
Today, six years after that first viewing, the transformation of the Endymion Road flat which edges Finsbury Park is complete. Less a renovation than a transfiguration, it's a masterclass in the reimagining of a neglected period home into a soothing urban oasis.
Against a harmonious backdrop of pale wall colours and flooring, stained Douglas fir joinery, a rear extension clad in English larch and bespoke metal furniture designed by the couple are focal points amid Hallett and Ike's unswerving devotion to minimalism and the calming power of uncluttered spaces.
Having spent about £470,000 buying the flat, Hallett says they carried out only cosmetic tweaks during their first four years of ownership, saving up to do the major works while focusing on the 2018 launch of their London-based architecture and interior design studio, studiohallettike.co.uk.
"We actually did very little at first," says Hallett, also 32. "Simply stripping back the dark, painted wooden flooring, removing peeling wallpaper and painting the walls white." Just enough, he says, to eradicate traces of recent owners' bodged DIY jobs, while laying bare the beauty of the living room's exquisite Victorian cornicing and fireplace.
Used to working on high-end residential schemes for moneyed clients, Hallett admits sticking to a budget for their own home was challenging. "Our aspirations for the spaces often far outweighed what we could afford," Hallett laughs. "So knowing when to pull back was key."
Working to a budget of about £70,000, the pair set about turning their vision into reality with the bespoke, canopied Corten-steel front door, replacing the former humdrum entranceway, setting the tone for a design one-off.
The intriguing rear extension — which gave the flat a total interior living space of 894sq ft — is the pair's pièce de résistance. The flat only had one living space and one bedroom, so the couple were keen to create further entertaining and guest zones.
They transformed the cramped galley kitchen to incorporate a light-flooded dining space, with durable Douglas fir the key material, used as the main joinery and on bench seating and window surrounds.
A playful feline-shaped cutout in one of the benches serves as a hidey-hole for their cat, Lunar, with stainless steel work surfaces adding an industrial feel. A floor-toceiling door leads on to the garden, which they found as a muddy expanse of moss-infiltrated grass and have since coaxed into an exotic plant and fern-filled haven.
The added second bedroom/home office is clad in hand-charred larch, which changes colour with the weather and seasons — sometimes silvery, sometimes warmer-hued. "We were out there with a blow-torch, getting the effect just right," says Ike.
"If we had simply painted it or stained it, the grain wouldn't have stood out so beautifully."
This obsession with texture, nature and craftsmanship is a constant refrain throughout the entire home, seen also in Hallett and Ike's choice of terrazzo in the kitchen and shower — "Marble or stone with strong veining would have been too overwhelming a look," says Ike — and in the neutral grey hybrid paint-plaster on the walls in both the main bedroom and the living room, from Danish firm Detale CPH.
Both Hallett and Ike say the living room is their favourite space, with its original, elegant features, touches of Farrow & Ball's understated grey Cornforth White on the architraves, and their own specially designed furniture.
Largely constructed from black steel that showcases the natural patina of use over time, classic pieces include a coffee table and storage units, as well as lightweight, fuss-free terrazzo plinths, used to display ceramics or as side tables.
Their bespoke creations are interspersed with judiciously chosen pieces that link their own contemporary work to that of their Fifties design heroes. In the living room, Serge Mouille's dramatic triple-arm black steel, brass and aluminium pendant hangs from the ceiling and in the main bedroom sits a grey Eames Plastic Armchair on rockers.
But look closely and you'll also find crafty high street finds — all part of the duo's thrifty sense of knowing where to splurge and where to save. In the living room, Ikea's Ivar pine cabinet makes for handy extra storage. "We spent part of the last lockdown doing some Ikea hacks, actually," says Ike. "We sanded the unit back and painted it in Cornforth White, which totally transformed it."
Clever renovation budgeting, she says, is knowing what big ideas will require considerable investment — such as structural work — and the "minimal moves" that don't always need a big spend — like furniture and artwork. A powerful way of tying spaces together is by using similar palettes and art.
Displayed amid Jonty's own canvases are abstract prints from the Poster Club, propped against walls in good-quality frames.
Despite having only recently completed the project, the couple have decided to sell up and have put the flat on the market for £749,950 (mrandmrsclarke.com). They are planning another renovation project in central Oxford, where they can afford to buy a larger home.
Lucky, then, that they work so well together. Ike says: "I am an incredibly practical person, having spent a lot of time on construction sites, whereas Jonty is all about the craftsmanship and always remembering that the devil is in the detail. It's a pretty good combination."
Architects: Studio Hallett Ike (studiohallettike.co.uk)
Brushed steel kitchen worktop and blackened steel shelf designed by Studio Hallett Ike: Sunbeam Group (sunbeamgroup.co.uk)
Bathroom and kitchen tiles: Solus Ceramics (solusceramics.com)
Bathroom fittings: Crosswater (crosswater.co.uk)
Matt black KV1 kitchen tap: Vola (en.vola.com)
Kabric hybrid paint/plaster in living room and bedroom: Detale CPH (detalecph.com)
Blanco engineered timber boards in dining room: Havwoods (havwoods.com)
Black steel, brass and aluminium pendant in living room, by Serge Mouille: (en.smallable.com)
White Forties pendant light in dining room by Jorn Utzon: (andtradition.com)
Aluminium-framed door in dining room: Velfac (velfac.co.uk)
Skylights: Roof Maker (roof-maker.co.uk)
Mini glo-ball wall light: Flos (flos.com)
Cornforth White paint on living room walls and Ikea's Ivar pine cabinet: Farrow & Ball (farrow-ball.com)
Black metal triangle floor lamp: HK Living (hkliving.nl)
Artwork: The Poster Club (theposterclub.com)
Plants: Paramount Plants (paramountplants.co.uk)