There are thousands of 1950s three-bed semis across Glasgow but very few that have managed to shrug off the standard template and find a way to suit life in the modern world.
When a furniture and interiors designer buys his first house, the expectation is that it will be the work of Richard Rogers or Zaha Hadid. Or perhaps a Greek Thomson masterpiece, waiting to be loved back to life for a new generation. So it comes as some surprise to visit Dene Happell at home among the haute bourgeoisie of Jordanhill, in his 1950s semi. Yet he has built on the utilitarian bones of the building to create a family home that, behind the harling, is sleek and stylish without being out of place in the kind of neighbourhood where car-washing is a competitive sport.
“From an aesthetic point of view I really didn’t like the house at first,” he admits. “Semi-detached, 1950s, uPVC windows, roughcast, Marley tiles… But it had three bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, a garage, a really private garden, alarm, double glazing. It ticked all the boxes. Debbie, my wife, loved it.”
Dene, whose portfolio of careers includes property development before the economy went into reverse, now runs Nest, a recession-friendly building and renovation company that helps customers who can’t afford to move to get the most out of the house they have. Much of Nest’s ethos was developed here at Whittingehame Drive.
“Everything I’ve done with property has been about making the most of the space and getting the best value for money – looking at how you live and translating that into a space and into a design and making that really work for you. Working on this house has really crystallised that – I think I’ve made the most of what this house is.”
The Happells originally planned to stay for two years. Five years later, when their twin girls were born, it was clear they needed more space. Dene’s solution was to lose a shonky uPVC outbuilding by the back door, open up the dark, underused dining room (he describes it as “a pocket of eternal gloom”) and pull both spaces together with a glass box extension that would spill out into the garden.
Together Happell and his architect (those years in property development have left him with trusted tradesmen and professionals in every conceivable speciality) drew up plans for the multifunctional space. Glasgow planning authorities were not keen.
“They wanted a bog-standard monopitch Marley-tiled roughcast uPVC thing.” In other words, everything he disliked about the original property, recreated in the back green. “I said no, I wanted a glass box.”
Eventually, by reclassifying the extension as “permitted development”, permission was granted.
Issues resolved, Dene did much of the building work himself. The result is personal without being wacky: there is a cookbook nook built into the old supporting wall and smaller cubby holes for the Bose speakers and the DVD player.
Some major features, such as wraparound seating on one side of the extension, and a fire hole in the supporting wall, didn’t get past the drawing stage. Without them, the space has been flexible enough to see the family through to the twins’ recent fifth birthday.
This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 115-118, issue 89.
Words Anna Burnside
Photography Nigel Rigden