Brod's Old Piano Factory & DIY Elevator!

Brod's Old Piano Factory & DIY Elevator!

Liezel Strauss
Feb 8, 2010

Name: Brod Hart
Location: Finsbury Park, London
Size: 2,000 square feet
Years lived in: 4 years

Brod's ambition was to create a home that would fulfill his wheelchair accessibility requirements without compromising on style. But with the typical Victorian houses in London, it was going to be a challenge! The most conventional option for accessibility would have been a "new build" but Brod loathed the idea and as a creative soul and "fixer" at heart he persevered. The treasure hunt (and conversion legality nightmares) paid off and he found the perfect project — an old piano factory. It was love at first sight! Brod has taken the stables-turned-factory and transformed it into a practical dream home with his genius design solutions incorporated everywhere.


The fabric of the building, and the furniture within, has been selected for durability as well as style. It is all almost impossible to damage. The new oak floor on the first floor was left unprotected for much of the build to give it a lived-in feeling. Brod found it very liberating to let go of the fear of damaging a finish or surface and embrace scratches and scuffs as part of the life story of the building. The element that has really made his movements in the house effortless is the pulley — he designed it himself. The lift can effortlessly transports him from one floor to another within seconds. A video of the lift in action can be viewed here:

Apartment Therapy Survey:

The Inspiration: To make a home for myself that fulfills the functions I want it to. This started with the search for a suitable property. The Victorian housing stock in London doesn't lend itself to being adapted for a wheelchair user, and most accessible 'new builds' leave me a bit cold. When I found the old piano factory I wanted it, despite knowing it would be tricky to get change of usage from commercial to residential. As a wheelchair user it's often hard to visit friends houses, so my house is open to all. As such, it was more important to me than most that it should be a good social venue — comfortable and welcoming for all. Many friends often hold dinner parties here instead of at their own homes so that I can attend. I love getting people together, so there have been a few noisy nights here!

What are your hope and dreams? Health happiness love and friendship.

My style: That's a tricky one! Umm…functional / emotional…or something nostalgic I guess. I like to feature the industrial elements of this building but also to throw them into relief with some extreme luxury such as sumptuous bed linen or a big soft nest of a sofa. Industrial lamp shades with some little crystal chandeliers within. The 'stuff' I have out on display has made the cut because of some emotional or functional reason as well as aesthetic. An example is the old Casio keyboard on a shelf upstairs. My nan gave it to me after my grandad, Pete, passed away. He was a beautiful man. He always loved music, as I do, and he started learning to play after he retired. I keep it because it reminds me that it's never to late to begin learning something new. The large red tool chest in the kitchen has tools in it! I'm a fixer, and being able to lay my hand on the right tool for the job just gives me pleasure.

Favorite Elements: Can I have two favorites? I love the front elevation. It was a mess of cables, broken guttering and rotten fascias when I bought it. I got a lot of pleasure stripping it all off and treating it to new GRP fascias and steel guttering. I had the old crittal windows refurbished and reopened the ground floor walls to fit new door sets, made by my uncle, where stable doors would have been a hundred years ago. It's great to throw them all open and have music drifting out in the summer.
Also, the stairs and lift work really well I think. The lifts that are available to buy are all very expensive, slow and quite ugly, so I designed my own. It operates with a simple counterbalance mechanism, using some very heavy metal, cables and industrial hardware. It's a pleasure to use and allows me to flit between floors at the same rate that an able bodied person would be able to jog up and down the stairs — a matter of seconds. In contrast, the expensive ugly options on offer take up to two minutes to travel between floors.

Biggest Challenge: Camping out and working on site every waking hour for 18 months was a bit of a test I'd say! That, and working out the details on the lift. Steel was a new material for me. I'm used to working with timber and that can be much more easily adjusted. The tolerances on the lift needed to be pretty tight, given its function, and every component needed to be well within the safe working load. If I made a mistake here the consequences could be very painful!

What Friends Say: I've had some lovely compliments about it. People love it, and I like sharing it with the people I love. Women always appreciate the quantity of storage in the downstairs corridor, but mainly people think it's just a nice place to spend time.

Biggest Embarrassment : I was a bit embarrassed to get caught by a male friend searching the internet for embroidered vintage French linen for my bedroom!

Proudest DIY: There are so many…

Biggest Indulgence: Probably the bed linen, but I also have several vintage hi fi's that I've connected up to a wireless multi-room music distribution set up.

Best advice: Don't live on site!

Dream Source: Ebay is a great substitute for the junk shops I used to love but which are often inaccessible.

Kitchen Hardware & Accessories & Furniture: The stove, a Mercury range cooker, and the fridge, a nice big Maytag, were second hand from a house that was being refurbished in Belgravia. I loved this find, as the goods are of a quality that should serve for many years, and I wouldn't have been able to afford these new. They already have some battle scars but I like to think of the scars as patina. It's nice not to feel too precious about stuff!

Kitchen Hardware Furniture: Solid oak from Habitat and a mechanics tool chest from tomstoolchest.com. Sorry — I'm a petrol head!

Lighting:: Lots of second hand and vintage lamps and fittings from various sources - car boots, junk shops, ebay and some from IKEA.

Paint: For the kitchen unit enclosure, I mixed up a dove grey I liked from primer and white emulsion. The crittal windows were powder coated in moss grey. For some of the joinery I used the same moss grey that I used for the windows. I can't remember the RAL code now but I got the same coded paint from Glidden Trade.

Tiles and Stone:Dark slate in kitchen, bathrooms and in the garden from www.rock-unique.com

Window Treatments:I can highly recommend brightablind.com. Great quality backed up by a professional and friendly service.

Thanks Brod!


Images: Liezel Strauss

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