Don’t Move, Improve: are these some of London’s best residential extensions?

We celebrate the humble art of house design and architectural improvement in the British capital and reveal the 25-strong shortlist of Don't Move, Improve London-wide competition for 2020

A back view of a double storey home with a garden, brick flooring and a black curved pattern on the house
Part of the shortlist for the 2020 Don’t Move, Improve competion, this is Offset House in London, by R2 Studio Architects.
(Image credit: Anna Tam)

The humble residential commission has been the subject of experimentation for architects for centuries; and nowhere is this more true than in London, where constraints such as high building density, high land and property values and a population of ever-changing appetites make designing for the British capital a challenge on a level all of on its own. As a result, commissions for house extensions, alterations and redesigns are often the bread-and-butter of many London architecture practices. 

This is exactly what the citywide competition Don't Move, Improve is all about. Set up ten years ago and ran by the New London Architecture (aka NLA – an independent forum about architecture and construction in the capital), this is a much-awaited showcase of ingenuity when it comes to bespoke design and innovative, everyday, residential architecture. 

A sitting area with a black table, black chairs, a large window, brick walls and square tiled flooring.

Apartment Block by Coffey Architects. 

(Image credit: Tim Soar)

Excitingly, this shortlist for the best house improvement projects of the past year has just been announced, naming 25 nominated schemes, which range from rear, side and loft extensions to designs where an internal rearrangement and a cleverly placed partition go a long way – proof that you don't always need to change everything (or indeed, move) in order to boost quality of life on the home front. Meanwhile, shortlisted architects span young and established offices, such as Threefold Architects, Coffey Architects, HÛT, DROO Architects and Vine Architecture Studio. 

There are highlights aplenty. The list features a chic and immaculately detailed apartment refresh by Coffey Architects in the heart of Clerkenwell; a Scandinavian-inspired rear extension by young architect Oliver Leech in South London; a rather eccentric and beautiful neo-Georgian townhouse redesign by Gundry and Ducker in Islington; and a generous new living space in Lambeth by Proctor and Shaw. There are some masterful moves (Threefold's adding of an extra level to Cloak House, made it almost unrecognisable) and great use of material throughout – wood is a constant protagonist, while terrazzo seems to be having a moment too.

A back entertainment area with wooden decking, a yellow twirling staircase, a glass roof and a sliding door into the dining area.

(Image credit: Nicholas Worley)

‘Every year the competition is full of fantastic efforts to push the limits of design,' says Tamsie Thompson, London Festival of Architecture director and one of the judges. ‘Whether on a tiny triangular plot in the inner city, or out in the suburbs, the entries show the contribution that good design makes to our capital. We’ve seen amazing diversity of approaches to colour, light and materiality – with some of the bolder designs totally reimagining the arrangement of the standard home. Clearly, fresh ideas are still out there.'

As well as an overall winner, winning designs will also be announced on a further six categories: Urban Oasis of the Year, the Compact Design of the Year, Best Project under £75k, the Environmental Leadership Prize, Most Unique Character Award, and the prize for Materiality and Craftsmanship. All will be revealed during a dedicated ceremony on Tuesday 11 February.

A back view of a brick face double storey house with a green lawn, tile patio, trees and a round pond.

Ash House by R2 Studio Architects. 

(Image credit: Andy Stagg)

A conservatory with grey tiled walls, glass doors, a table and chairs, an island counter and potted plants.

De Beauvoir Townhouse by HÛT. 

(Image credit: Emanuelis Stasaitis)

A backyard sitting area with a long table, long sitting benches, potted plants, wooden flooring and wooden walls.

Disappearing Bathroom by Manyu Architects

(Image credit: press)

An open plan kitchen with a white island counter, a wooden console, a sitting alcove, a skylight, and large sliding doors.

Douglas House by RISE Design Studio. 

(Image credit: Edmund Sumner)

A conservatory with a white island counter, a dining table with chairs, potted plants and large glass windows.

Ellesmere Road by DROO — Da Costa Mahindroo Architects. 

(Image credit: Rei Moon)

A backyard to a double storey brick house with tile flooring, pebble garden, plants and a table with chairs.

Elmwood Road by Conibere Phillips Architects.

(Image credit: Peter Landers)

A backyard of a brick double storey house with a green lawn, brick flooring and mirrored sliding doors into a dining area.

Fresh And Green by Sanya Polescuk Architects. 

(Image credit: Emanuelis Stasaitis)

A backyard entertainment area with brick flooring, wooden benches, a fireplace and large sliding door into a lounge area.

Gellatly Road by DELVE.

(Image credit: Emanuelis Stasaitis)

A backyard to a brick house with a green lawn, brick flooring and shrubbery.

The Step House by Grey Griffiths Architects.

(Image credit: Adam Scott)

A backyard of a double storey brick house with a green lawn, brick flooring and large glass windows on the house.

Handen House by Selencky///Parsons. 

(Image credit: Diana Cotovan)

A street with triple storey brick houses, trees and parked cars.

Laurier Road by Richard Keep Architects

(Image credit: press)

A study with wall to wall desks, wooden wall storage, wooden floors and large windows.

Lawford Road by by OEB Architects. Photography: French + Tye

(Image credit: French + Tye)

A lounge area with a blue wooden sofa, a wooden coffee table, a white chair, wooden wall shelving, a patterned rug, a staircase and wooden flooring.

Love Walk by Vine Architecture Studio. 

(Image credit: Nicholas Worley)

An upstairs view of a dining area with a wooden dining table with chairs, two light grey covered chairs, a square coffee table, a skylight and glass doors.

Soffitt House by Proctor and Shaw. Photography: Radu Palicica

(Image credit: Radu Palicica)

A backyard of a brick double storey house with a green lawn, a tree, potted plants and large sliding doors.

The Rylett House by Studio 30 Architects. 

(Image credit: Agnese Sanvito)

A white marble winding staircase next to a corridor and large open doors.

White Rabbit House by Gundry + Ducker. 

(Image credit: Andrew Meredith)

A night view an apartment building with large glass windows, concrete walls and trees outside.

Three Rooms Under A New Roof by Ullmayer Sylvester Architects.

(Image credit: Allan Sylvester)

A backyard view of a double storey brick house with tile flooring and a twirling brick design built around a large window.

Twist House by Urban Mesh Design.

(Image credit: Juliet Murphy)

A backyard to an apartment with grey brick flooring, shrubbery, wooden walls, a glass door and a large open window.

Vestry Road by Oliver Leech Architects. 

(Image credit: Stale Eriksen)

A sitting area with a glass table, wooden chairs, potted plants, a skylight and light tiles flooring and walls.

Victoria Park Road Ii by ZCD Architects. 

(Image credit: Charles Hosea)

A street view of triple storey brick house with an entertainment area on the top level.

Cloak House by Threefold Architects. 

(Image credit: Charles Hosea)


Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).