Retrofitting with Natural Materials

The first house we visited was a beautiful 1916 4-bedroom Edwardian terrace house overlooking Ruskin Park in South London. We wanted to discover how architect Natalie Black had retrofitted the property…let’s take a look inside.

Natalie and Ben, who own the house, are retrofitting to improve comfort and energy efficiency, with a focus on using natural materials and minimising waste. Many synthetic materials are derived from oil – something Natalie aims to avoid. In addition to this a good deal of  building materials and finishes such as timber panelling, kitchen carcasses, carpets, paints all can contain chemicals that ‘off gas’ from the point of installation and over time release harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air, which can be associated with indoor air pollution and potentially cause health problems. These have been avoided as far as possible within this carefully thought out refurbishment in a bid to improve indoor air quality.

As for the design of the house, every room is unique. “I didn’t want it to look all the same” Natalie tells us. 

1940s homeThroughout the house, the exterior walls are insulated with wood fibre, and the floors are insulated with Pavafloc – a natural insulation material made from paper. These materials are both breathable, which allows moisture to pass out of the house.

Retrofitting blog

Wood fibre being applied to the front living rooms external walls.

Pavafloc floor Insulation set at 150mm deep within a breathable roof membrane wrapped over the floor joists. Pavatex airtightness membrane prevents cold air infiltration through the floors.

Airtight tape seals all the joints of the boards and Natalie notes that the purpose of the tape is not to make the house completely airtight but improve heat retention.


Triple glazed window

The ventilation system in Natalie’s house is the Aereco demand controlled ventilation system which brings in fresh air from the outside – but only when the air is too humid. This means that more heat can be kept inside, because fresh air only comes in when it is needed.

triple-glazed stained glass windowFirst, Natalie takes us into her makeshift kitchen. Her family continue to live in the house throughout the renovations (something we are quickly advised against). Immediately striking are the stained glass panels on the front bay window, which have been preserved and triple-glazed, and then reinstalled.

Materials for the new kitchen.

The vision to make every room different is demonstrated through the choice of colours and patterns, light fittings, tiles, the sanded timber floors and some re-used timber floors.

retrofit, green architecture

The finished kitchen

Natalie has incorporated some incredible natural materials into her renovation, including a low VOC varnish that smells like lavender, and VOC-free MDF which has been pickled – meaning that it can survive for up to 6 months in water without rotting. This is produced by Medite Tricoya, and whilst it is rather pricey at £120 per sheet, it would be worth it in the long run.

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Click through to see all the innovative materials used in Natalie’s home

The first bedroom we see is a lovely example of the detail Natalie has gone into, from taking apart a light and replacing the cord and ceiling fixture to create the eye catching colour scheme. This bedroom along with the beautiful window giving natural daylight is the perfect room for a young person to grow up in. Behind the walls and under the floor is the wood fibre insulation that is breathable so moisture can pass through and the VOC free MDF board. Noticeably, the paint and edge finishes are pretty much faultless, the sharp and straight edges add class to the room. Overall, a brilliant example of a retrofit bedroom.

Bedroom light

The bathroom is modern and stylish, with a mirror covering the whole of one wall, giving the impression of a very large room. The stunning hanging glass light fittings are specialised for bathrooms to avoid a build-up of condensation, and they are fitted with dimmable  LED filament bulbs, which are particularly energy efficient.

Retrofit in London, enbee architects

Bathroom with ‘re-loved’ tiles

The pickled VOC-free MDF has been used next to the bath, and other areas that are near water.

bathroom sink

Natalie’s aim to reuse materials is visible in her garden too. She is using old bricks to rebuild a wall, creating a flowerbed and pathway.

The recycling of bricks is a good way to save time, money, and any unwanted materials including all the packaging that comes with crates of bricks. Natalie has budgeted her project very well and by using cost saving initiatives her retrofit house is achievable for the environmentally and economically concerned.   

Passive House retrofit

‘Thank you Natalie and Ben for letting us into your home and inspiring us to inform others on realistic and inspiring ways to retrofit.’ Phoebe and Taormina.  

Natalie Black is passionate about architecture and design and in 2006 set up her own furniture design company based in Jamaica. Much like her architecture work, her furniture company used local materials, encouraging sustainability. In terms of her architectural work, when building she focuses on insulation, reducing heat loss, controlling ventilation and installing the most up to date energy efficient appliances such as boilers and solar panels. Check our Natalie’s work on her website.

Youth Bloggers: 

Phoebe Rowe and Taormina Miller 

Taormina Miller is a final year Photography student at Manchester School of Art.


Phoebe Rowe is a final year Psychology student at UCL, interested in behaviour change around sustainability and climate change mitigation. Linkedin

 The Youth Blog is supported by our Gold Patrons and provides a unique opportunity to interview and learn about sustainable and heritage business and also develop professional practice under the wing of the Blue Patch team.