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East London House by David Mikhail Architects

[5 houses by 5 practices] This week the AJ features five houses: three in England, one on the Isle of Man, another in Ireland, each marked by a unique materiality, whether in stone, roughcast, timber or mirrored metal

East London House is a Grade II-listed house in a picturesque development built in the 1830s. At 16m, it is the width of three typical London houses.

The original house had been subdivided into three units, with an uneasy relationship to the garden. A glass conservatory to the rear gave the only rear access via an internal spiral staircase. These alterations over time changed what was once a grand home into a jumble of dark, disconnected rooms, with no meaningful access to the garden.

The client’s brief was to re-establish the elegance of the original, while removing the feeling of separate dwellings, and at the same time to inject a fresh, modern feel, maximising natural light and harnessing the potential of the large rear garden.

Spatial remodelling has focused on the rear, the basement and the attic. The garden, also designed by David Mikhail Architects (with planting by Jane Brockbank) is the other major addition to the building.

Much of the remainder of the work was about meticulously restoring the original, with recent works such as staircases and extensions removed. The basement and rear garden were excavated to give level access and a sense of openness to the landscape while the gentle terracing of the garden avoids the sense of being underground. The garden forms two spaces, a formal walled garden with water features and raised beds and, beyond it, a rougher area for play.

Upon entering the house, the original sweeping staircase is presented in its original form, with the entrance hallway fully restored. Moving forward either side of the stair, you pass through the rear wall of the main house into a naturally lit double-height library with views to the garden and a bronze staircase down to the dining area. We were keen that this journey from the old to the new was explicitly experienced. The extension itself is a modern, open-plan kitchen and dining space, giving full views of the garden, with the junction between old and new highlighted through the use of linear flat roof lights.

The extension is a predominately timber and steel structure. Where it is two-storey, steel gives way to posts and beams of laminated larch, forming a timber portal frame. The engineering required to achieve the thin library floor was challenging. All the timber used in the project is a white-oiled Siberian larch, including the bespoke sliding doors (designed by the architects), the floors, the joinery and the external cladding. A white brick with light-grey lime mortar is used inside and out. Metalwork and ironmongery is bronze. Outside we continued the use of the white brickwork to retain walls and form raised beds. Pietra Serena stone is used for wall copings and terracing to complement the white walls.

These materials were chosen to provide texture and scale and to achieve a domestic intimacy. They also need to mediate between both the feel and the construction of the new and the older parts of the house, the inside and the outside.

David Mikhail, director, David Mikhail Architects

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