Breaking the Victorian mould BY DEBORAH SINGMASTER
It is unusual to go next door in a terrace and find that the new house seems to be twice as spacious as the old, yet this is what The Pike Practice has achieved in a new-build end-of-terrace house in Wandsworth, South London. Tom Pike was keen to come up with a new format for living in a standard Victorian terrace. 'We did as daring a scheme as we thought we could get away with,' he says.
With his considerable experience of refurbishing properties in South London, Pike was familiar with the drawbacks and possibilities offered by this particular building type. At Acris Street, he says, 'we've incorporated all the ideas we've had refurbishing houses in South London - and we've learned lots of tricks'.
Pike recognised early on that he would have to stick with the basic Victorian plan to get the space his clients needed. With this outline plan as a given, he played around with the changes that house owners in the area most commonly wanted.
The first obvious 'modernisation' is the removal of the wall between front living room and rear kitchen. 'This is difficult in existing houses because of the structure,' says Pike, 'but building from scratch it was no problem. We were able to get a full-width flow from front to back.' The result is a light-filled living room and kitchen, interrupted only by a single structural column, with curved steps to emphasise the small level change between front and back areas. A further gain in space and brightness has been made by pushing the non-party wall out to the site boundary (another common refurbishment cliche) and glazing over at first- floor level, giving the kitchen a conservatory atmosphere and heightening its relationship with the garden.
Pike was determined to achieve three storeys instead of the normal two, 'to make the project stack up financially'. The drop in the kitchen floor level has made this possible, creating vertical space for a proper third storey, normally achieved by a 'loft conversion'.
Starting from scratch meant that Pike could eliminate some of the disadvantages of the genre. Storage is never generous in the typical Victorian terrace, but here a cloakroom has been included on the ground floor, and on the first floor full-height cupboards link the main bedroom to an en-suite bathroom. Bathroom/wc space is mean: here landings have been split to give each level its own shower/wc. Natural light levels are notoriously poor: Pike has specified a glazed front door to bring additional light into the hall, while a narrow glass opening in the curve of the living- room wall by the stairs makes an unusual visual connection between hallway, living room and stairs.
These are the most obvious improvements to the stereotype, but there are others. Instead of unwanted fireplaces in every room, there is only one in the living room. The flue has been ingeniously incorporated in the floors above. In the bedroom it is encased in a false wall behind the bed, with handy recesses to either side. In the study, where it bends towards the roof apex, it has been disguised behind Mondrian-style shelving; the roof slope provides other nooks for study storage.
Changes to the exterior affect the interior: the unusual asymmetric windows in the second-floor rear bedroom extend to the sloping eaves. 'We didn't want to repeat the next-door window pattern so we went for a more dynamic format of window and brick,' says Pike.
In every way the new house is better adapted to contemporary life than its Victorian counterpart, yet it fully acknowledges its prototype and sits comfortably in its Victorian surroundings.