Guy Barlow of the Manser Practice explains the approach behind this residential refurbishment project in London's Belsize Park: 'We believe in simplicity, in leaving some things as they are, drawing distinctions between new and old.'
Evidence of this honest approach is clear throughout this newly completed Georgian conversion. There is no attempt by the architects to disguise or blend what is old and what is new.Minimal CVO fireplaces sit amid deep Georgian skirtings and elaborate ceiling roses. In using a 'simple language and a simple palette of materials' to respond to the client's brief, the Manser Practice has rationalised and refined the basement and first floors of the house to create a modern working family home.
The basement now provides the main 'hub' of the house with a good-sized and sociable preparation area, open plan to the breakfast room with views and access to the garden. The client wanted to create a family kitchen with breakfast room, utility room, lots of storage and to include a separate family room. The bedsit and original kitchen were taken out and one load-bearing wall was removed, which required substantial structural alterations. A steel column had to be threaded through the existing structure of the house to support the upper floors. 'The house was already very twisted. The central spine wall twists around by about 300mm and drops down by about 500mm at the back of the house, ' explains Barlow.
The original staircase remains from the ground floor to the upper floors, but has been 'de-cluttered', as Barlow describes it. 'It was an intrinsically pleasant Georgian staircase, although it had been added to over the years, ' he explains. A WC was removed from beneath the stair and a structural support added in its place. A glass bridge walkway has opened up the vista from the front to the back of the house, further emphasized by the removal of a door between the lobby and the hallway. A new spiral staircase leading down to the basement has been put in place. The sinuous shape of this staircase was achieved with the help of a sculptor, who moulded the form on top of the basic staircase structure using wire mesh and plaster.
The large corridor between breakfast room and family room provides an entire wall of concealed storage that uses the same 50mmthick lacquered MDF as for the kitchen cupboards. The kitchen features a large illuminated opening through to the dining area, its worktop, sides and soffit lit using Phillips T5 tubes behind laminated glass. An opaque interlayer was used between the glass sheets to help soften and diffuse the light across each surface, each of which can be controlled separately, giving a number of different combinations. The sink, hob and extractor are all set into this illuminated opening, which also acts as a serving hatch. Fridge and oven are set into the wall behind. The kitchen has a sociable feel and an almost theatrical quality; the workstation is stage-like, and the backlit worktop is practical as well as aesthetically interesting.
The family room uses banquet seating in a semi-circular arrangement around half of the room, opposite the bay window.
Bookshelves line the walls above and a storage cupboard conceals a TV, hi-fi and computer games. A combination of trough lighting around the rim of the ceiling and spot lighting is used here and throughout the house, avoiding obvious lighting fixtures and fittings and giving subtle washes of light with accent where necessary. Hidden lights behind mirrors in the bathrooms add to the simplicity and softness of the scheme.
On the first floor, one dividing wall was removed to create a large master bedroom. A central core was put in place to house dressing room and en-suite bathrooms for the master bedroom and guest bedroom. A lower ceiling in the master bathroom provides extra storage in the adjoining dressing room.
Glass mosaic tiles are used in the bathrooms.
The layout is a simple galley style. 'The nautical reference is a simple layout that just seems to work really well, ' explains Barlow.
Little else was altered on the ground floor, although new fireplaces had to be added after a break-in during the early stages of the project. Thieves took both original fireplaces, worth around £10,000, and these were replaced with the CVO fire bowls, with a glazed Portland concrete surround.
The original floor was in good condition so was just sanded and sealed, while the skirtings and covings were painted. Guy Barlow explains: 'There were many things we could have done, but we took a very simple approach. For example, we could have stripped back the many layers of paint on the original coving to show its detail. But to leave elements like this alone shows the building's history.'
ARCHITECT The Manser Practice
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Price & Myers
QUANTITY SURVEYOR Wrighton Projects
MAIN CONTRACTOR Cheshire Contracts Shopfitting
SUB CONTRACTORS mechanical engineers Remec Mechanical; electrical engineers M&H Controls; joinery Cheshire Contracts Shopfitting; damp proof & timber treatment Harrison Preservation; glazing Cheadle Glass; structural steelwork Godley Fabrications; stainless steel works
Masda Metal Workers; tiling GLS Ceramics; rubber flooring Porter Flooring; precast concrete works Pallam Precast
SUPPLIERS kitchen appliances SMEG; sanitaryware Armitage Shanks, Vola, CP Hart, Allgood; ironmongery Yannedis; light fittings Concord, Zumtobel Staff Lighting; hardwood flooring Edward Cheshire; rubber flooring Dalsouple; tilesMisazza Mosaic, Tile Solutions; paints/ finishes ICI Paints; joinery lacquer Morrells; timber floor lacquer BonaKemi