Cambridge-based architect 5th Studio was called in to rescue a semi-derelict house in Eden Street, after a builder had absconded, leaving the house stairless and unsound.
The house, one of a pair, was badly built in the mid-1800s; there is clunch within the brickwork, cracking in the walls, and not a plumb surface in sight. It is in a street formed in the latter part of the nineteenth century in an area of land formerly known as the Garden of Eden. Like other houses in the road, which were occupied by artisans when first built, it has five steps up to the raised ground-floor level and a cellar; in 1947 a small kitchen/bathroom extension was added to the rear.
Working to a tight budget, the architect’s first task was to stabilise the building. Long- term plans allow for an extra bedroom and a new bathroom. For the present, these have been preceded by a strategic staircase which weaves in and out of the structure like an optical puzzle by M C Escher. The architect describes the concept behind the staircase as ‘a distillation: reduced to its basic elements of tread and riser; like the smoke-stair Mary Poppins climbs in the eponymous film,’ and sees it as ‘a disturbance, a ludic contamination of the division between parlour and back room’.
The main flight runs from the higher front room to connect with a glass landing leading to a bedroom and future new bathroom. The flight in the lower back room, which will eventually become the new kitchen, doubles back on itself to form a counter top, and a final short uppermost flight cuts through a top corner of the living room to reach the main front bedroom.
The stringerless ash staircase was made up off site and prefinished in a Danish oil by furniture maker Nic Rhode. The grain runs from front to back; treads and risers have rebates which interlock and are strengthened with glue and specially sourced Spax T-star screws, with a high pull-out strength, inserted from two directions. The staircase stands clear of the house fabric, encased in clear glass walls. Its tensile strength depends entirely on the carefully calculated strength of the joints between treads and risers.