Ladderstile House, London, by Threefold Architects
Threefold Architects’ robust plan has been developed by the client and another designer to create a unique parkside house, says Kester Rattenbury. Photography by Nick Kane
In some ways, having a great brief, fabulous site and clients with a strong interest in design can be like chocolate at Easter: too much of a good thing. Turning out ambitious high architecture which is also someone’s house can be contradictory. Even more so when the procurement is unusual.
Ladderstile House is an admirable and not-quite-evenly gorgeous project, designed by young practice Threefold Architects, with clients David and Anjana Devoy (who built Grand Designs’ The Curved House) taking an inventive approach. ‘We take our hats off to them,’ says Matt Driscoll of Threefold. ‘They really allowed us to experiment.’
The new building ‘more or less stuck to the massing,’
The site is wonderful; overlooking Richmond Park, accessed by both a pedestrian gate and another gate for the horses that live in the property’s stable. A manor house on the site was demolished in the 1960s, leaving coach house and stables, and forming an ad-hoc private courtyard. The new building ‘more or less stuck to the massing,’ Driscoll explains.
It is a loose, single-storey courtyard surrounded by glass and brick boxes that shift to make the most of privacy and sunlight, the irregular space structured by big glulam beams and columns. Above this are two separate volumes. One (roughly where the old house was), wrapped in a leafily-perforated stainless steel screen, contains the main bedrooms.
The other, known as The Hide, is a new volume housing a cinema/study sandwiched between vertical planted walls. It’s a loose and fairly busy arrangement, strung together by top-lit circulation corridors.
This is a house of strong character.
You enter through a heavy door featuring a relief map of the park, in what Threefold conceived as a screened perimeter of slate and pond separating the courtyard from the park. To the left is a garage, stable and the annexe bedrooms, all pulled away from the wall to provide a sliver of extra garden. To the right are the main living spaces. On the far side is a swimming pool, under the bedroom wing. The Hide sits by itself over the reception areas, with cellar (for laundry and wine) below.
This is a house of strong character. There are some fun Devoy-ish bits which are completely unarchitectural, like the wine cellar with the wine-label pattern shotblasted into glass. The Devoys are enthusiastic sourcers of materials, techniques and craftspeople.
The bas-relief door and the stable is a joy. David has strong ideas, insisting: ‘If I like it, others will too.’ But for picky, austere architectural types, there are just too many types of wood and metal effects here, especially at the micro level. To incorporate this effusiveness would have needed a rather different architecture.
They all agree on the strength of Threefold’s ideas
Threefold didn’t work on the detailed completion of the house, which was done in what Anjana calls ‘a chronological collaboration’ by neighbour Mark Hillier of h2architecture. His approach was softer than Threefold’s, which ‘could have been a bit Teutonic,’ Hillier says. They all agree on the strength of Threefold’s ideas – the praise is mutual – but David talks enthusiastically about how much nicer it was to work piece by piece.
Hillier’s designs for the stainless steel screens are lovely. They do the leafy-shadow thing well and the shimmer inside in the bedroom really does bear something of the magic of lying under a tree on a summer day. The timber screens are nice, too. However, they both have a softer expression than those muscular first moves in the structural timber framework. It is as though you’ve switched to a different kind of wine halfway through the main course of a very luxurious meal.
This is an undeniably enviable house and, given the many ways in which it is unconventional, this is to everyone’s credit.
These are (let’s face it) technical and specialised criticisms. This is an undeniably enviable house and, given the many ways in which it is unconventional, this is to everyone’s credit. In the end it remains, architecturally, mainly Threefold’s building; the work of a promising young firm, maybe not yet sure if it should aim to be more robust or more modest, but keen to invent a mode of its own.
To round things off nicely, Ladderstile is now rented by clients who have brought their own furniture, blocked in the screen walls and covered the landscaping with AstroTurf, so their children can play football and cricket. Good for them; the house looks great anyway. Architecture needs all sorts of robustness to survive – encourage, even – the real life which is always going to happen once the architects have left the building.
Start on site September 2006
Contract duration 29 months
Gross internal floor area 444m2
Form of procurement Construction management
Total cost Undisclosed
Client Anjana and David Devoy
Architect Threefold Architects; h2architecture (interior design, landscaping and external screen and shutter details), Structural engineer Atelierone (substructure), Tall Engineers (superstructure)
M&E consultant ExCo2 to Stage D
Main contractor Anjana and David Devoy
Structural frame supplier Eurban
Aluminium cladding/screens Euroclad
Annual CO2 emissions 9kg/m2