Benedetti Architects’ refurbishment of a bespoke tailor’s shop in central London retains the Georgian building’s quirkiness, writes Ellie Duffy. Photos by Ståle Eriksen
A management consultant might weep over the plans. Viewed as a diagram, the floorplans of this refurbishment of a Georgian terraced house for a modern-day tailor in central London appear to make little sense of the process of commissioning a bespoke suit.
No 33 Lamb’s Conduit Street was built between 1765 and 67. This three-bay, four-storey house was constructed to a central-staircase plan, as published by William and John Halfpenny in their 1757 pattern book The Modern Builder’s Assistant. It is a plan type that was also used at about this time for the layouts of the terraces at nearby John Street by architect Robert Taylor, who went on to help draft the 1774 London Building Act – an attempt to standardise housing construction and quality.
Today, Lamb’s Conduit Street is a rarity – a thriving central London high street made popular by its independently run shops: an ethical supermarket, a bookshop specialising in reviving out-of-print works by female writers of the last century, several edgy, craft-oriented British fashion names and at least two bespoke tailors (just don’t mention the chain-store incomers). One of the tailors is the client at No 33, Connock & Lockie, first established on New Oxford Street in 1902 and now owned by one-time apprentice Yusuke Nagashima, keenly aware of his role as custodian of a 114-year old institution.
Before Benedetti Architects’ renovation, the tailor had been operating from the ground floor, above a warren of uninhabitable, dirt-floored basement rooms. Lack of space meant that many of the processes involved in making a suit had to be completed off site. What the client wanted was to bring together his specialist team under one roof so that customers could be taken on a journey through the tailoring process from measurement to paper pattern to first baste through to subsequent fittings and finishing. Nagashima wanted to create an alternative to the front room/back room dichotomy of the typical West End tailoring set-up by opening up process and craft to the customer and encouraging dialogue.
Like most older buildings, No 33 had been adapted over time. The ground floor was converted for shop use sometime in the 1820s with the central stair between ground and first floor levels jettisoned in favour of separate access via a side passage. When the architect first viewed the space, the basement hadn’t been used for 20 years or more; the under-pavement vaults had no foundations, and the lower floors were lined in basic unplastered, pine panelling which had been painted and papered over the years in innumerable layers. Between the floorboards you could see the light shining up from the basement. The wood was all tinder-dry. On the upper levels, doors had been planed to spectacular angles over time in order to still meet their frames.
The architect’s challenge was to meet the client’s aim of a fully functioning, accessible and welcoming atelier in a frankly fragile environment, complete with idiosyncratic Georgian domestic planning and a far-from-paltry vernacular significance. Practice director Renato Benedetti describes a process of sifting through the existing fabric to establish a chronology and inform decisions about what to retain, what to reinforce and what to replace. For instance, the scheme retained two optimistically slim-looking and now visibly bowing cast-iron columns on the ground floor – perhaps early examples of their type when inserted in place of loadbearing walls around the original staircase – but with the load taken off them.
Benedetti’s key move was to insert a modestly scaled two-storey extension set away from the rear façade. This is connected to the main building via a glazed corridor to create a cloister-like inner courtyard and lightwell. The clearly articulated structure reads from the main house like a pavilion, despite being hemmed in by surrounding buildings. Counter-intuitively, it provides further compartmentalised space with an additional back stair linking its two levels. In fact these are precisely the moves that make sense of the whole, with the extension echoing the proportion and scale of existing volumes, acting like a bridge to open up the circulatory flow across the whole two levels of showroom and workshop into one harmonious and continuous loop.
At upper level, the extension houses a top-lit changing area combined with the accessible WC required by planning. A standard washroom layout is cleverly partitioned behind a heavy oak folding screen, which can be opened up to the wider room if wheelchair access is required. Walls and roof are glazed in translucent Okalux panels set in timber frames to match the cladding of the structural steel frame, creating a calm and diffuse light.
A sense of kinetic potential is imbued as components fold, slide or hinge from the building
An office space occupies the ground floor, enclosed by a removable corner of glazed folding doors so that the room and corridor can be fully opened up to the courtyard.
There is a sense of inside-outness to the new space, with the pavilion displaying the bones of its structure, inset with a sympathetically proportioned grid of glazing. From the glass corridor, the quality of its detailing is offered up for scrutiny, including a sharply creased zinc edging detail at roof level.
Auxillary spaces – a more private consultation room with another separate changing area and a sewing atelier – are accommodated in the main building’s basement, along with kitchen, bathroom and storage area in the row of three vaults separated from the basement frontage. The house’s upper storeys, also part of the project, were refurbished as two apartments.
The project’s unifying motif is wood, from the pale oak-clad frame of the extension to the new furniture and shop fittings in two tones of oiled oak, and the reuse of salvaged original paneling. Sixty or so items of bespoke joinery were incorporated over the two levels to accommodate the needs of the business, many with movable parts so that a sense of kinetic potential is imbued as components fold, slide or hinge from the fabric of the building – such as a machine-like changing cubicle that unfolds origami-like from the flatness of a wall; or the slimline cabinets designed to store and display bolts of cloth while the firm’s archive of paper patterns floats ghostly above the stairwell.
On an experiential level the project makes perfect sense. What really underpins the project is the architect’s deft manipulation of natural light to create a range of qualities and moods, so that spaces of varied character flow together taking in process after process in a gentle, non-linear and iterative journey.
Thank goodness everything isn’t reduced to the level of the management consultant’s diagram. It’s a credit to the rather different sensibilities of the architect (and the tailor) that the fabric of this particular piece of London is functioning fully again after 250 years.
Our approach was not dissimilar to retailoring a classic suit to fit the present owner. We were highly sensitive to the historic detail, carefully cutting and stitching the built fabric and adding the contemporary touches and refinement to make the whole composition entirely suited to the brief.
The refurbishment is another stage in the ongoing life of the building, which was originally built in 1765 as a three-bay wide, four-storey townhouse with basement, before being converted in the 1820s into a shop at ground-floor level.
We started with a forensic assessment of the existing fabric – much of it still original but in a poor state. What followed was a process of filtering the key elements (a palimpsest of Georgian, Victorian and 20th century) – whether to keep, reinforce or replace – while maintaining the essential quality of the often-idiosyncratic spaces. This reflects the settling of the structure over the centuries, and the careful restoration and augmentation of the interiors – structurally, spatially and functionally – which led us to design more than 60 items of bespoke joinery. These include a pattern-hanging rail for the firm’s archives; a practical pop-up, ground-floor changing room to conserve space; and a solid oak exterior façade to the courtyard.
This has resulted in a careful remodelling and updating of the spaces, which avoids either the imposition of a contemporary minimal aesthetic or a cod-historic approach.
We worked without any rigid, overruling design from the outset to allow ourselves to respond to on-site discoveries, such as the preservation of the panelling in the shop.
Renato Bendetti, director, Benedetti Architects
Connock & Lockie was established by Henry Connock and John Lockie in 1902, and has proudly catered to the bespoke tailoring needs of discerning ladies and gentlemen, operating from central London premises, for the past 114 years.
I joined the company as an apprentice 10 years ago, and became the proprietor in 2011. The business moved from our Sicilian Avenue premises to this building in 2004. The renovation has tripled the ateliers, which enables us to house our team under one roof. This allows us to remain committed to creating each garment locally, which is increasingly difficult in the business, but important to us.
We make our suits in close consultation with our clients, and the refurbished premises accommodate the dialogue we have with them, taking them on a journey and involving them in every stage of the process. We are working as a small team of specialist makers and I wanted to create a workspace that preserves the history of the heritage brand but allows a new younger team to flourish and learn from each other. It was really important to me that we applied the same level of care and consideration to all spaces of the building, so that the private spaces for staff including a kitchen and toilets were designed with the same level of attention as the customer-facing areas.
Much like the relationship we have with our own clientele, we have worked in close dialogue with Benedetti Architects. It has been an iterative process, responding to challenges and discoveries as we peeled back the building’s layers. The design detailing continued on site in collaboration with the contractor, consultants and specialist trades.
Yusuke Nagashima, director, Connock & Lockie
Layers of historic features, alterations and previous additions to this traditional Georgian house, sometimes of a less then sympathetic nature, led to some interesting engineering challenges and solutions.
The historic fabric, integration of services and tight spaces required intricate engineering solutions to hide some of the details, such as resupporting the upper part of the rear wall on an arrangement of steelwork placed behind timber panelling at the rear of the Victorian staircase.
The new basement and ground-floor extension into the rear garden required a light design touch with some careful sequencing to underpin, excavate and build in a restricted area to achieve additional space for the shop.
This historic building now has a clarity in its use and a sound structure to support it.
Raihan Abu, associate, Alan Baxter
The design challenge was to sensitively insert a two-storey addition in balance with the building’s existing historic character. As required by the Listed Building Consent, we consulted Camden’s conservation department, which agreed with our approach to adapt the scale and proportion of the existing Georgian panelling to generate the feeling that the courtyard is like an interior space within the overall architectural composition.
Lightly oiled oak articulates a sense of progression from the historic adjacent rooms with darker finishes. To achieve the desired dimensions and profiles, all timber elements except for the bi-folding door were procured as a bespoke joinery package. 75mm solid oak boards define 750mm wide x 2,400mm high segments with a mid-rail 1,000mm from the base.
The ‘corner-free’ bi-folding doors open to the courtyard and form a half-in/half-out director’s office, where fabrics can be presented to clients in ample natural light. Numerous workshops with the structural engineer resulted in a column-free corner without increasing the depth of reinforced concrete beams.
Linear-profile LED lighting is integrated into the ceiling alcove behind the bi-folding doorframe. The light veil along the internal edge illuminates inside and outside simultaneously.
Okalux-K was used for the roof glazing (U-value: 1.2W/m2 K) to ensure high energy performance. Architecturally the subtle, papery character of the interstitial layer also ensures privacy for the WC and changing room, while bathing the space in gently diffused natural light.
Takuya Oura, principal designer, Benedetti Architects
Start on site June 2015
Completion September 2016
Gross internal floor area 355m²
Form of contract Traditional with single stage tender
Construction cost£2.03 million
Construction cost per m²£ 5,724.40
Architect Benedetti Architects
Client Connock & Lockie
Structural engineer Alan Baxter
M&E consultant Studio 9
Quantity surveyor and cost consultant Nick James Associates
Lighting consultant Skia Light
Heritage consultant Alan Baxter
Project manager Benedetti Architects
CDM co-ordinator Goddard Consulting Approved building inspector BRCS
Main contractor Rise Contracts
CADsoftware used Vectorworks
Benedetti Architects’ tailor’s workshop is
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