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Light work

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Piers Ford Architects has reworked the daylighting and circulation of a mews house to notable effect

Daylighting in mews houses is often problematic, their layout typically single aspect, their circulation often sidelined to get the main spaces as close as possible to the available daylight. This mews house in London's King's Cross had been converted from a store to a house in 1983 and reworked by Greenberg and Hawkes in 1991(AJ 26.6.91), a conversion which the current owners found wanting. The elaborate framing of the fenestration kept out light, space at the rear of the plan was relatively dark, despite the installation of an enormous pitched rooflight over the first-floor living room, and inefficiently used, and the circulation routes were mostly shut away from the main spaces.

Refenestration is the immediately apparent sign of change, the house now contrasting with its unchanged neighbour, which was also part of the 1983 conversion.

Window openings remain the same size - except for three small ones on the ground floor that have been enlarged. The refenestration has picked up on the language of exposed structural steels typical of mews, combining this with areas of uninterrupted glass and setting the main frames flush with the masonry wall surface. (The architect's wish to include a projecting bay window to provide views up and down the mews was squashed by the planners. ) The second main move has been to replace the large pitched rooflight with a stair up to the roof terrace within a storeyheight glazed lantern, including a 4.5 x 3m sliding glass roof. This was in part triggered by one of the clients' involvement in flying and the wish to open the house to the sky. It also adds to the roof terrace, creates a new circulation node and provides some doubleheight volume within the living room.

Around these two main moves, of refenestration and the lantern, many other changes flow. The clients had originally asked the architect to focus on shortcomings on the ground floor and second floor, bearing in mind that they were to remain in the house during the building works. While these two floors remain the main emphasis, changes to light, circulation and space use have spilled over to create a greater consistency throughout the house.

On the ground floor the greater daylight from new windows has helped in reorganising spaces, opening up and simplifying the entrance, allowing two deeper bedrooms where one existed before. At the back of the plan, the original spaces were relatively undefined. There is now a new bathroom and, with the reversal of the stair direction, a study beneath it. These are in the darker zone of the plan, but both now benefit from borrowed light, the bathroom has structurally glazed walling, and the study has a glazed 'roof ' that is a landing for the stair above.

On the first and second floors the architect has improved connection between the left and right sides of the plan, which were relatively separate, and brought circulation more into the heart of the house.An extra stair in the living room might be thought an intrusion but is not dominant with its glass balustrade and risers. On the top floor the glass lantern expands the roof terrace, both by occupying less area than the pitched rooflight, and contributing a sense of openness with its storey-height glass walls and glass roof. At night the lantern is lit by light from within the house, illuminating the terrace, supported by uplights in the terrace decking close to the new glass.

While the lantern is certainly the most dramatic of the interventions, this and the refenestration are overall no more important than the many smaller changes of replanning - a stair moved, light borrowed, a space better defined - and simplification of the materials palette, mainly white plaster and glass. It is a house that is not just refreshed but also now works much better as a home.

CREDITS GROSS INTERNAL FLOOR AREA 240m 2CONTRACT VALUE £335,000 ARCHITECT Piers Ford Architects STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Price & Myers QUANTITY SURVEYOR Henry Newman & Partners MAIN CONTRACTOR 800 Group SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Steelwork Graham Welding; stone Kalula Stone; glazing specialist Firman; retractable roof Glazing Vision; windows Steel Window Services; patio doors Scandinavian Window Systems; ironmongery Izé WEBLINKS Piers Ford Architects www. piersford. com Price & Myers www. pricemyers. com

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