The facade of this house in Ladbroke Grove, west London, faithfully mirrors its handsome 1840s neighbours, but there the similarities end. Nothing prepares you for the pragmatism of the interior, except perhaps, if you spot it, the absence of curtains. The clients Mark and Rosemary Yallop wanted a home which would permit them to vary the tempo of their lives, something not too dissimilar from their former, smaller house but, 'simpler more spacious, airy and light', says Mark Yallop. Architect Fiona McLean of McLean Quinlan has realised their brief in a scheme that interweaves the traditional with the modern but adheres throughout to minimalist principles: no clutter, clean lines, quality materials. McLean: 'the key to minimalist, calm spaces is very good storage.'
The six-storey house was divided into seven separate flats by the previous owner. Reconverting it into a family home involved gutting all floors, but major structural work was confined to the construction of a new rear terrace and the basement level below.
The hall is dominated by the original stairs, rising vertiginously through four floors, pushing the rooms into an L-shaped plan form. The flooring here - and throughout much of the house - is pietro laro limestone. A free-standing curved partition partially separates a formal dining area from the main body of the hall and establishes the juxtaposition of old and new elements. Even the hall offers storage possibilities: a large black panel (high-gloss painted mdf) mounted flat against the wall, conceals state-of-the-art hi-fi equipment, and, by the door to the kitchen, a vertical mirror panel forms the door to a minute wc. 'I like the challenge of making large bulky things seem small,' says McLean.
A section through the house might label the upper floors 'traditional' and the lower floors 'modern', but this would be an over-simplification. The guests' flat on the sixth floor, with its traditional bedrooms, has a starkly purist bathroom. The walls are finished in sycamore veneer panels, some of which touch open to reveal cupboarding over a sculptural cast- glass basin.
The master bedroom, walk-in closet and bathroom suite occupy the second floor. The floor level has been raised 300mm to place the window sills at a more comfortable eye-level, reducing room height and introducing a feeling of intimacy. The wall separating the master bathroom from the shower, and partly screening the wc from the bathroom, incorporates a vanity unit and has narrow cupboards and drawers slotted down the length of its exposed edge: ideal compartments for holding bathroom paraphernalia.
The main L-shaped reception room occupies the entire first floor. The two sets of double doors opening off the landing are larger than the original doors and framed by simple mouldings based on traditional surrounds. The second set of doors improves circulation when the Yallops are entertaining and allows guests to overflow to the landing.
The kitchen at the rear of the hall, on a prominent axis with the front door, pulls the house out towards the new terrace and the leafy communal garden beyond. It is the most overtly ostentatious room in the house, the most practical and probably the most lived in. The opulence of its fittings and materials is flamboyantly on display: cast-glass wall panelling above the range and glass cupboard-door facings, an inch-thick slate counter top to the sink unit, a copious wall-mounted sideboard made entirely of slate. Telephone and fax are in the corner farthest from the cooking area so that the room can also serve as a capacious office.
Full-height kitchen windows open onto the terrace which replaces a former standard asphalt roof and is supported by two steel columns which carry a lattice of cantilevered steel beams to avoid any bearing on party walls. It is paved in pietro laro limestone slabs, divided by pebble-filled drainage channels; in one corner a large structural rooflight breaks up the symmetry. Glass balustrading ensures an uninterrupted view across the terrace to the garden and recessed uplighters provide illumination at night.
The lower-ground floor is more obviously domestic than the rest of the house, despite the cloister-like simplicity of its central corridor. It contains a nanny flat, Rosemary Yallop's study and a large family room. This family room occupies the space under the terrace and an internal window between it and the study receives light from the rooflight. The final surprise is the view through the fully glazed wall to the small patio and a stately Italianate flight of steps leading up to the communal garden. Two reinforced-concrete stair flights from the terrace frame the patio, with balustrades mounted on exposed steel sections.
The cohesiveness of the scheme has been achieved by establishing firm design principles from the outset in order to achieve clean surfaces: light fittings are recessed, ironmongery minimised, storage integrated. Services are routed through fattened walls on either side of deep window reveals at the front of the house, and in the wall between the front and rear rooms; heating is underfloor, apart from two unprofiled slab wall radiators in the kitchen. 'You've got the bare bones of the traditional architecture in view and very little soft furnishing, and that helps blend the two,' says McLean.
This project will provide rich pickings for feminist readings of McLean's approach but they will have to ignore its main feature: a coolness that hits you as soon as you enter the hall, a very masculine coolness.