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Tricks of the light

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In contrast with Harmeny School, the flat which Richard Murphy has designed for Patrick and Mary Harrison is a classic Murphy project. Given the Harrison's intimate knowledge of the architectural scene - Patrick spent 19 years as secretary of the RIBA - it is perhaps not surprising that they should have selected an architect whose tastes and aspirations so closely matched their own.

This is a project rich in Murphy's favourite tricks: sliding planes; theatrical lighting; and spaces which change character from one moment to the next.

The flat occupies the lower ground floor of an imposing terraced house designed by James Gillespie Graham as part of the Moray Estate in Edinburgh's New Town. The rear of the flat was an eccentric combination of a billiards room, and a higgledy-piggledy collection of kitchen areas. The fact that the kitchen roof was found to be leaking provided Murphy with an excuse to pull it down and start again.

Murphy's strategy was to put the master bedroom in the billiards room, the spare room into the butler's pantry (with an en suite bathroom built into a stone-vaulted strong room), and to use the space formerly occupied by kitchens for an open plan kitchen/dining/living room, designed to take advantage of spectacular views of Lord Moray's pleasure gardens.

Murphy has indulged his sense of drama by playing up the contrast between the old and new.

The existing long passageway running from the front door of the house is painted a dark purple grey - a colour chosen by the Harrisons. Dimly lit, the passageway has an exaggerated gloom. Bay trees set into alcoves and the exposed stone floor give it an almost ecclesiastical feel which is reminiscent of Sir John Soane's house in Lincoln's Inn Fields. As with Soane's house, this project is rich with surprises: narrow strips of mirror face each other across the corridor, so that cross-sections of infinite reflections punctuate the stark linearity of the route.

In contrast, the kitchen/living/dining room radiates warmth, and is entirely contemporary.

Patrick Harrison describes this room as 'the main Richard Murphy move'. Although a single room, it is complex in section, with changes in floor and ceiling levels creating a range of varied spaces.

The plan is divided into three strips - the kitchen area ranged along the wall furthest from the window, the dining area in the middle, and, at a slightly lower level, the living area which spills through to a generous outdoor terrace. Display cabinets provide partial partitions between different spaces. The dining room and living area, for example, are separated by a long, low bottomlit glass cabinet designed specifically to showcase Patrick Harrison's collection of glasses. A mirror runs along the bottom of the lid creating a double illumination, which works particularly well at night. Other glasses from the collection are displayed in an internal window between the dining area and the side circulation space.

By day the focus is on the view, framed by large timber-frame sliding doors, which disappear into the thickness of the wall. Rooflights which run the length of the plan give varied lighting - Patrick Harrison reports that, at present, sunlight comes down through both rooflights at around half past five.

By night, it is transformed into an inwardlooking space. The rooflight shutters, which sit vertically in the wall plane during the day, can be lowered by turning a handle, creating a low plywood ceiling to the circulation area. This creates a more intimate feel while, on a practical level, conserving energy and providing privacy from the tenants above. Once the sliding shutters are pulled across the doors, the room becomes introverted and cosy but, as Mary Harrison points out, still 'clean' - 'there are no stuffy curtains - it's like sitting in a cigar box'.


ARCHITECT Richard Murphy Architects: Joe Carnegie, Edward Hollis, Richard Murphy, Stewart Stevenson


STRUCTURAL ENGINEER David Narro Associates

QUANTITY SURVEYOR Morham & Brotchie Partnership

MAIN SUPPLIERS steelwork Gordon Bow Engineering; radiators Hudevad; lighting Lightgraphix, Reggiani; sliding systems Hill Aldam, Coburn; ironmongery dline, Hafele

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