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Cooke Fawcett wins approval for office and sauna in Hampstead garden

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Cooke Fawcett has gained planning permission for ‘complex’ plans to build a home office and sauna room in the grounds of a recently inserted home in the Hampstead Conservation Area

Camden Council granted consent for the emerging practice’s scheme at Kebony House in north London, having earlier refused permission for another scheme by the practice on the wooded site. An appeal against this refusal was thrown out by the Planning Inspectorate.

The approved scheme will see two single-storey structures built in the corner of the garden plot, which already houses a single-storey home, Kebony House, completed by Claridge Architects in 2015. This was built in the former grounds of a Victorian mansion block on Oak Hill Park in north London. This 188m² modernist home is now owned by the couple behind interior design company Black & Milk, Russian nationals Olga and Anatoly Alekseev.

Resembling ‘stacked rocks’, the two new blocks by Cooke Fawcett will act as a flexible studio space for the business, and a Russian-style banya, similar to a sauna room. They will be connected by a terrace containing an outdoor plunge pool.

Gaining consent has been a lengthy journey for Cooke Fawcett, which was formed in 2015 by former Herzog & de Meuron staffers Oliver Cooke and Francis Fawcett.

An original application for the scheme was thrown out by councillors in 2017 on grounds including ‘excessive scale, bulk and mass’ and failure to demonstrate that trees would not be harmed.

In January 2018 planning inspector Graham Chamberlain subsequently dismissed an appeal against this refusal, saying the scheme had the ‘potential to harm biodiversity’ at the site.

An application was resubmitted last summer, alongside a preliminary ecological appraisal, and was later granted consent.

Anatoly Alekseev said: ‘After a complex but ultimately successful planning process with Camden we’re thrilled to have the green light to go ahead with building the project.

‘The new structure will be a fantastic counterpoint to our existing house and we’re looking forward to developing the concepts for the interior expression with Cooke Fawcett.’

Cooke Fawcett's Kebony House outbuildings

Cooke Fawcett’s Kebony House outbuildings

Cooke Fawcett’s Kebony House outbuildings

Architect’s view

The intention was that the project should refer to the timber materiality (kebony wood) of the existing Kebony House and create a new contemporary building which relates closely to the sensitivity of its special garden setting. From the start of the design process the idea of creating a building which felt embedded in the woodland has been central to the proposals.

The plan of the building is carefully arranged to avoid impacting existing trees and roots and is broken up to articulate the three key components of the scheme – studio, ancillary building and banya. In section, the volumes of the building step down following the slope of the site. The resultant organic form gives the project an appearance of a series of stacked rocks set against the garden backdrop.

The choice of timber as both an exterior and interior material links to the main house while providing a playful riff on traditional log cabins and sauna. The appearance and tactility of the timber boarding are intended to evoke an idea of an escape to nature that would often be associated with these types of buildings. It is anticipated that as the different external walls weather in subtly different ways, the variation in the form will be heightened.

To minimise impact on tree roots, a special system of mini-piles has been developed

Offsite fabrication will be used for the main timber elements, to minimise time on site and avoid disruption to the natural setting. To minimise impact on tree roots, a special system of mini-piles has been developed together with Philip Cooper of Cambridge Architectural Research.

As well as securing consent for an unusual project in this demanding context, we are most proud of the way in which a close understanding of both the client brief and the peculiarities of the setting has generated an unusual yet functional proposal which feels simultaneously new and fresh, while also being very much of the site.

Oliver Cooke and Francis Fawcett  

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