12 Jun 2014

Radical restructure


When Hannah and Lee Wood bought their four-storey London townhouse in 2006 they fell in love with the picturesque Victorian exterior and private gardens, however the confused and chaotic interior required drastic revamping.


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Having been divided into two flats at some point in the 1960s, re-modeling this desirable terrace property back into a single dwelling had left the home with two sets of everything, including front doors, plumbing and electrical systems!

“All the rooms were oddly divided and layout did not work for modern living,” describes Hannah. “The floor space and location made this a great buy, but we knew it meant taking on a renovation project at some point. We had no specific ideas about how the house should look, but we needed a home that could accommodate modern family life. We wanted space for entertaining both inside and out, also an area dedicated to children’s toys to remove them from the kitchen – the toys that is, not the kids – and a layout that improved the flow of light throughout the whole house.”

The young family were unclear as to how to achieve their desired dwelling, so decided to employ an architect to turns their dreams into reality. “We chose Scenario Architecture for several reasons,” explains Lee. “We knew that we could create a good working relationship with the practice’s Ran Ankory and Maya Carni and loved the inspiring design they created. We immediately noticed their ability to focus on details without compromising creativity and were very happy to have them guide us through the renovation.”

The new home’s vision started to come together when the architects decided to analyse the Wood’s habitation scenarios and daily routines. The family completed an in-depth cataloging of where and when they did everything in the house. They noted how that changed at weekends, holidays and when they had guests, as well as how their daily lifestyle might be affected by an expanding family, and how their needs will change as the children grow up.

Thorough research exposed specific issues the family faced living in the existing space. As in many Victorian terrace houses, the majority of time was spent at the lower ground/garden level of the house where the kitchen and dining area were located, whilst the two generously sized reception rooms at ground floor above, were seldom used. In fact, the careful research revealed that an astonishing 90% of the time was spent in just 10% of the space. Moreover, the unused ground floor receptions rooms enjoyed great sun and natural light while the basement was the darkest in the whole house.

This data enabled Ran and Maya to define what kind of spaces were needed and where they needed to be, which resulted in a more radical design than a simple renovation. The aim was to interlink the unused ground floor to the areas below while bringing as much natural light down to the lower ground floor, and to relieve the cluttered lower ground level of some of its uses.

“The process was a two-way conversation between us and Scenario,” continues Hannah. “We would work a rough brief of an area and then refine them through drawings and conversation. As the structures took shape, the architects created digital 3D models of the space onto which we could overlay material choices. Before anything was built we were able to see exactly what it would look like. Through this process we could quickly see multiple iterations and make informed decisions about each stage of the project – we were even able to incorporate pieces of art on the wall spaces! The level of detail was spectacular.”

A cut through the ground floor and relocation of the staircase, proved to be a simple and effective solution to all of the family’s issues with the space. The innovative cut is located in such a way to allow the maximum amount of daylight down to the lower ground level. It also created a mezzanine level offering visual and physical connection of the two floors and natural vertical flow of movement.

The new layout accommodates an open-plan kitchen/dining/sitting/entertaining area at the basement level, spilling out into the garden, and a family area/admin/library and play spaces at the open-plan mezzanine level above. The design responds directly to the habitation scenarios particular to the Wood family. The new play area in the mezzanine level is visible from the kitchen below and the admin corner looks over both the play area and the living space below. The new staircase forms a neat divide between the kitchen-cum-dining area from the living space.

The renovated Canfield Gardens is a unique take on minimalism. Sharp corners and angular forms are replaced by soft, continuous and curved geometries. Those are juxtaposed with materials in their most bare state; concrete, wood, aluminium, glass and natural plaster, introducing a sense of ‘eroded’ minimalism to the house.

A bespoke feature wall running the length of the house changes seamlessly in response to the different activities of the corresponding area. It evolves from providing space for coat hanging and shoe rack, into cupboards for additional storage, a bench to seat guests during larger dinner parties, further storage and eventually evolves into a fireplace with integrated seating at the opposite side of the staircase.

The design of the fireplace segment of the wall combines digital design with simple onsite fabrication techniques. Accurate 2D information and 1:1 drawings were extracted from the 3D model and used on site as templates for the production of a lightweight reinforced render structure. A bio-fuel fire is integrated into it and the result is a sleek contemporary statement.

At the first bedroom level, the two existing generously-sized bedrooms and one bathroom were divided to create an en-suite master bedroom, two smaller interconnected rooms for the children and a second family bathroom by utilising space under the stairs. Three glass threads within the stairs are an inventive way of flooding the family bathroom with natural light.

The en-suite master bathroom is another unique feature. A Japanese style soaking bath is integrated into a continuous tile-free surface that accommodates the basin and storage unit, all seamlessly integrating into/emerging out of the walls. This geometry presented a challenge in production, but the solution combined digital production techniques with traditional finish. The shape of the bath was CNC cut, and assembled on site where a waterproof layer was applied manually, as was the traditional Moroccan plaster finish.

“Although the build ran only three weeks longer than predicted, we ended up 12% over budget for a number of reasons,” explains Lee. “Some of the costs were due to unexpected structural issues that erose after the demolition phase, some were because of changes in materials and others as a result of cost miscalculations from the builders. The professional fees and four separate party wall agreements also helped to push us over the original budget.”

Avoiding disputes

Neighbours have an important role to play in many aspects of a home-building or improvement project. Terrace renovations and extensions are a renowned catalyst for contention. Disputes not only cause delay to the project, but can also leave sour feelings and create unpleasant community environments.

The couple faced problems with confirming party wall agreements, but also caused conflict because of the renovation’s noise levels: “Right from the start of the project we faced issues with our neighbours regarding noise. Although all noise levels were well within council regulations, both sides run businesses from home and found the noise levels irritating,” continues Hannah.

Despite disturbances to the project, planning took 10 months and the build took the same, with the finished home a beautiful juxtaposition between traditional exterior and contemporary interior.

The young family love their new home: “The finished space is everything that we hoped it would be and so much more. When people come into the house they are amazed by the contrast, even if it’s not to their taste – namely my mum – they are certainly impressed by it. I love the connected living and the kitchen is my favourite area. Being able to cook whilst watching my son play upstairs on the mezzanine is perfect.”

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