The family had been living in their large period house in the London Borough of Barnet for over a decade and, with their children now in their teenage years, the need for more space was pressing. Running out of space and not wanting to move from their decade-inhabited borough, the couple turned to Robert Hirschfield Architects to renovate and extend their Edwardian detached house.
The couple sought to transform their relatively dark home into a bright, light-filled space, fusing a number of existing period features with contemporary, new-build designs. To achieve the couple’s vision, Robert Hirschfield, of Robert Hirschfield Architects, was called upon to create and design a rear extension to the period property.
Commenting on the project – named ‘Open House’ – Robert said:“We were initially approached to design a rear extension. However, it soon became apparent that in order to release more light and space within the existing structure the family would have to think vertically as well as laterally.
“Also, because the client was remodelling all corners of their house, they were unable to live in the home throughout the entire process. So, the family moved out into rental accommodation for the best part of the year to allow for the property to be completely transformed.”
The project management fell in Robert Hirschfield Architects’ hands – which not only dealt with the design, but remained directly involved in the project, removing many of the burdens of detailed project management from the client’s shoulders.
Reconfiguring the interior
The brief called for significant untangling from its congested internal layout in order to rationalise and reconfigure its interior spaces. With a lack of ‘connection’, the homeowners requested for the layout of their Edwardian property to be revised to allow for a cohesive relationship with the generous outdoor space and underexploited loft area.
The original living and service areas of the house were dark, cramped and restrictive for family shared spaces. Robert Hirschfield Architects’ solution was to reconfigure the layout of each floor and expand the house to create a spacious living area to the rear of the ground floor with a large glazed structure that frames the newly-landscaped garden and terrace.
The reconfigured floors have given the family generous-sized rooms with an interesting play of level changes and volumes that can now be fully shared and enjoyed. These are connected by a new helical staircase with a ribbon-like handrail that curves as it ascends parallel with the central double-height void.
The bespoke timber staircase was designed in close collaboration between Robert Hirschfield Architects and Brighton-based designer-maker, Fowler & Co. It was conceived as a single object stretching between the ground, first and second floors. The central form comprises a solid helical balustrade that ‘hangs’ down the middle of the void with the stair wrapping around it. The elegant lacquered balustrade is capped with a continuous moulded handrail, hand-carved from oak to match the fluid underside that follows the curves of the staircase.
The staircase was made in Fowler & Co’s workshop and then assembled on site, with the handrail made from pieces of laminated wood pressed into a curved mould. The underside is clad with timber with each piece acting like a propeller blade, twisting in two directions. The result is a sinuous shape that is given continuity by the use of treated hand-carved oak for both the underside and the ribbon-like handrail.
The new loft bedroom and en-suite bathroom are proud possessors of their own private, recessed terrace that has cleverly, and discretely, been carved into the pitch of the roof. The bathrooms, bedrooms and living spaces have bespoke built-in joinery, storage spaces and shelving – all of which have been fully integrated into the overall concept and design.
The interior design within the house consists of a number of distinguishing features, including the bespoke timber staircase. Throughout the house, the warmth and texture of the wood grain used for the staircase has been emphasised in floor finishes and worktops elsewhere.
Redefining the space
As an architecture practice, Robert Hirschfield Architects considers a space not just in isolation, but in terms of how it actually relates to other spaces within the house and how the floors interact with each other.
“In this case, plans were drawn up to radically redefine the internal space of the house to dovetail into the extension,” comments Robert. The most challenging aspect of the build came down to the large expanses of glazing, as Robert explains: “Installing the large items of glazing to the extension required a crane to lift the glass over the house.” For the Open House project, Robert Hirschfield Architects has shown how utilising glass can be an important element if it is fully integrated into the lives and homes of families.
“The beauty of glass lies in its simplicity,” comments Robert, “and here we have provided an example of how it enables a house to be enveloped by nature while living comfortably indoors.”
Continuity of design
Careful consideration has been paid to the bespoke joinery elements throughout the house, as Robert explains: “The wood grain of the staircase was carried through into the flooring and worktops – including the dark, tabletop-style kitchen island. While, at the sunken living room level, the timber floor offers a warmth in its materiality. Then at the upper level, where the kitchen is located, the floor surface reverts back to stone, which is something that follows through from the hall.
“Downstairs, the sunken living room has an impressive floor-to-ceiling height window with views directly out to the garden. And, upstairs, the new loft bedroom is the proud possessor of its own private recessed terrace that has cleverly and discretely been carved into the pitch of the roof.” Externally, the building responds to its landscape seamlessly, as Robert explains: “We reconfigured the layout of each floor and expanded the house to create a spacious living area to the rear of the ground floor with a large glazed structure that frames the newly-landscaped garden and terrace.”
Robert’s advice to anyone about to embark on their own renovation journey is to work with a good architect. “Find an architect that is attentive, focused, meticulous and offers continuous support and advice through every phase of the project.”
Robert Hirschfield Architects’ Open House design has created a beautiful, contemporary and bright open space, which is both visually impressive and completely appropriate for the client’s needs as a family.
“From the outset, we impressed our client with our creativity and design ideas,” concludes Robert. “We transformed the client’s house whilst at the same time retaining the feel of a family home.”
Robert Hirschfield Architects
Staircase designer and maker:
Fowler & Co
Trogal Griffin Associates
Vital Building Services
Matt Clayton Photography