12 Feb 2021

Aye, Aye, Captain

Located in Shooter’s Hill, one of the oldest parts of London’s Blackheath, this Grade II Listed captain’s house was more than a little faded, and in many ways unsuited to modern family life. An innovative design approach from Matthew Giles Architects has introduced dramatic changes to the rear.

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Here, i-Build Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to the homeowner, Steven Hobbs, to find out more about the build process.

RK: What inspired you to take on this project?
SH: The building was a beautiful old house. It wasn’t in a brilliant state and needed some serious tender loving care. A messy tangle of stairs diminished the grandeur of the rear elevation – we knew we would get a lot of joy out of bringing it back to life. The location, opposite Blackheath Common, was also part of the reason we were drawn to the house.

RK: Had you always wanted to pursue your own project?
SH: Initally, we weren’t looking for a project, but couldn’t find anything with the right type/amount of character. We realised we would have to try and work with what we could find. We knew the house had something special from the start.

RK: How and why did you choose this property to renovate?
SH: Due to its exposed, elevated position, the house enjoys excellent views over the heath. However, its grandeur and charms faded due to clumsy additions over the years. A three-storey side extension, for example, and intrusive venting equipment, such as a wall-mounted condenser unit.

RK: What style and age is the original building?
SH: The original building is a Grade II Listed captain’s house located in one of the oldest parts of Blackheath, Shooter’s Hill. Like its neighbours, it was one of a group of Neoclassical Victorian Regency homes built in 1839. It has a medium-sized mature garden to the rear, and a front garden.

RK: How did you combine the original building’s style with the extension?
SH: Overall, the renovations and additions are relatively restrained; this is sensitive to the house’s heritage and the Blackheath conservation area. From the street, the main elevation remains mostly unchanged with prominent Neoclassical elements including a deep entrance canopy, flanked by intricate plasterwork and a pointed pediment roof. A new extension has been built in place of the former side extension that steps forward at ground and basement levels. Featuring white stuccowork and architrave detailing that is sympathetic to the style of the main facade. The new side extension is also positioned to give the original structure dominance.

The changes are more dramatic to the rear, where zinc profiles cap full-height glazing to create a highly transparent element. The glazing allows the space to be flooded with natural light despite the rear elevation’s north-facing aspect. A tension cable guarding to the upper terrace and stairs down into the basement is a whimsical nod to the area’s nautical heritage. Natural stone steps spill onto the lower terrace and the planted garden, beyond which, a raised height boundary wall heightens the sense of privacy and enclosure.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind your new home?
SH: We gave Matthew Giles Architects a free hand regarding the design because their conceptual design portfolio attested to their skill. Our only proviso was that there should be a clearly defined kitchen and dining area and that the entrance should be an expansive and welcoming space. In terms of forms and aesthetics, the architects proposed that the rear extension should read as a transparent glass box, that was to be distinct from the original listed building. They’ve shown keen attention to the vital components that have given the home a new lease of life. The ground floor’s entrance sequence has been reordered while new floor space has been created for contemporary living spaces and a sweeping open-plan kitchen and dining space that unfolds into the garden.

RK: How long did it take to gain planning permission?
SH: Roughly three years. We were initially granted planning and listed buildings consent on 22nd June 2017 for: “The demolition of existing three-storey side extension and construction of a new three-storey side extension, reorganisation of basement level and installation of rooflight at second-floor level”. Following this application, we submitted three further applications to make minor alterations. The last of these was approved in April 2018. These were then consolidated in May 2018, with one final alteration to improve the flow and circulation in the open-plan living areas.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project and build?
SH: Dealing with a listed property and the building’s original fabric and working around this – especially when it wasn’t in a brilliant condition in places. There were a few surprises along the way.

RK: Did you project manage the build yourself?
SH: No, we’re both pretty busy, so we decided to hire Matthew Giles Architects – who had years of experience working positively through tricky planning. They were instrumental in helping us to achieve the fullness of our initial vision.

RK: How did you approach material andproduct specification?
SH: We had the help of Interior Designer Clare Weeks from My Studio. We have mixed contemporary design, generally within the house’s central parts, with some more classic elements. Existing reception rooms, and first-floor bedrooms etc., stayed fairly traditional but pared-back. Newer spaces are now more contemporary. We looked for high-quality materials and sourced locally, where possible.

RK: Are there any materials that you would recommend to others?
SH: Our light fittings by a family-run company, which are factory-built locally (www.phos.co.uk). Also, our glazing by L2i Aluminium.

RK: How long did the project take?
SH: 13 months on site, which is probably one month longer than the original programme (with some planning delays). We completed in November 2019.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
SH: We more or less stuck to the budget, with some extra costs due to on-site design changes and specification choices. Our original budget was just under £1m, and we ended up spending just over.

RK: Take us on a tour of the new space.
SH: Internally, there is a marked contrast to the house’s former condition where a dark internal hallway linked disjointed living spaces. The entrance now features a generous lobby that directs the eye from the front of the property towards the rear garden’s sanctuary. As part of the works, functionality has been improved with new storage and utility rooms.

Matthew Giles Architects have made the most of our 1830s home’s voluminous shell. Above the main stair, light streams in from a high-level punched opening. Further renovations have been carried out on the upper levels to complement the ground-floor living spaces. A rich palette of materials has been introduced that creates a lively contrast between rooms. For example, one of the en-suites is topped by a large heritage rooflight and features plush pink tiles that reflect the sky’s passing motion.

As well as having improved accessibility, the home has been insulated for improved thermal efficiency and to reduce the impact on the environment. Glazing has also been refurbished as part of the designs, with new highly insulated sealed double-glazed units with solar reflective coatings to help combat overheating issues.

RK: What does the local community think of the refurbishment?
SH: Neighbours and passers-by have commented on the new pastel pink facade – generally everyone approves. The spruced up facade improves the whole row and outlook from Blackheath.

RK: What do you love most about your new home?
SH: The improved connection to the garden. This space was previously challenging to access (through a small back door, just off the hallway, and down some steps). The new extension and layout alterations have opened up the garden.

RK: What’s your favourite room?
SH: The kitchen will be an excellent room for entertaining and dining in the summer. With the wrap-around glazing, it will be great to have panoramic views to feel connected to the guests both inside and out. The thin aluminium frames that Matthew Giles Architects have chosen mean that even when the sliding doors are shut, there is minimal obstruction of the views onto the garden.

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