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09 Nov 2021

Going High-spec and High-tech

This high-tech, high-spec and high-end city mews house epitomises the idea of conserving the nation’s heritage buildings whilst adapting them to meet the needs of 21st-century living. If you’re struggling to strike a balance between period character and mod-con contemporary, this project may well serve as the inspiration that you’ve been looking for.

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Here, i-Build’s Editor, Rebecca Kemp, talks to Mark Morris, Planning Consultant and Communications Manager from London-based residential architecture practice, Urbanist Architecture, about the firm’s participation in this restoration and discovers more about the extent of the works that have been completed.

RK: Please talk us through the original state of the building.
MM: The previous aesthetics of this mews house, situated in a charming part of Belgravia, did no justice to the beauty of its location. Despite its comfortable square footage, the layout seemed cramped and didn’t make the best use of the ample windows. The bland and dated palette of cream and beige made it seem tired and charmless. The spacious burgundy room on the lower ground floor appeared to have no particular function bar storage. On the ground floor, the kitchen-dining area and living space were separated, making them both feel unnecessarily small for the dimensions of the house.

Meanwhile, on the two upper floors, some of the bedrooms were well-proportioned, but one particularly small room made no sense to retain. Likewise, the bathrooms were somewhat oversized in comparison due to their location being dictated by the central stairwell. An angled skylight leading to a terrace was positioned about the bedrooms, but the awkward placement of the stairs made it difficult to access.

RK: What style and age is the building?
MM: It is a 19th-century mews house, originally built to house the servants and horses of the larger properties on the main streets of Belgravia. From the outside, it appears three storeys high, whilst on the inside, there is a basement – which was crying out for renovation. The footprint of the property is almost square.

On the first floor, there are three French doors with small cast-iron balconies, and on the second floor, there are three sash windows. Unlike some of the neighbouring properties, the upper floors have unpainted London stock brick as the facade. The ground floor, by contrast, is mostly white, incorporating windows with small panes stretching most of the way across.

RK: What inspired you to take on this project?
MM: Located in an extraordinary part of such a great city, this property fell so far short of its potential. As project architects and interior designers specialising in luxurious home refurbishment and interior design projects, a complete mews house renovation and remodelling project is a dream concept to be involved with. In this case, we were given carte blanche as the only original features our clients wanted to retain were the front door and floors – everything else was a blank slate.

RK: What was the vision and inspiration behind the project?
MM: The vision was to take a home that looked beautiful on the outside but dark and cramped on the inside, and to fill it with light. The driving force was to make it feel completely different to how it was at the time so that it would become contemporary, luxurious – and, most of all, uplifting.

RK: What was the brief for this project?
MM: The brief was inspirational: to create four en-suite bedroom luxury homes, with an open-plan living and dining area, a cinema room and a 35m2 terrace over four floors of prime central London real estate. Given the affluent location, the client expected exceptionally high-spec furnishings, meticulous design, high-tech home automation systems and luxurious materials and interiors throughout.

RK: How did you approach finalising your design brief?
MM: The client was clear about the vision and gave free rein to the design team to turn that idea into reality. The task then was to think of practical ways to make that happen.

RK: Please talk us through the works that you completed.
MM: As the original staircase previously took up a large area of the floorplan, we maximised the space by creating a compact corner staircase running from the lower ground floor all the way up to the roof terrace. Hand made from oak and glass, this ensured that light from the window illuminated the adjacent rooms and hallways. We also created a lower-ground laundry and plant room to serve the entire house, as well as a water closet and a spacious, luxuriously-appointed cinema room with an impressive 55-inch screen, a projector and integrated Dolby stereo ceiling speakers, as well as an expansive, comfortable sofa and well-stocked minibar.

On the ground floor, we designed an impressive marble entrance hallway leading into a spacious living and dining area that took up the entire floor. The plush and comfortable living room was oriented towards a large wall-mounted television, while the sleek and compact corner kitchen included a black custom-made marble dining table.

On the first and second floors, moving the staircase provided ample space to create two double bedrooms, for a total of four en-suite bedrooms and plenty of storage space. All the bedrooms were furnished with 40-inch televisions and integrated Dolby speakers for the highest level of comfort and entertainment.

All previous fittings were ripped out, and we rewired the entire house to integrate adjustable lighting controlled via dimmer switches and suspended ceiling LEDs for a soft, welcoming ambience. With underfloor heating throughout and automatic privacy blinds, the house was heavily soundproofed, so the integrated Dolby stereo system could be used throughout the house and then amplified to great effect in the basement cinema room/bar.

RK: Did you need to obtain planning permission for this project?
MM: Planning permission wasn’t needed for the bulk of the works because they were internal. However, we needed planning permission for skylights, new roof railings and the air-conditioning – that took two months. On top of that, though, a licence to alter was required from Grosvenor, who built and still control most of Belgravia.

RK: How did you approach material and product specification?
MM: We had a clear vision of the client’s ideal home, and the choice was based on the brief. However, we also specified some materials based on their functionality and durability.

RK: Are there any build materials that you would recommend to others?
MM: Durable and natural materials are always the best to go for. These materials tend to last longer and are easier to maintain, which is essential in a buy-to-let project like this.

RK: Were there any challenging aspects to the project?
MM: Firstly, the limitations of being on a private estate – which have much more stringent rules than most councils. Secondly, mews houses are tightly packed in – they weren’t designed and built for high-end living or 21st-century life in general. When you are getting supplies in, you have to remember that there is a low arch at the entrance to the mews!

Also you have to manage things like party wall and parking issues with neighbours, who often have the resources to make problems for you if they choose to – so a lot of diplomacy is needed.

RK: How long did the project take, from start to finish?
MM: Two years. It took slightly longer than anticipated due to unforeseen issues that are always difficult to predict pre-demolition and additional permission required for the operations within the mews. The client took over immediately after the completion, with the house fully furnished and ready to be let out.

RK: Did you remain within the original budget?
MM: We did stay within the budget – a lot of preparation was required, rather than rushing ahead to get started, but that meant that we didn’t end up with unexpected costs.

RK: Please provide an overview of both the interior and exterior.
MM: As natural light was the defining concept, both horizontally and vertically, we rearranged the house to allow the most light to flood in. Horizontally, that meant an open-plan ground floor with a kitchen-dining-living room. Vertically, it’s made possible by the centrepiece of the whole project; the handmade glass and oak corner staircase that rises from the basement to the roof terrace. It allows light from the windows to be shared throughout the house, where, in the previous layout, it was often trapped in small bathrooms.

In the basement, there is a cinema room. On each of the first and second floors, there are two large bedrooms – all with their own distinctive look and each with its own en-suite.

All of the furniture is bespoke, from design to choice of colours, materials and fabrics. We collaborated closely with material/fabric suppliers and our trusted carpenters to achieve a high-quality, coherent look.

RK: What does the local community think of the refurbishment?
MM: We hope the extensive soundproofing means that the most significant benefit it offers the neighbours is one they will never notice – the absence of noise!

RK: What’s your favourite room?
MM: The kitchen. It’s the one room where we feel the concept behind the renovation – to bring in light – has really been epitomised.

RK: What advice would you offer to those looking to renovate or self-build?
MM: Hire a professional firm that will be able to do it all for you. From planning through technical design to project management and handover.

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