House Little Venice

A glimpse between the neat regimented rows of grand cream-coloured stucco Victorian mansions that define this elegant part of London known as Little Venice provides a moment of surprise: a sleek matt black zinc and glass contemporary building attached to a modest former coach house bounded by secret walled gardens nestles in this unlikely most traditional of London settings. This new residential building replaces a derelict warehouse discovered in an overgrown plot that had once been a joinery workshop for Partridges of Bond Street, renowned antique furniture specialists.

The brief called for a unique urban house that playfully acknowledges the industrial heritage of the site with bespoke fixtures and unusual finishes throughout, designed to employ the best of British craftsmanship. Although a distinctively modern intervention in this leafy conservation area of Westminster, planning permission was granted on the grounds that the design is a stark contrast in architectural form to its traditional neighbours and the quality of the detailing and materials ensures that the building coexists happily in this urban context. A discreet door in a side wall off a quiet side street provides the entrance to this extraordinary one bedroom house.

An unassuming Victorian warehouse built of London stock brick with exposed timber trusses has been retained and restored to provide a bedroom suite, while the rest of the house has been newly built. The original brickwork has been restored and left exposed on all four of the outer faces to be enjoyed from the new adjacent rooms that now wrap around the old building. The sleeping quarters are set in a theatrical dark space with an Alice in Wonderland play on scale. Dramatic double height wall panelling has been introduced with traditional folding internal shutters to the large French windows overlooking a walled garden. Timber parquet floors from the original warehouse were bleached and stained to be reinstated and an oversized fireplace was carefully sourced to integrate sensitively into the panelling. Privacy to the mezzanine level bathroom is achieved at the flick of a switch using electrostatic glass. This is set within the traditional fanlight windows while ornamental gilded metalwork grilles salvaged from a local church have been added to provide security. A dressing room of cedar with sliding leather doors and a leather floor overlooks a walled garden.

There is a deliberate duality about the two contrasting moods in the private and public areas of the house, an intentional schizophrenia in the architectural details employed. A massive pivoting brick wall concealed in the engineering brickwork links these two contrasting worlds. Beyond this threshold point is a radically more modern space bathed in natural light from a hydraulic pivoting wall of glass and a vast louvred skylight above. The furniture and fabric is an eclectic mix of old and new with a generally bleached palette of colours around the black brick feature fireplace. A specialist plaster finish is set against a textured finned ceramic wall which passes out as a continuous plane into the garden beyond. A number of the items of furniture were built to commission including the large dining table by the renowned Japanese woodworker George Nakashima and the low aluminium table is by British designers BarberOsgerby. Wells Mackereth Architects designed the steel and cast glass pendant light as well as shagreen-textured concrete outdoor furniture.

In place of slick hi-tech solutions, the structure and mechanics are overtly on show; steelwork is left rusted and raw; exposed engineered winches and cable mechanisms raise and lower bespoke lanterns and a plasma screen; polished concrete and structural glass floors combine with black engineering brickwork and specialist plaster to evoke an industrial setting. A slab of structural glass in the floor of the main living space hints at an underground library and screening room below. Here a bronze metallic ceiling floats over a chestnut leather conversation pit which is sunk into the polished concrete floor, embraced by the soft glow from the surrounding shelves of books and artefacts.

The split personality in the architecture of the house is echoed in the two contrasting external courtyard gardens linked via a strong axial entrance hall where metal filigree doors offer glimpses of both. The west garden is accessed through French windows from the coach house and is planted with reference to the Victorian pleasure garden including a well-planned route with oddities such as an auricula theatre to discover along the way. Towering beech pillars hide each of the curios so as not to see any two items at once. Amid the strong structural planting the garden is also romantic and reflective in spirit. Grasses, perennials and bulbs will slowly take over the rest of the space as though this were an old overgrown Victorian garden. If the west garden is the sensible great aunt then the east garden is the younger, hipper nephew! More in line with the twentieth century thinking of garden rooms, this is an extension of the main living space accessed via a hydraulic glass wall and borrowing elements from inside the house at every opportunity. The garden is arranged as a series of horizontal planes, cedar deck floating over concrete, zinc and water floating over box, slatted cedar sliding behind hornbeam hedges. Mass and volume deliberately relate to the main living space so as to merge seamlessly and harmoniously.

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  • Andy Korn
    Andy Korn updated 98 media and updated
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com
  • Andy Korn
    Andy Korn commented
    Winner of the 'Interior Design' category at the British Homes Awards 2011. http://www.wellsmackereth.com/projects/01_House_Little_Venice.htm
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com