This award-winning home-cum-art gallery in Deptford features a series of sublime open spaces and intimate corners. Nikki Spencer takes a look around…
Art dealer and collector Peter von Kant is clearly someone who relishes a challenge. ‘It was in a terrible state of disrepair’, he recalls of the Grade II listed late 17th century property he bought in a charmingly higgledy-piggledy terrace on Tanner’s Hill, just near Deptford High Street, back in 2010.
‘They sold bikes from a shop in the front and then in the back there was a workshop and storage. It was still full of stuff and quite insane. There were no stairs so we had to put up a ladder to get upstairs. The only plumbing was one loo at the back.’
The house was built in the 1680s, when Deptford was a village outside London, using timber from the nearby docks. Since 1955 it had been home to father-and-son firm Witcomb Cycles, who were known as the ‘Rolls Royce of the cycling world’, hand building lightweight bicycles including the one used by Stan Brittain in the 1958 Tour De France. After the company moved to Wales, the building fell into disrepair.
The property was on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register when Peter, who was living in nearby New Cross, discovered it. He felt that it would make a perfect space in which to live and also to host contemporary art exhibitions.
He contacted London architects Dow Jones, whose past work includes The Garden Museum in Lambeth, after they were recommended by the Royal Institute of British Architects: ‘When I met them, I just knew they were the right people,’ he says.
They spent nearly two years drawing up plans in consultation with English Heritage and Lewisham Council, gaining consent for the change of use from commercial to residential. The final design that won approval involved creating a number of reception rooms around a central private courtyard with a double-height kitchen in the Victorian stables at the rear of the building, where a walk-in larder sits behind original brick walls. Upstairs there are two bedrooms with a shared central shower room, while the second floor is entirely taken up by a bedroom suite that incorporates a dressing room and bathroom.
Deptford is unique with so much history. It used to be ‘the Oxford Street of the South’
The building work was carried out by Fullers, a fifth generation family firm from Walthamstow, which had previously worked on the Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields: ‘They are specialist builders and we were very lucky to get them,’ says Peter. The project won a prestigious RIBA London Regional Award in 2013 and gained plaudits from architecture critics including Jay Merrick from The Independent, who described it as ‘exemplary’ and ‘an engrossing temporal puzzle’.
What particularly caught everyone’s attention was the way in which the restoration made the most of the building’s long history by exposing original beams, brickwork and fireplaces, and combining them so strikingly with modern features such as polished concrete floors and worktops, a contemporary staircase and designer lighting.
‘We found original lime plaster and timber joinery and layers of pigment hidden behind 20th century panelling,’ says Peter, who describes his home as a ‘one-off’. ‘You get both history and something modern.’ Peter curated his first art exhibition in April 2013 and his home gallery has proved very popular with visitors, including sculptor Antony Gormley, who visited an exhibition featuring architectural photographer David Grandorge.
But Peter is not one to rest on his laurels and bask in the glory of his award-winning home. In fact he has recently put the unique property on the market so that he can ‘free up some cash for another couple of projects’. And it transpires that this is something of a pattern. He started buying and doing up properties when he was just 19 and says he has been ‘compelled to continue ever since’, restoring so many that now, at 47, he has lost count of the exact number.
‘I like doing things up, making them beautiful again and then finding someone to look after them,’ he explains. He won’t be drawn on details of his next projects, but it’s suffice to say that the Peter von Kant gallery will continue in a new location and chances are he won’t travel far.
‘Deptford is unique with so much history. It used to be “the Oxford Street of the South” and it still has a really buoyant market and so much to offer.’