Open House London returns from 19-20 September, with these three clever North London properties unveiled to the public for the very first time


Englefield Road

This project is located in a Conservation Area in the heart of De Beauvoir Town. The client’s intention was to completely overhaul the existing three storey Victorian terrace house and add a contemporary extension to the rear on the lower ground floor. Large planes of glass in the main elevation of the extension and a continuous light slot at roof level between the extension and existing house throw light deep into the spaces beyond. As part of the internal alteration works, a new feature staircase leading up from the lower ground floor to the ground floor was designed, which is hung from the ceiling and hovers over the ground at its base.

Insider’s view: Ulf Vollmer-Konig, United Architecture

Our client had a strong vision of how the house was to be transformed – by the time we were approached, the client had already sought planning permission himself. Our brief was to translate the vision into reality, complete the design externally and internally within the planning permission’s constraints, and produce technical information for liaison with building control, tender and construction.

The property had a generous expanse of garden at the rear, which was to play an important role in the overall lower ground floor design. The large glazed opening of the extension would frame the view into the depth of the garden, unobstructed by wall elements or avoidable window framing.

Lighting was an integral part of the design, which had to be considered in detail, with the aim to allow the client to enjoy the new and refurbished areas to the fullest at different times of the day and year – responding to different moods. Some architectural features are also highlighted by LED lighting, such as the ceiling details, to the full width roof light and main extension glazing, adding another opportunity for hidden ambient lighting.

We developed several stair designs with the client, as we needed to find the most fitting arrival to the contemporary lower ground floor. We wanted to reduce the spatial impact of the stair on the lower ground floor, and achieved this by stopping the wall on the stair flight, exposing the stepping walnut stair profile and giving back the space underneath to the living area. The solid side wall was ‘hung’ from the ceiling structure, and as there was no structural need for the stair to touch the floor, we thought we’d emphasise this visually by creating the hovering effect of the floating stair.

Islington Penthouse

With views across Highbury Fields to the East and the London skyline to the West, this penthouse – built within and above an Italianate villa – is all about the outlook. Creating a double aspect open-plan living space, architects HUT introduced a ribbon of concrete that wraps around the space to form a kitchen counter, built-in seat and fireplace hearth. Steel framed doors and windows with slim profiles maximise opening sizes internally and externally, and allow access onto a roof terrace with 270 degree views. This series of unexpected inside and outside spaces with a hidden side and top saw HUT win third place for interior design in the NLA Awards 2014.

Insider’s view: Rachael Davidson, HUT Architecture

The initial brief covered five aspects: to maximise natural daylight and views out to Highbury Fields; to rationalise the warren of rooms and wasted circulation space; to create a home for entertaining, ‘a party flat’; to create a place to work that didn’t feel like a home office; and to create a rooftop urban escape.

Working with the existing Italianate villa added a challenge from a planning perspective as the project is located within a Conservation Area, but as the proposed external alterations were not visible from street level, the local authority did not raise any objections. As a practice we enjoy the contrast of modern and traditional, and the traditional context helped to add to the element of surprise when entering the ultra-modern interior of the completed flat.

Space and light were the key elements to the scheme as the existing property was dark and divided into small, cramped rooms with little outlook. We emphasised the drama of the spaces with design features such as oversized full height doors, chunky concrete wrap-around counters, giant bathroom tiles, large bespoke furniture and so on.

Natural light was vital to the project. By opening up the main living room and connecting it to the kitchen, we created a double aspect space with views across Highbury Fields to the East and the London skyline to the West. A new walkover glass floor light was installed to the bedroom corridor flooding it with natural light, and a linear slot window was inserted to the rooftop library, framing views of the City and adding extra natural light.

We approached the roof terrace design in a playful way. Both terraces are invisible from the street level and feel like secret ‘retreats’ from the City down below. The north roof terrace was finished with AstroTurf for games of mini golf and sunbathing; whilst the south roof terrace was fitted out for entertaining with built-in speakers and lighting, BBQs and bespoke furniture made out of weathered scaffold boards to match the decking.

Islington in general has an excellent housing stock with rows of beautiful terrace houses, much of it listed, which creates a good challenge for architects when creating modern family homes. Generally speaking, Islington residents appear to be more open to design and our clients have certainly been committed to creating something really special with their projects.

Gondar Gardens

Inventive use of space and glazing transformed this two bed flat with a shared bathroom and no dining area into a sustainable and beautifully lit two bed house with en-suite bathrooms, dressing room, WC and the all important utility room. An internal courtyard is key to the layout, forming the heart of the flat, allowing natural light and ventilation into the master bedroom, while affording views through to the rear garden from both the bedroom and while lying in the bath!

Insider’s view: Duncan McLeod, Studio McLeod

The internal courtyard was key to making the plan layout work, providing natural light, ventilation and an external aspect for the master bedroom. It also allowed us to achieve one of the client’s goals by allowing the view through the living room to the rear garden. There’s even a light switch next to the client’s bed where she can control the lights in the garden.

All the large glazed panels slide open and out of the way, allowing the indoor-outdoor separation to be dissolved. The internal courtyard becomes a private garden in the middle of the house. The client can be in her living/dining area and be surrounded by greenery rather than having it just at the back of the house as it would be with a standard house-garden layout.

How did we manipulate the existing space to create extra rooms? We like solving puzzles! We simply extended as much as possible, added the internal courtyard and the rest is like one of those ‘slide’ puzzles you play with as a kid, shifting the functions around until they work. The big steps were dividing the old bedroom into four to provide a dressing room, bathroom, utility and guest shower room, and avoiding a long corridor by placing the kitchen there instead.

The client’s reaction was one of the best we’ve ever had, involving a tear and a hug. Homes are steeped in emotion. Clients who choose to make their dream home go on a journey and getting there is a huge achievement. I thrive on that feeling, knowing that their new home will make their lives better.

Words: Mark Kebble

Open House London runs from 19-20 September – find out more at openhouselondon.org.uk

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