Designed by the award-winning practice John Smart Architects, Mulberry House is an exceptional five-bedroom terraced house in the sought-after Camberwell Grove Conservation Area – currently on the market with The Modern House. The property, one of four houses created from a Victorian building, is a reinvention of the traditional home, comprising a series of dynamic living spaces perfect for a modern family, as John Smart himself explains…
What was the original brief for Mulberry House?
As we work with our associated development organisation, Land Edition, the brief was self-invented. We sought to create houses where they would become homes. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
Being located in a Conservation Area, does that restrict what you can do?
Yes, but it is good to have restraints to push and pull against when designing. In any case, we are not architects who are too obsessed about the envelope – the experience is what matters.
What hurdles did you have to overcome when approaching the project?
One of the most significant challenges was the retention of the façade while inserting new basements and internal structure. It was complex open-heart surgery at times to free up the structure in order to carve out the potential.
Do you always look to make full use of period features where possible?
It depends. I take the view that old is not necessarily better than new and vice versa. It’s more often about quality and appropriation and a consistent design approach, so we often reinvent from the past.
How was this a reinvention of a traditional home?
We are not afraid of cosyness nor romance. So having a five-storey staircase became both a Fred & Ginger moment, as well as a highly crafted sculpture that seamlessly binds the spaces together in their everyday use.
I take the view that old is not necessarily better than new and vice versa. It’s more often about quality and appropriation and a consistent design approach
Is the design geared towards family use?
There is a 1970s suburban hangover in defining houses on the quantum of bedrooms, which often leads to static and banal layouts. I came across a house recently that had five sleeping areas, yet no bedrooms. At Mulberry, we focus far more on dynamic and variant spaces and set up spaces that could expand and contract. So the same space could deal with a 50th birthday bash, a kid’s karaoke contest or a contemplation space to read or study whilst in its contracted mode. We called this the Grand Room, but it also had an intimacy of a small cave.
Was the bespoke timber staircase the biggest undertaking on the project?
We deliberately did not want to get involved in interior designing – we are more interested in the hardware of the spaces and to set up a platform where the occupants can decide on how they want to live their own lives. Architects can often get too involved and sterilize the actual living part.
Did you implement floor to ceiling windows to make full use of natural light?
Yes, but also to offer a grander scale – more akin to piano noble living.
How did you look to make the most of the views on the upper floors?
Each house has its own sun terrace – they have a wonderful feel of being atop an ocean liner with panoramic views whilst being completely private at the same time.
How would you sum up the design and feel of the different rooms?
With the kitchen, we brought together crafted furniture using fumed oak. The resulting atmosphere is moody, yet elegant. We wanted to move away from sterility, and the overtly functional kitchens that dominate the market. We tend to not get involved in dressing bedrooms. We kept them pared back and left them to the occupants to enjoy according to taste. When it comes to bathrooms, fluidity is the most important thing to get right.
Do you predominantly work in south east London?
I live and work in different parts of the borough and so get an inspiring cross-section on my journey each day. My wish is to be a part of an ongoing contribution to creating great buildings in the borough.