The opportunity to develop St Paul’s Church on St John’s Hill was a rare one. Acquired for conversion by the James Laurence Group, the 19th century listed building has been developed into The Sanctuary – a collection of flats that brim with period character and zen calm.
Adjoined is a new build, Sanctuary House, with a more contemporary feel and a wonderful 6-metre waterfall. The project was included as a case study by English Heritage in Heritage Counts 2015, and this year was awarded best conversion by Wandsworth Borough Council.
While the properties within the church conversion retain its original, dramatic Gothic features, with large stained glass windows, commanding columns, concealed rooms and an authentic entrance, Sanctuary House makes an up-to-date architectural statement.
‘It was an old community hall that was completely derelict – there was no roof on it,’ explains architect Nick Laurence. ‘We didn’t want to build a pastiche of a church building. We wanted to create a modern take on the limestone walls that the church is made up of.’
As with most properties in London, the old exists harmoniously with the new. ‘St Paul’s is a church that has evolved into a residential building,’ he says. ‘We tried to respect the architectural features. With the house on the other hand, we had a blank canvas to play around with.’
For Laurence, it was a chance to reclaim an historic space and at the same time to create something a little outside the box. ‘We’ve always been interested in quirky buildings,’ he says. ‘They don’t come up very often. It’s a rarity for a developer, since they’re often bought by owner-occupiers.’
We’ve always been interested in quirky buildings. They don’t come up very often. It’s a rarity for a developer, since they’re often bought by owner-occupiers
According to Craig Jones of Boon Brown Architects, who worked with the James Laurence group on the property, the brief to create a spacious internal flow was exceeded.
‘The shape of the house is quirky in that its layout is set by the boundary walls, and the overall design uses copper cladding as a traditional material recognised in ecclesiastical architecture but detailed in a modern style in contrast to the adjoining church.’
It’s true that the two developments are not incongruous, and the attention to detail in Sanctuary House shines through in the handmade doors and wardrobes, bathrooms of solid slabs of stone and the one-off kitchen.
‘We’ve really put what we consider to be a Belgravia finish on a Battersea house,’ Laurence tells me. The space is ideally suited to a busy, social London lifestyle, but also affords residents the all-important privacy and calm that can be so hard to come by.
The property is arranged over three floors and comprises of a reception room, state of the art kitchen, dining room and four en-suite bathrooms. It was dressed by interior designer Sarah Reed. It’s cosy enough for families, but big enough for parties.
‘You can have the best of both worlds,’ laughs Laurence. ‘There’s a cinema room too, which you can make the most of without disturbing anyone else, as there aren’t any neighbours and it’s not overlooked. It’s zen-like.’
The space is ideally suited to a busy, social London lifestyle, but also affords residents the all-important privacy and calm that can be so hard to come by
The backlit waterfall in the centre is a focal point and central core, and the roof and the internal sections of the light well in the centre are made of copper – a feature in itself.
‘At night, you get the sound of the water trickling down coupled with a really beautiful, ambient light,’ reflects Laurence. ‘It’s a very calming place to be.’
Meanwhile, the attractions of the nearby shopping, bars and restaurants of St John’s Hill, Lavender Hill and the Northcote Road are minutes away. As the group look to expand their south London portfolio, we can’t wait to see what’s next up their sleeve.