Case study: Lofty ambitions
Architect BBM Sustainable Design made the most of the height of this Sussex house, adding a new staircase and double-height windows and converting the loft to improve the building’s energy performance
by Rebecca Hoh-Hale
The overhaul of this Victorian villa in Lewes, East Sussex, came about through a collaboration between architect BBM Sustainable Design, interior designer Chalkspace and the client. This was no mean feat – the project reduced the property’s carbon footprint by 60-80% and involved a completely new interior scheme, a loft conversion and the rebuilding of two side extensions. But the process – an exercise in clever compromise – went smoothly.
“We’ve worked with the client before,” says Ian McKay, director at BBM, which is known for expertise in sustainable design. “They approached us because they like and trust what we do. They’re well versed in big projects, have refined tastes and informed opinions on what they want to achieve. But what made it an easy collaboration was that the end aim was the same. It is a large property and it takes a special person to go that extra mile to implement everything needed to eco-refurb a space with this amount of surface area.”
The aim was make the big, old house cheaper to heat and to fall in line with the government’s commitment to cut carbon emissions by 57% by 2030. The first thing to do was add PIR insulation into the existing interior wall lining and the whole roof, including the original Victorian rafters and the new loft conversion and updated extensions. The ceiling height had to be maintained so, in the name of compromise, the highest-performing insulation was vetoed in favour of a thinner option.
The property had previously been converted to provide a self-contained flat on the lower-ground floor. BBM reconnected it to the main home via a beautiful staircase. The project also needed to develop a new wing to incorporate a mezzanine to holds a bedroom and en-suite bathroom. This meant the kitchen could be relocated to an impressive double-height space.
The interior has a calm and classic feel, with a palette, including soft marine greens, flint greys and chalky whites, inspired by the rolling hills and cliffs of Lewes.
“It’s a natural, gently coloured scheme that integrates a light-filled period property with the new building additions,” says Claire Brooker, a designer at Chalkspace. “The palette was designed to enhance the spatial qualities but also give the opportunity to punctuate it with colourful textiles, contemporary furnishings and artworks.”
Texture has been used to give the home an inviting feel, with natural linen curtains and plush Danskina and Woodnotes rugs.
“We wanted to create a simple, contemporary design that reflects the client’s lifestyle and provides an uncomplicated environment for beautifully crafted details,” says Brooker. “We are very much about creating warmth and subtlety, allowing aesthetic connections to be made between furnishings and possessions.”
Brooker has used statement lighting to give the home a little edge. Feature pendants and wall lights from Davey Lighting and Original BTC draw the eye upwards and make the most of the high ceilings and big rooms. The client’s passion for craftsmanship is seen in every room in pieces such as the Pinch dining table and the bespoke staircase by Rise Joinery. Even the landing has a custom floor-to-ceiling linen cupboard designed by Teddy Edwards.
There are modern elements but everyone involved wanted the home to stay true to its historic roots. For example, BBM usually installs hermetically sealed fireplaces to conserve heat but it was important for this traditional home to keep that central chimney and open-fire feel.
“It would not have suited this client or the property to have an uber minimal look,” says McKay. “We also like to bear in mind manufacturing costs and the footprint of the materials – keeping things more natural and traditional is the way to go. Not only that, old chimneys are great thermal batteries. The bricks retain the heat all the way through the house and are a good source of ventilation.’