Case study: Down the rabbit hole

By Matt Balmer
February 3, 2018

When creativemass first set out to revive this south west London villa, its interiors looked like a rabbit’s warren. But with the clients’ bold style in mind and their brief in hand, they set out to return this quintessentially British
property back to its former glory.

by Rebecca Hoh-Hale

‘Robust’ is a word that frequently comes up when talking to Claire McDonald, director of creativemass, about the overhaul of this reclaimed three-storey Victorian villa in Barnes, south west London. For a start, the building is the former merchants residence on a grand street – making it fairly impressive in its own right. Secondly, the transformation of its interior scheme – from six warren-like bedsits into a family home for the clients and their four children – is certainly robust in terms of the longevity and authenticity it brings to this living space. Lastly, the building is classified as a Building of Townscape Merit and set within a conservation area. And the clients are an American family who spent a few years in Italy before moving to this substantial and quintessentially British property. As a meeting of a whole host of bold and hearty influences, the project was a chance to recapture its former glory and create some new splendour, too.

“As is so often the way, our starting point was to find a way to bring natural light flooding back into the property,” says McDonald. “The building had been used as a house of multiple occupation for many years and as such was, to be honest, in quite a revolting state!”

Creativemass gutted the building, returning the former maze of bedsits into a four-storey villa with large, bright, well-proportioned rooms. Leaving only the two spine walls in the hallway, they levelled the ground and first floors, took out and recreated the second floor, and added a side and rear extension, a loft conversion and a new social basement featuring a large terraced lightwell garden.

“We re-established and reinforced a strong axis through the house creating a connection from the front door to the garden, thus ensuring the most impressive and uplifting sense of arrival,” adds McDonald of the rather American (and, indeed, Italian) big-reveal style entrance. “It at once adds to the grandeur of the building, yet also softens the formality by seemingly drawing the garden into the house.”

Although the footprint has been created to be quite spacious, a warm, intimate feel still runs throughout. McDonald attributes it to the clients’ close involvement in the process. The villa has been put together with their daily family life in mind, not as a holiday home or a property development. Guided by the inhabitants, every room has its own sense of identity rather than being forced into a one palette fits all-scheme.

“The lady of the house was very much a driving force and very excited by the whole process. She loved it and played a major part in it,” McDonald describes. “We had numerous meetings. There were many options – and some choices we wouldn’t have naturally come to – but they work for this family. It’s authentic to them, and it’s a richer project because of it. The Murano glass chandelier in the hallway, for example, wouldn’t have been top of our list, but it’s the perfect piece for them. The same with the impressive Carrara marble flooring – more inspiration from their time in Italy. We initially wanted to go for the herringbone Hakwood oak floor throughout, but the marble is so right for their individual story.”

A home study and formal living room area flank the entrance hall. As the home’s homage to its Victorian British context, the study is a space Sherlock Holmes could easily spend time in. Its bespoke, dark smoky timber panelling and library-style shelving are complemented by a Persian rug and moss green wall finish. It is also home to the only original fireplace that could be saved and was reinstalled here, as well as a leather Chesterfield. On the other side of the hall, the contemporary reception room brings a more zingy look to the table. Featuring a modern Chesneys fireplace, it has plenty of scope to show off the clients’ extensive art collection. McDonald’s team also recreated all cornicing throughout the property. And they honoured an old but gold British tradition: going a little wild in the ‘smallest room in the house’. As a result, the cloakroom features a wallpaper with a twist: Timorous Beasties‘s New York Toile. On closer inspection, what at a first glance appears to be a classic tableau’turns out to feature scenes of muggings in Central Park.

There is also some fairly ‘out-there’ House of Holland wallpaper used in the family boot room (“lots of children mean lots of shoes!”). A fruity orange ceiling gives it added ‘oomph’, in a bid to encourage the children to use the room as intended. British Gypsum Thistle magnetic plaster on the walls creates a built-in notice board.

The area at the ground floor’s rear can be sub-divided, so the living space can be contained as a cosy snug, just like the working space in the Bulthaup kitchen from Kitchen Architecture. To achieve this, both spaces use Crittall-style bronzed glazed sliding pocket doors, fitted by IQ Glass. Creativemass worked with Italian company Secco on the external Crittall glazing, as two different systems were needed inside and out under building regulations. Flashes of luxury against the sturdy, functional backdrop appear all over – such as Poliform’s gold plated Crown Major modern chandelier over the long dining table.

The new basement provides a large games room and homework area with access to the rear lightwell terrace. A home cinema sits adjacent to the games room, and sliding pocket doors allow the spaces to combine and provide a social focus for both the family and the children’s friends. The family is also very tech-savvy, and as their children turn into teenagers this will only become even more important, so the house is fully equipped with wireless technology, with the option of extending or adapting the system in the future.

Going up to the first floor reveals the master bedroom suite and its dressing rooms, as well as a children’s room and a guest suite. The bathroom showcases more of the bespoke joinery designed by creativemass, while American luxury brand Waterworks supplied the Nero marble sinks. Other grown-up touches include an overall moodier palette, which includes Tektura silk wallpaper.

Bespoke joinery has also been specified on the second floor as well as in the roof loft spaces which feature oak sleeping decks. Created for the children, they incorporate an ash and melamine Poliform shelving unit and Flos track lights.

Creativemass and their clients truly breathed back life into this Victorian Villa. It has come back fighting, with a robust but beautiful aesthetic that will grow as the family lives here. It’s a scheme that stays sensitive to where it has come from – but also looks forward to where it is going.