Case study: Let there be light

A complex layout of new and old rooms over several levels provided an opportunity for architects Tigg + Coll to completely re-imagine this family home.

by Rebecca Hoh-Hale

“This whole project was driven by a desire to fill the home with as much natural light as possible,” says David Tigg of Tigg + Coll Architects, on the comprehensive refurbishment of this London townhouse, which included adding a basement and extension. “We needed to consider how best to use, configure and celebrate each space so every room could be enjoyed by this young, design-orientated family.”

The original property was pretty substantial, if tired and a little sad from being rented out for many years, though its split-level layout along with a lack of light meant that it felt “constrained and dingy”. As well as freeing and opening up the space, the client wanted to create an additional fifth bedroom, a gym and a cinema room.

Tigg + Coll suggested that this would also provide an opportunity to restructure the property. Creating uniform levels between the closet wing and main house on the lower three floors resulted in larger interconnected spaces to better suit the needs of modern family life, and give a much greater sense of space.

The basement excavation also allowed the lower ground floor slab to be lowered, maximising the floor-to-ceiling height and natural light in the space. This turned out to be quite a hair-raising feat in its own right.

“We were effectively propping up a delicate house built in the 1870s while trying to dig a substantial void underneath it,” explains Tigg. “It required some very complex engineering solutions to achieve this. As a result we had to liaise on occasions with Transport for London to make sure the design would not have any impact on the existing Victorian tunnel network.”

Nevertheless, this has turned what had been a dark and unwelcoming series of small rooms into a bright and inviting open-plan kitchen, dining and family room that has become the heart of the home. Both architect and client were conscious that creating such a space with a basement extension could actually form something of a disconnect between this successful and attractive space and the rest of the home, and were keen to maintain a relationship between all the floors. Several elements were added to ensure all the levels and rooms connect and “respond and relate” to each other. Firstly the triple-height glazed infill and sliding door element created by PanoramAH! to the architects design, which runs six metres from the first floor down to basement level. This allowed light to pour in, and also created visual continuity, including an uninterrupted view of the garden – plus, importantly, it kept the planners happy.

“The house is in the heart of a Kensington & Chelsea conservation area and as a result we needed to be very careful with the external detail of the project,” revealed Tigg. “Although the building was not specifically listed being in a conservation area meant that the local planners were very keen to make sure that whatever intervention was approved would need to be of the highest quality. As a result we made a very clear distinction between new and old elements externally. The minimal detailing against the solidity of the old stock masonry of the projected closet wing makes that clear delineation between the old and new. It also adds a little dynamism to the project that we and the client love.”

The staircases also provide continuity and strong lines that unite the property’s five floors. Set to the left-hand side of the house to free up as much floor space as possible, the architects created a contemporary, minimal profile, but added a quite traditional-style oak handrail to reference the building’s age. Bespoke Crittall screens also make that same graphic impact and echo the frame of the glazed infill.

Interior design choices also reflect the varying character of the home’s five storeys. The basement and first floor are relaxed, with a strong, slightly industrial style, materials and finishes, chosen for this design-conscious client. The scheme is not overly fussy, with a handful of robust but interesting materials used and repeated throughout, including the aforementioned cast iron and steel. The palette veers towards the pale, with washed-out Douglas fir flooring from Dinesen, which is also used for staircase treads and even to clad the walls of the utility room. An unusual Belgian blue fossil stone was sourced for the worktops in the Osea design Plain English kitchen. The client was keen for the upper three storeys to have a slightly more formal and classic feel with a darker, inky palette. This includes Carrara marble in all the bathrooms and a walnut and stained oak chevron flooring to complement the refined palette. The glass balustrade around the glazed void becomes a dark bronze panel bordering a completely black study area.

At the upper levels, period features have been allowed to shine, with what Tigg calls “modern insertions”. In the master en-suite bathroom for example, original decorative cornices appear just as they would when it was a Georgian living space, but the simple lined modern tub and Crosswater faucet provide a contemporary counterpoint.

“This project was really an exercise in blocking out all the other noise; listening and responding to what you see in front of you,” concludes Tigg. “That way you can totally avoid the cookie cutter approach and create something unique to achieve the most interesting outcome.”

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