Inside Vicarage Gate, the latest project from Laura Hammett

By Elspeth Pridham
November 18, 2020

It took Laura Hammett three years to convert this historic town house into four luxury flats. Here she discusses the project’s challenges and rewards

Who was the property designed for and who will live there? 

Vicarage Gate was a project for a London property developer to convert this building into luxury flats for resale. We always design developments with an imagined buyer in mind, as it is more natural for us to design with a personal approach. From past experience in this particular Kensington location we made an assumption that the buyers were likely to be young European professionals, however it’s important to ensure that the design is never alienating another demographic of buyer.  

What was on the site previously? 

The building is a historic townhouse dating back to circa 1877-1880, originally separated into six individual apartments. We worked with the architect to completely strip it out, so it was just the shell, virtually removing all walls and floors but retaining the original grand staircase and stained-glass windows in the stairwell. We then painstakingly designed every interior architectural element to bring it back to life.  

Please describe the building to me 

The 6,400 sq ft townhouse has been converted into four luxury apartments for sale, comprising a three-bedroom split level penthouse apartment with direct private lift and access to the roof, a three-bedroom split level apartment with lovely exterior space outside the master suite, two-bed duplex apartment and a stylish studio at lower ground level. The floors throughout are oak chevron and the walls are adorned with elaborate plaster moulding. We used a monochromatic pallet with light panelled walls and dark chevron floors, and the dramatic contrast of dark framed glazed double doors, Noir St Laurent marble fireplaces and bronze effect on the kitchen units. The furnishing is classic contemporary with sculptural lighting and artwork and a jewel tone pop of colour unique to each apartment to keep them harmonious but have their own identity. 

What was your starting point for the design? 

Working with a potential European buyer in mind we took influence from Paris for the interior architecture, introducing beautiful curved doors and arches, bold veined marble and elaborate plaster moulding throughout. We then combined this classic backdrop with contemporary joinery, bathrooms, kitchens and bespoke furniture and styling. 

Were there any particular challenges you had to overcome? 

The nature of a historic building like this always brings challenges, including obtaining the relevant permissions needed to make such dramatic structural alterations, including the installation of a lift. The space planning of each apartment was crucial to make this a successful project for our developer client as they were selling for a high price so needed to be completely uncompromised. We had to make clever design features within the compact studio apartment for example, with a floating partition wall that housed a rotating TV so could be viewed from both the bed and the seating area, as well as a slim breakfast bar to create a separate zone for the kitchen within the open plan space. It worked beautifully 

What is your favourite feature of the design? 

Without question the curved glass double doors are my favourite feature. They are breath-taking and add such a refined contempory twist on the classical architecture. I also love the ornate plasterwork combined with the contemporary elements like the glass internal atrium and the kitchens. The kitchens were also designed by our team as integrated elements within the architecture, so the contemporary bronze effect units are concealed behind classical panelled pocket doors.  

What did you enjoy most about this project? 

It was a real labour of love for our team over a three-year period so the last few weeks as the final elements were installed and revealed were extremely rewarding. In addition to the full interior architecture, we fully furnished and styled each apartment to perfection using a number of bespoke items. The spaces feel so elegant and timeless but with a depth and warmth that is so essential to us as designers. 

Looking at the finished project now, is there anything you would have done differently? 

At the level we design at now, we are conditioned to be perfectionists and hyper critical of our own work to ensure that we continue to make each project better than the last. Although we were elated with the end result, it’s impossible to complete a project without seeing minor things to improve. We are forever learning. As a studio, we pride ourselves on pushing each project further and designing out of our comfort zone which means we very rarely repeat a design, therefore each design is a first for us. Howeverour extensive design process and drawing packages are so detailed so there is very little room for error or surprising results when implemented. You can never stop growing and improving as a designer and our hunger to create “perfection” keeps us on our toes!  

How do you want the house to be enjoyed?  

We always design with function and comfort at the forefront of our minds as it’s crucial to us that our homes are to be enjoyed fully, rather than feel like show homes. The bespoke upholstery has been tried and tested by our team in the factory during production and materials used throughout are practical and usable. For example the kitchen worktop is a sintered stone rather than real marble so it can be used freely in a busy working kitchen. The apartments have beautiful open voluminous rooms which would be ideal for entertaining in. We always envisaged young professionals inhabiting the apartments but the design would also work really well for a family. 

What is your company ethos? 

Laura Hammett is a family run studio, run by myself and my husband Aaron, with a design team of 15, many of which have been with us for a number of years. We have a relaxed and informal company culture but run a tight ship when it comes to processes and the quality of the work. Both Aaron and myself are very hands on with design and working closely with our clients, who are our biggest inspiration. Particularly with private clients, we develop very close relationships with them and the briefing process for us is absolutely key to the success of a project. I also place huge importance on how an interior “feels” just as much as how it looks. Impossible to capture on camera, but we pride ourselves on designing liveable homes, whether for resale or for a private client. 

This feature originally appeared in Studio magazine, it is free to subscribe to Studio, simply visit our website to register