We started out with three elements: a tired and run-down Victorian terraced house in a conservation area, open-minded clients, and the ambition to make this into much more than a straightforward refurbishment. It was our chance to create a stunning mix of old and new, to push the limits of modern spaces in a Victorian context, and to show how good architecture on a domestic scale can improve people’s lives.
Our approach centred on three main areas:
Replacing the external walls at the back with a double-height, fully glazed box
The house had poorly lit lower floors, and a disconnection between inside and outside spaces. The clients wanted the opposite: natural light, a blurring of inside and out, and a healthy, uplifting environment. This double-height glass box brings the outside deep into their home, and daylight has transformed the lower floors.
Digging down to provide a new ‘wellness floor’, with pool, hot-tub and steam room
We lined the walls with dark slate, a material which gives this floor a beautiful cave-like quality. With daylight flooding into the pool through the new transparent walls at the back of the house, the effect is a stunning mix of light and dark. But the slate and the oversized floor tiles are a functional as well as aesthetic choice: the slate has a low water-absorption rate and is resistant to algae growth, and the floor tiles are treated to become an active material which purifies the air by removing pollutants and is easy to clean.
Relocating and redesigning the stairs to open up the house
At only five and a half metres wide, and with a cumbersome split-level arrangement, the house previously felt disjointed and uninviting. Now the understated new staircase hugs the edges of the spaces and allows these to flow into one another, giving a direct connection between the front of the house and the back.
Each of these three major interventions, both in themselves and in combination, were at the heart of our vision for the house. But upgrading the fabric of the house was just as important. We added insulation to all external walls and installed a full heat recovery ventilation system. The Victorian façade now belies the modern and energy-efficient home that lies behind it.
The aesthetics were crucial to this project – the house overlooks Clapham Common and is part of a handsome terrace in a conservation area. The project was always about respecting the old as much as the new, and we love the way both elements now contribute equally to the elegance of the house.
Our design, with its respect for the Victorian façade and the fabric of the building, satisfied the planners at first attempt. Most importantly, the glass box at the rear (which in principle would not have been allowed) was sensitive enough to meet with their approval: it enhances rather than detracts from the brickwork, and with a clear space of about 40cm on each side it doesn’t impose in the way that a full-width extension might have done.
The sorry state of the house gave us the opportunity to rethink the way an old building can be transformed to meet people’s needs in the twenty-first century. We were lucky to be dealing with a generous budget, like-minded clients and a larger-than-average house, but the principles behind the transformation can be applied to domestic architecture on any scale. Our starting point was ‘doing more with less’ (our re-interpretation of ‘less is more’). We didn’t want to move all the living spaces into a new space, and we didn’t want to extend as far as we could go.
Instead, we wanted to use a simple, well-engineered structure to open up and change the heart of the house. The effect of the simple and modern glass addition is in no way accidental; we worked closely with the structural engineers to create a rigorous geometry in which the vertical load is separated from the lateral (or wind) load, and this allowed us to keep the use of steel to a minimum. A series of concealed gutters allows a neat junction between the old and the new, and the result is a light, clean structure which does not overwhelm the original house in any way.
Needs of the target market
Well-being was at the very top of our clients’ wish list when they first approached us. They wanted modern open-plan spaces, and they wanted a house that would make them feel good, both physically and mentally. The ‘wellness floor’, with its pool, hot tub and steam room, is a very explicit response to their brief, and they are delighted with the impact of this on their daily lives.
But we are passionate about showing the impact of good design on people’s well-being in all domestic contexts, and this was our opportunity to showcase an approach which is relevant to so much of the UK’s housing stock. This house, which was once defined by its narrowness and its long plan, is now about flowing spaces, clear sightlines, and light-filled spaces. In this bright, welcoming and comfortable environment, well-being is about much more than just the addition of a pool, hot tub and steam room. This is a house that makes the most of light, space and materials to create a healthy and uplifting home.
From the start, we were inspired by the brief, and by the freedom we were given in interpreting it. The name we gave this project – ‘Victorian Remix’ – speaks not only about the building and its blend of old and new, but also about our role: we felt like DJs remixing old tracks to come up with something contemporary. We’re proud of the finished building, both because it surpassed our clients’ expectations and because it’s an example of what we, as architects, are capable of. But, most of all, we’re proud of showing what’s possible when you successfully combine sensitive restoration and innovation in a domestic setting.
Guarnieri Architects is a design-led, contemporary architecture practice, based in London. Founded by Marco Guarnieri, Guarnieri Architects brings together a group of individuals who are passionate about architecture and who care about the needs of their clients and each individual project, whatever its scale, location, or type.
Guarnieri Architects’ work focuses on improving people’s everyday lives balancing creative thinking with a good degree of pragmatism, avoiding a single minded approach of one or the other. The practice has developed a special sensibility for urban and cultural context and is committed towards making the world a more sustainable place.
Guarnieri Architects was the recipient of the LEAF 2012 Young Architect of the Year Award. Its work has been featured in some of the world’s leading architectural magazines and in the ‘New Arcadians’, a book published in 2012 by Merrell profiling 18 of the most emerging and innovative UK architectural practices.