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Elmhurst Avenue

Elmhurst Avenue

Iguana Architects
London, United Kingdom | View Map
Project Year
Private Houses

Elmhurst Avenue

Iguana Architects as Project Architect and Contract Administrator

Using the principles of Biophilic design we created a new and improved home for our musical clients and their growing family. Maximizing natural daylight, integration of a green roof, use of natural materials and textures were all part of our health and wellbeing design strategy for the family. In using these principles to design the new loft, rear extension and refurbishment of almost the entire interior gave the clients a home that they have fallen in love with. We are very pleased to have pushed the boundaries of the planning system to achieve this unique home.

The expanded description:

I was still working at Exploration Architecture (2017) when I was contacted by my first employer, (post professional qualification) Sebastian Sandler of XUL Architecture. Knowing that I was interested in taking on a side project of my own, he told me that good friends of his were interested in adding a rear extension to their home. The job was too small for his practice to take on and he felt that I might be interested. Without hesitation I agreed, and optimistically set up Iguana Architects the next day, despite not having met the potential clients.

The clients semi-detached property was a two story 1930's style home, that had a glass conservatory added to it some 20 years prior to them buying the property. Whilst adding lots of light, the conservatory was falling apart. It was freezing in winter, stiflingly hot in summer. There were several leaks, many of the window seals had gone and I was later told that one of the doors had had to be screwed permanently on having suddenly decided to fall off, narrowly missing one of their children. It was clear that they needed something to be done.

When I met the clients, I felt an immediate connection with them. We started to meet regularly to talk about what they were hoping to achieve and it became clear that they were open to building something quite unique, rather than just a box on the back of the house. Despite a small budget they also wanted to stretch to building a loft extension with two bedrooms and a family bathroom in addition to refurbishing parts of the first floor. This was exciting as I felt I could create something that pushed the boundaries architecturally and would be an excellent launching pad for my company. The big challenge, however, was meeting their brief within their budget, which was only £180,000.

Having seen a number of extensions and loft conversions, their expectations were that they could only afford a square box extension with a couple of roof lights and an equally standard loft conversion. That day we decided to take a risk together to design the most fantastic project possible and to then spend the time finding a contractor that would take on the project because of its design ambition and the potential marketing benefit. The concept that we developed was an asymmetrical butterfly roof that would allow us to achieve undulating tall ceilings as well as being able to receive the morning and evening light, whilst ensuring that no privacy was compromised for them or their neighbours - a significant challenge with a north east facing garden.

Iguana Architects is driven to develop biophilic projects, we therefore incorporated a green roof and tried to use as many natural materials and textures as possible. Biophilia translates from Greek meaning ‘Love of Life’. It seeks to create built spaces that mimic natural environments, reconnecting people and nature to fulfil our natural affiliation for the biological world. This design approach has the capacity to improve our physical and mental wellbeing, resulting in increased creativity, energy levels and reduced stress.

It was a cold week in January when planning permission was granted and simultaneously when the clients discovered they were expecting their third baby! The goal posts shifted and having previously been relaxed about getting the detailed drawings and specifications to the point of being ready to build, we suddenly had to get the entire build done and dusted by the end of the summer. At the same time my wife and I were a short two months away from expecting our second child. It was clear that holding down a full-time job, whilst trying to develop the designs for this highly bespoke project on the weekends wasn’t going to cut it. Several family discussions later and with a giant leap of faith, I submitted my resignation letter to my employer and began working on my practice full time. The stakes couldn’t really have been any higher for me.

From the outset of the detailed design process the clients were heavily involved in how they wanted the interior to look. The clients and I spent hours trawling through interior decor magazines, raiding tile stores and scouring Pinterest, putting together the elements that the clients liked and creating their ideal decor. Looking now at the final result, I have no doubt that the project looks as great as it does in part due to their consistent involvement. It is also why I am very lucky to also call the clients my friends. As we started to look for kitchen suppliers, we quickly realised that the ‘dream’ kitchen was either unaffordable or a cheaper option limited and restrictive in its design. This rather depressing reality reminded me of one of my favourite quotes “The difference between good and bad architecture is the time you spend on it” David Chipperfield. I was already all in on this project, so I decided to offer to design the kitchen to the clients for free knowing that we could create a bespoke design and then work hard with a joiner to create the finished article.

Blending inspiration images from our joint Pinterest account and the beautiful colours the clients had found (Dulux Proud Peacock and the Crown trade historic Victorian Eclectic 4) I created a bespoke kitchen design that surpassed the client’s expectations of what was possible with in the budget. The colour palette of teal, yellow, concrete and birch faced ply, ended up running through the house and influenced the choice of tiles in the first-floor bathroom giving the house a beautiful light and colourful feel. Finding a contractor that could fulfil our expectations wasn’t easy. The theory was that we would find a contractor that would see the potential of having a bespoke project and interior design on their books so that they would be able to use it as leverage for future work. After meeting with a number of contractors we finally found one that would work with us and given that they also had a sister woodworking company we knew that they could pull the job off.

In June, the clients and the kids (otherwise known as demanding little clients) moved out of the house whilst the contractors worked at an incredible pace to meet the fast approaching deadline. Miraculously, just two weeks after the clients baby boy arrived, and only one week after the due completion date, they managed to move in to their newly rebuilt home. Mission complete!

Considering the bespoke nature of the project, with such a tight budget, the birth of two new babies (three if you count our contractors wife also giving birth half way through the build!), the setting up of a new practice and just a 4 month construction program, its a wonder that any of us stayed sane, but, we did, and I’m delighted to have delivered on such a fantastic project. A busy family home can be quite chaotic, and part of our mission was to create a beautiful biophilic space that the family could feel relaxed and rejuvenated in. It’s not often that all the elements of a build come together to work so well, but on this occasion they really did. Indeed, it’s been such a success that we are now working on three other properties on the same street!

Who are the clients and what's interesting about them?

With one of the clients being an amazing opera singer and the other being a fantastic conductor I knew immediately that they would be a very creative couple to work with. Like most hardworking parents they had little time to spare but they were extraordinarily dedicated to the project and spent countless hours working with us to achieve their perfect home and all of this whilst they expecting their third child. I think what is really interesting here is that a real collaboration and bond was formed between the architect and the clients. Not only did this result in a fantastic project for the family but it has created a real friendship. This is what a successful project should look like.

What was the brief?

"I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best." Oscar Wilde.

In addition to this wonderful quote, the clients asked for a home design that would help them try to find some sort of relaxation and calm, views to nature and to get natural daylight in the mornings and afternoons. A challenge when you consider that this is a north facing house.

The formal brief was to create a 5m rear extension and open plan kitchen, dining and living area, but the extension had to allow for morning and afternoon light. In addition we had to add two additional bedrooms in the loft as the family were expecting their third child. All of this and the internal refurbishment had to be done under the £200,000 mark which was a bit of challenge

Project Credits
Project Architect and Contract Administrator
Product Spec Sheet

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