Because our budget was so tight, we planned to carry out as much work as possible ourselves and limited our palette to primary materials. We found these limits liberating rather than restricting: there is great poetry in practical things, so we reveled in finding simple means of assembling the house.
It is built inside and out in slim-format Dutch engineering brick, a robust material with a delicate black glaze. Interior structure and window reveals are in raw larch, while polished concrete floors flow between each of the rooms.
One small luxury we allowed was to buy two slabs of bookmatched Statuarietto marble, which we used throughout house as a reflective contrast to the brick walls. The whole design revolves around this play of light & dark; carefully controlled moments of intensity and quiet shadow. We wanted to create interior spaces with maximum emotional effect.
The bright first floor bathroom has a huge sheer glass ceiling (which needed to be craned into place) that contrasts with the intense atmosphere of the living spaces. We created the sensation of being outside; showering in full sunshine or bathing under the stars.
We playfully carved space into the walls for everyday clutter; the TV and its cables are concealed behind a black glass wall, the loo roll has its own marble niche, the washing machine is in a secret cupboard behind the loo, discreet storage fills every spare corner while the kitchen extract is buried into the brickwork.
In order to give a sense of space to what could feel like very constrained rooms, it was important for us to modulate the section and vary the ceiling heights. By changing the floor level and building roofs at different heights we created a range from 3m in the living room to 2.1m in the entrance area. This allowed us to give each space its own sound quality and sense of cosiness or airiness.
Just building a house doesn’t make a home: we also designed our fittings and furnishings; the minimalist Zero larch bedframe; kitchen cabinetry in elm, stainless steel, marble and spray lacquered matt doors; The Shadow Lamp, a granite and laser-cut timber table light; soft furnishings using amazing African fabrics, Nyaradza bedspread and Akwasidee cushions.
HOW WE MADE THE PROJECT HAPPEN
The Shadow House is our own home, but is also an experiment in making a generic small city house. While working for other practices, we designed luxurious houses for private clients and worked on complex urban social housing developments; we were keen to extend this experience into building more modest single houses.
Finding a site was an exhausting process. We cycled around London, exploring the backstreets and peering over fences, looking for a forgotten scrap of land. We knew we could only afford a site that was too challenging for developers or ‘Grand Designs’ hopefuls.
We eventually discovered a derelict parking garage - home to rats, foxes and local junkies - just behind the Kings Cross goods yards in NW1. At only 390sqft, it seemed almost impossibly small. Our task was made even harder by its location in the fiercely-protected Camden Square Conservation Area, and by the previous owner’s failed attempts to win Planning Permission. We knew the project could only become a reality through our skills of designing in historic areas, and negotiating with neighbours and local Planners.
Our time and energy were our greatest resources, so we re-drew the design constantly to eliminate costs, and carried out much of the work with our own bare hands.