The Hadley family had lived in their Walthamstow house for four years and needed more space to accommodate the growing family – five of them were squeezed into a small two-bedroom terrace house. They loved their house and didn’t want to leave the area, where they had become a part of the community, the client worked in the local children’s centre and children were at the local school. Their brief was to extend the house towards the garden and provide extra living space, and a bedroom, with the view that in the future the existing living room could also become a bedroom.
The client is my wife’s oldest friend and you are often warned that working with friends and family can be difficult, but in this case it led to a truly collaborative approach. I worked closely with the client to create a beautiful, practical space, which has the flexibility to change with the family’s needs. The client’s brother designed the front gate and fences, her father designed the garden and she got friends to make a central light fitting and the curtains for the main bedroom.
The central idea for the project centered on how the new staircase would work in tying the existing house to the new extension. We thought it would be fun to create an up and over feel to the house, linking the mid landing to the garden with views. We then developed the main concept for the house, of three timber containers, sitting next to and on top of one another, extending the living space and opening it out onto the garden.
We developed the concept further to create different volumes, accommodating the various functions of the house in an informal stack of boxes placed next to each other like packing crates. The house is built out of timber with a timber cladding (Siberian Larch). The larch cladding was mounted onto an oak timber frame made up of lattice structures which were so beautiful that during the build it was tempting to leave parts of the frame exposed on the inside of the extension. However, we decided to stay true to the concept of a wrapped timber box.
The decision to use timber, rather than glass or brick, gives the building warmth and reflects the suburban context, close to Epping Forest and water reservoirs, blending with the timber sheds and wooden fences in the surrounding gardens. The timber contrasts with the brick of the original house and differentiates the two spaces with the new timber staircase linking them. Inside the two spaces flow together but we kept the feel of the old house by keeping some of its existing features. The brick arch, which was previously on the outside of the house, over the back door, is still visible and contrasted with the white painted brick wall.
The north façade, facing the garden, has an asymmetrical geometry, with its two planes cranked to catch the evening sun and to hold the space in the garden. A rhythm of projecting fins reveals a subtle layering of the façade, which comes to life as the sun projects shadows across it. Vertical fins are contrasted by a linear walkway, which serves as a bench connecting to the garden.
As one of the clients was a film-maker the use of light was very important in the design, the garden is north facing and the geometry of the extension is cranked to get as much light as possible into the spaces. The timber fins on the outside of the house catch the shadows, creating a play on light as the sun moves round. The shape of the extension also contains the garden so it doesn’t really feel as though much garden space has been lost. There is an interesting play of light in the way the shadows moves up the staircase and contrasts with the artificial lighting in the house. The client and I managed to stick to their extremely tight budget throughout the project and we employed an excellent team of carpenters that built the whole project. We decided to keep the original kitchen, which is now opens onto the extended space, instead of being a small galley kitchen with a back door to the garden. The original plan also included a new bathroom but this would have brought the costs up too high, so we decided to install the plumbing and design the space in such as way that it can be easily added at a later date. We have also planned to allow for a future sedum roof and so the roof structure and drainage can be adapted to take this at a future date.
We designed and managed the build so that the family could continue to live in the house throughout, saving money on expensive rented accommodation. Apart from the additional space, which was the original aim of the project, the client is particularly pleased with the flexibility and the different ways the house can now be configured. The family often moves furniture around, creating different spaces within the main volume. Two of the children currently share a room and the original small, downstairs sitting room, is still a snug TV room. But as they get older and need more of their own space, and less communal space, it can easily be made into a bedroom with the living space all concentrated on the new extension. It is a home that is designed to adapt of time to a flexible set of needs to ensure that the family can remain in their community for a long time.
Sustainability and materials
The structure is framed in oak and clad in Siberian Larch. The larch is from sustainable sources and supplied by Vastern Timber. The oak frames were sourced from local timber suppliers. The larch is mounted onto battens fixed to Panelvent sheathing boards, which brace the structure but allow for a water vapour open construction allowing the structure to breath and reduces the possibility of condensation building up. Panelvent is made from wood chips and forest thinnings and combines low formaldehyde emissions in use with low embodied energy in manufacture.
The folding sliding doors and windows where constructed out of oak and are top hung. The doors are easy to open and fold away entirely to allow the garden to become part of the living space. The floor was constructed out of a hardwearing birch plywood which was sealed with an acrylic coating which is both easy to clean and protects the surface from any moisture ingress.
Existing openings inside the structure are framed in MDF, painted white to blend in with existing brickwork, also painted white, to reflect as much light as possible into the interior. A low step made of thermowood decking links the house to the garden and provides a low bench for seating.
The new staircase constructed from birch plywood connects to the mid landing of the existing staircase, giving the up and over feel, which provided the original inspiration for the extension.