Abstract In the centre of London, at the upper floors of a Monumental Victorian Terraced building, a Grade II listed un-modernized maisonette apartment, has been fully re-designed and retrofitted to achieve the highest living standards and provide all the comforts of a contemporary living.
The property is in London ‘Maida Vale’, a mostly residential Conservation Area within the Westminster City Council, and consists of a three-storey top floors apartment, which faces a public road at the front and a beautiful private communal garden, enclosed by similar residential buildings, at the rear.
This area of Maida Vale has an extreme elegance, and buildings, although their monumental nature, appears to be anyway at the human scale. I was impressed since the first time I walked around these streets, and a few dualities gave me essential inspirations for the project: the gentle contrast between the more rigorous elegance of the building fronts on the main roads and the honest chasteness of their rears, which generates the privacy given by the similarity against the greater openness toward the shared green areas; the research of the light through big openings, the view of a more ‘urban’ London through the roofs on one side and a more natural and cosy scenario on the other side.
The project layout is based on a transition that moves from the recovery of the cellular floor plan typical in these kind of dwellings, at the third floor (entrance level) toward a more open and contemporary layout at the upper floor and the mezzanine. A transition, that, both for will and for need, required a full interior refurbishment with complete interior remodelling of the spaces, structural strengthening and installations, full technological upgrade and redecoration.
We developed the design through a contemporary approach with the clean lines of the simple geometrical elements: spaces, volumes, the roof, the staircase, the mezzanine bridge, the bespoke furnitures,.. at the same time, especially at the third floord, integrating and enhancing a few other historical elements: windows, ceiling cornices, doors and architraves..
Materials and colours have been chosen to give light and elegance to the spaces. The ‘white’ that reverbs the natural light appeared to be the appropriate choice then for walls, bespoke furniture and corian tops, furniture volumes are in this way visibly delicate, leaving the perception of the overall house balanced. The European natural oak treated with just a gentle wax appeared to be the best choice to give a natural continuity through the different levels and the stairs, blending original features and contemporary design. For the ensuite bathroom the porcelain cladding similar to the travertine stone resulted a balanced choice to enhance the softness of the natural light, whereas for the for the shared one, a more concrete/grey stone texture has been chosen to enhance the minimalist monolithic perception into this room. Lighting, especially coming from natural daylight, has been indeed a relevant element of our design. The fourth floor has been designed to enjoy the natural daylight through the different hours of the day. The six opening on the double pitch roof filter the direct sun rays during the whole day, and the bright colours of the room and the glazed elements enhance the light reverb effect. Artificial lighting has been well studied as well, coordinating into a Lutron system a wide variety of light configurations and devices control, for as better comfort and a more efficient energy saving.
The Project (Full Description, curiosities and details) The Maida Vale Conservation Area and the property.
‘Maida Vale’ is a mostly residential Conservation Area, located within the Westminster City Council.
The area consists of many large late-Victorian and Edwardian blocks of mansion flats which sometimes surround large internal communal gardens. Buildings are generally three-four storeys high, plus mansard roofs; their fronts are in some instances made of bricks with white architectural elements (porches, bay windows, cornices, balconies, etc.), while in other instances, fully white, decorated with white painted render and stucco.
The residential unit which has been refurbished is an apartment on three levels, located at top of a monumental Victorian terrace building built in 1860 and since the 1970 under the English Heritage Protection Plan, as listed Grade II. (See Appendix A).
Design: The starting point and the potentialities:
I have been always fascinated by these monumental residential buildings, so white and decorated with stucco, cornices, balconies and entrance porches on their fronts and at their rear - if we may call it so- show a just apparent simplicity made of exposed brickworks walls sometimes interspersed by white floor cornices and doors and windows frames.
The first impression I had the first time visiting this area of Maida Vale was of an extreme elegance, made of the monumental nature of the buildings and the streets which appears anyway at the human scale. The proportions of the streets, mostly residential and quite often with trees on one side, are gently balanced and wide to be well lit by the natural light.
In this area a peculiarity of the residential complexes is given by their way of irregularly shape city blocks that externally define the main circulation system and internally enclose broad and well kept private gardens, shared among the residents of the block, which generally host rare trees, plants and flowers, squirrels and nice flyers.
Our Building belongs to one of these city blocks, formed by a variety of 3-4-storey residential buildings, enclosing a marvellous internal communal garden over 300m long and more than 60m wide.
These elements and a few dualities gave me the essential inspiration for the project: the gentle contrast between the more rigorous elegance of the building fronts on the main roads and the honest chasteness of their rears, which generates the privacy given by the similarity against the greater openness toward the shared green areas; the research of the light through big openings, the view of a more ‘urban’ London through the roofs on one side and a more natural and cosy scenario on the other side.
Philosophy: The design philosophy of the project, inspired by these dualities, is based on the development of a transition that moves from the recovery of the historical and spatial features typical in these kind of dwellings toward a more open and contemporary layout at the upper floor and the mezzanine. A transition, that both for will and for need, required a full interior refurbishment with complete interior remodelling of the spaces, structural strengthenings and installations, full technological upgrade and redecoration. layout: The internal spaces, redesigned to suit the contemporary needs of a young family, have been organized on three main levels and developed through an upward circulation: - The third floor (entrance level), which retains a cellular floor plan, typical in these house units, hosts the master bedroom with the en-suite bathroom and walk-in wardrobe, a second bedroom, a study, a shared bathroom and the circulation spaces. - The fourth floor (attic), a wide open space that enhance the whole perception of the characteristic double pitched roof, includes the living area, the dining area, the kitchen and an independent furniture block which in a discreet way ‘hide’ a small but useful WC at this level. - The Mezzanine bridge, completely open on both sides to leave the particular roof shape visible and to maximize the amount of natural light into the open space.
In the redesign of the spaces, a relevant element has been the study of the natural light into the house through the different months of the year. In particular, at the third floor the main bedroom and bathroom have been located on the east front to enjoy the beautiful morning daylight and at the fourth floor the sequence lounge-dining-kitchen has been oriented to have always the optimal natural light through the different hours of the day. This in order to favour the direct daylight in the kitchen and in the dining in the first part of the day and to have the smoother sunsets light of the afternoons in the living area, directly connected to the external terrace.
Design: The design has been developed through a contemporary approach with the clean lines of the simple geometrical elements: spaces, volumes, the roof, the staircase, the mezzanine bridge, the bespoke furnitures,.. at the same time, especially at the third floord, integrating and enhancing a few other historical elements: windows, ceiling cornices, doors and architraves..
To be noted: - The almost triple height perceptible going up on the staircase that leads to the fourth floor. - The main staircase that going down from the fourth to the third floor gets wider with its trapeze shaped steps allowing to locate plants and artworks. - The visual lightness of the mezzanine (only 21cm thickness for a span longer than 6m and a floor area of 12 sqm!) with its glass balustrades that allow the full view of the living spaces also when seated on the chaise longue. - The ‘floating’ feeling of the cantilevered staircase that leads to the mezzanine with its cantilevered glazed corner. - The reduced height of the dining area under the mezzanine, which makes it cosy. - The tall units of the kitchen which are combined with the toilet into a single regular prism which is visually inserted underneath of the mezzanine, leaving the perception of the particular roof shape free. - The optimized design of the bathrooms, kitchen and fitted furnitures.
Kitchen: It has been designed to be comfortable, practical and well lit.. The short units against the roof slope consist of white sprayed mdf cabinets with an over 6m long corian worktop which has a corian sink undermounted in the proximity of one of the two windows.
The tall units against the side wall provide a considerable amount of space for food and bottles storage, and they host the ovens and the fridge/freezer units, which are openable from the kitchen side only.
The Island which includes an induction coker and a second sink, provides also a practical breakfast bar, ideal also to serve the dining area, for fingers food or drinks.
Shared bathroom: It has been developed with clean and minimalist approach through a stone and monolithic appearance which enhance in the small space just a few white volumes and the sanitary ware.
Walls and floors have been covered with exceptionally big (3x1m) thin porcelain slabs only 3.5mm thick, strengthened on their back with a fibreglass net, and joints have been coordinated with the design geometries.
The balance in the room is governed by the horizontality of the two main elements the white bespoke corian sink and the long corian bathtub top which runs also underneath of the sink to provide space for towel storage and bath products and to protect the undermounted bath.
The width of the wall cabinet mirror unit, subdivided in two main doors only, double the perception of the room dept and make this room cosy and well lit even without direct natural light.
All the elements, excepted for the bath, have been wall mounted, to give more freedom and to make easier and more practical the normal daily clearing.
Ensuite bathroom: The design has been developed here to generate a real ‘room’ in continuity with the master bedroom.
The engineered natural oak boards extend infact from the bedroom into this bathroom to stop just where the shower are is and the walls here as well have been cladded with big porcelain tiles just up to the height of 2.20m, height of the bathroom door, in order to leave free the upper part which in continuity with the master bedroom has cornices installed.
Here as well the space has been optimized for its best use: the double sink in white corian has been set into a wall niche generated by the chimney shape, the shower tray oriented along the short edge of the room, and a make-up area with purpose installed lighting and a white leather seat.
All the elements have been here as well wall mounted to allow an easier clearing of the room and to enhance the perception of continuity with the adjacent bedroom.
Toilet at the 4th floor: Very small but extremely useful this toilet has everything, including an entrance lobby which gives more privacy and integrated larder units for products storage. Walk-in wardrobe Designed to be easily accessible from the bedroom it provides spaces for clothes and accessories in conjunction with the wardrobe units in the room, becoming a proper changing room when needed.
Materials and colours: Because we could work just in a marginal way on the existing windows openings, due to the artistic/historical grade of listing of the property, materials and colours have been chosen to give light and elegance to the spaces. The ‘white’ that reverbs the natural light appeared the appropriate choice therefore for walls, bespoke furniture and corian tops. At the same time this choice makes the furnitures volumes visibly delicate, leaving the perception of the overall house clean.
The European natural oak treated with just a gentle wax appeared the best choice to give a natural continuity through the different levels and the stairs, blending original features and contemporary design.
For the ensuite bathroom the porcelain cladding similar to the travertine stone resulted a balanced choice to enhance the softness of the natural light, whereas for the for the shared one, a more concrete/grey stone texture has been chosen to enhance the minimalist monolithic perception into this room.
Lighting (natural and artificial) Lighting, especially coming from natural daylight, has really been the relevant element of our design. The fourth floor has been composed to enjoy the natural daylight through the different hours of the day. The six opening on the double pitch roof filter the direct sun rays during the whole day, and the bright colours of the room and the glazed elements enhance the light reverb effect.
This perception gives an incredibly pleasant feeling, in a country well know for its not ideal and variable weather conditions…
The artificial lighting has been studied through different configurations according to a clear philosophy: General Lighing Ambient lighting (light configurations) Specific lighting.
The wide use of ‘Lutron’ technologies for lighting configuration management allows an easy planning of the many lighting configuration.
To be noted: - At the third floor we preferred ceiling downlights whereas at the fourth floor open space we prefered to keep the characteristic roof slope clean of any light. - Lighing underneath of the mezzanine make particularly pleasant and cosy the dining area - The small led lights at the side of the cantilevered steps enhance the lightness of this ramp
Domotic - The whole house has been equipe with wireless ‘lutron’ technologies. - All the rooms have acoustic speakers connected to a server and wireless to iPads and iPhones, from which lights, blinds and other devices are remote controlled.
The furniture and the design elements. To be noted: - The Philippe Starcks mirror in the masterbedroom at the third floor, located in the focal point at the end of the corridor walkway. - The glazed bookcase on the mezzanine, which allows the view through it maximizing the amount of natural light into the space. And toward the kitchen. - The floor lamp on the mezzanine with its soft dimmable light.