Is this the most architecturally impressive street in Camden?
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Tucked away off Camden Square, cobbled Murray Mews is an unlikely spot to find a showcase of work by some of the 20th century’s leading architects.
But the quiet residential street in the Camden Square conservation area has been a popular spot with architects since the 1960s and houses a host of small scale Modern residences by big names including Team 4 (Su Brumwell, Wendy Cheesman, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers), Tom Kay and Michael Lewis, whose 1984 house is currently for sale.
Construction of the mews behind the grander town houses in Camden Square was interrupted by the opening of the Midland railway line in the 1860s, with development only resumed after WWII, when recommended planning densities were raised.
Many architects snapped up plots on the mews, often for themselves and their young families to live in. As a result, Murray Mews is an architecture buff’s paradise, displaying a range of architectural solutions to the issues of daylight, privacy and height constraints arising from the narrow, overlooked site.
The mews is probably best known for the three houses by a then newly established Team 4 built between 1963 and 66. They got financial backing from Owen Franklin, the wealthy stepson of the artist Naum Gabo, who lived in number 17.
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Construction of the three dwellings, each with brick cavity walls and concrete floors, was a steep learning curve for the young architects, with a contractor reportedly even substituting black-painted newspaper for a damp proof course at one point.
Following Team 4’s lead, several other architects arrived in the mews with Ian Fraser, who built number 34 in 1967-68 telling Architects’ Journal: “It was a matter of architects gossiping amongst themselves and the word getting round about possible sites.”
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Tom Kay bought the plot for number 22 in 1964, planning to erect a temporary structure before going off travelling. His travels fell through and so his house, directly abutting the street was built using the same materials as Richard Gibson’s house next door at number 20 (1965-69).
The variety of unique 20th-century interpretations of the mews house has seen the street described by enthusiasts as a “cult classic”, where it is possible to chart changing architectural tastes throughout the second half of the 20th century from Modernism, to Post-Modernism and even elements of High Tech - within a 41-house stretch.
Matt Gibberd, director of The Modern House, who have listed the Michael Lewis property at £1,375,000, says: “Murray Mews and its neighbour Camden Mews bookend Camden Square. The street has acted as a canvas for architects since the 1960s.
“It contains a number of outstanding Modern houses, and remains extremely popular with buyers who value good design and a sense of community.”
Michael Lewis built a home for himself and his family to live in in 1984. The three-bedroom house, which has a landscaped front courtyard offers approximately 1,346sq ft of living space. The gardens on Murray Mews are unusually large for mews houses because of the wide plots the properties were built on and this is no exception.
The property was fully refurbished in 2013, with an additional storey, sedum green roof and under-floor heating added.
The newly added top floor reception room has front and back windows – pitched glazing at the front that opens electrically and glazed folding sliding doors at the back that open on to the rear terrace.
Another 1980s build in the street was Sean Madigan and Stephen Donald’s 1988 four-bedroom house undertaken for a developer. Built in a Post-Modern style, the property was hailed as an early example of the ‘luxury’ mews house, with an emphasis on design details and quality materials including second-hand London stock brick, smoothed concrete and steamed beech stairs.
Despite the small number of plots available altogether, construction has continued in the Mews into the 21st century. A new house for Hal Currey built in 2000-02 benefitted from less prescriptive planning regulations than earlier builders and so has a slightly different character to its neighbours with an absence of brick and wide street-facing windows.
Nowadays, many of the houses along the mews have been renovated and extended, often by the original architect or by similarly heavyweight new practices. The 2011 renovation of a brick coach house by Moxon Architects is a case in point.
A black steel fence was added at the front of the property, forming a private courtyard in front of the house, while the interiors were given a thorough, industrial-tinged makeover.
Describing the project, Ben Addy of Moxon Architects told Dezeen: “Murray Mews comprises a uniquely varied and idiosyncratic, but also beautiful, collection of small scale domestic architecture – a concentration of robust one off houses and conversions that nonetheless retains a coherent charm.
“In order to maintain security and privacy to the living areas, steel screens are used for the street facing boundary of the site. These screens also incorporate a bin storage area to reduce visual clutter at street level.”
Another recent project is the renovation of an unremarkable 1950s house by Threefold Architects in 2011-12. The front was transformed with painting and new windows and doors, while the interiors were more or less gutted.
Renee Searle, one of the firm’s directors says: “Unlike many mews, Camden Mews and Murray Mews were never built when Camden Square was masterplanned. Our brief was to give a property that was quite unremarkable in comparison to the other architects’ buildings on the mews a major facelift.
“From a planning perspective it was relatively straightforward – because there’s such a mix of houses, there’s no vernacular on those streets.”