Setting up shop: how a derelict building in Crouch End has been transformed
- Credit: Archant
When two architects stumbled across a shop of horrors at a bargain price they realised they were on to something. Discover how they turned a Victorian nightmare into a modern gem
Walking down Cardwell Road, you might think to pop in at the corner shop as the road curves to the right, only to be surprised to find that it’s not a shop at all. What was once a dilapidated newsagent’s, boarded up and shut down, is now a light-filled, retro-modern family home
Cardwell Terrace is the work of Tufnell Park architects, Jim McCulloch and Neil Startin, and was completed in December 2015
The current six bedroom contemporary-meets-classic design property is far from the nightmarish shop of horrors the architects found in July a year earlier.
“We were faced with a shop that had been disused for five years, with all the old shop fittings and fluorescent strip lighting in the ceiling,” says McCulloch.
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“In most people’s eyes it was probably quite a depressing scene, but our eyes lit up. It was exactly what we were hoping to see.”
Pulling apart the old sheets of cardboard, they found a boarded up sash window, and lurking down in the basement was the entrance to a little courtyard at the back of the property.
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“We were quite gobsmacked really,” McCulloch says. “We had no idea what to expect, and then we just happened upon this place and we were overawed by the space on offer for the price.”
On the market for just £820,000, nobody had taken the opportunity sooner because the shop was not a viable business. Although prior approval had been obtained by the previous owner, it was difficult to obtain a commercial mortgage.
Complex commercial and residential property laws proved a challenge for the architects, but not one that could hinder them.
“It wasn’t an insurmountable problem, but other people may have just walked away,” McCulloch says. Once legislative restrictions had been overcome, the architects were ready to blow away the cobwebs.
Having discovered an antique postcard of the building showing the original grocers’ shop-front as it was in 1883, the architects were adamant that the original Victorian features should be preserved where possible.
“There wasn’t a massive amount,” McCulloch explains. “But there were two really nice cast-iron columns that were structurally and originally Victorian, so both of these were retained as part of the new design.”
The most eye-catching feature of the house was, McCulloch acknowledges, an afterthought. A bright orange spiral staircase connects the lower floors through a raised ground floor, pulled back from the glass front to allow light to flood the basement and bringing the living spaces together. The colour has become a feature in the house, with orange tiling in the kitchen added to match the orange chairs already in place.
“It isn’t everywhere, it is quite subtle but it brings the whole design together,” he says.
Although the architects didn’t set out to design the property with a family in mind, it seems that they can’t keep the little ones away from the pops of orange all over the house. “Our friends’ kids absolutely love it; they make a beeline for it.” It’s not just families that have been praising the space. “Every time you pop out of the door somebody says, ‘oh, you’ve done a great job. It’s really nice to see someone living in it and using it.’”
As befits a house inhabited by architects, the current furniture is carefully chosen to combine personality with design credentials. The Ercol table is surrounded by retro-neon chairs, whilst other gems such as a miniature cabinet were sourced in local antique shops and online specifically for the property.
“We like mixing and matching what we see as design-classic stuff from several different eras with more contemporary stuff which is brand new,” he says. McCulloch brought his grandmother’s bedroom suite and art-deco chairs with him, adding a personal touch.
Since the building is a somewhat strange shape, with fan-shaped rooms and a curved outer wall, McCulloch acknowledges that the task was daunting at first.
“Trying to make those rooms work was a challenge, but it was something we relished in a way.” They did so with style, using the flat walls to host furniture, whilst the large windows allow the light to flood in.
It’s not just this property that is making innovative use of disused commercial space. McCulloch believes that the attitudes of councils are changing regarding converting commercial spaces into residential properties.
“It works for certain properties, and I think they’re now judging them on their own merits.” The property also has planning permission for a roof terrace which would offer views of the skyline, stretching from nearby Hampstead Heath to the City.
Six months of graft and £150,000 later, how do the architects feel about their creation?
“People would say it’s quirky,” McCulloch says, “but I’d say it’s us, and it’s quite a reflection of both our personalities.”
One year on from completion, both architects have left their London jobs with the hopes of finding a larger scale project in the countryside, some holiday cottages perhaps.
Upon reflection, is was the moment they walked into the disused shop that set them on this path.
“It was a dream at that stage, and it has really spurred us on to do the next dream.”