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Wedderburn Road is taking part in Open House London 2017

Wedderburn Road is taking part in Open House London 2017 - Credit: Will Scott

There’s a delicate balance to be struck between new and old when it comes to transforming Hampstead’s period homes. Here’s how architects Finkernagel Ross get the balance right.

The extension is built almost entirely of glass and is topped with a floating, marble-clad canopy

The extension is built almost entirely of glass and is topped with a floating, marble-clad canopy - Credit: Will Scott

When architects Finkernagel Ross were approached to transform an Arts and Crafts home in Hampstead by adding a modern extension to the rear façade, they must have been apprehensive. There’s a delicate tipping point to be reached when it comes to making interventions in period homes; go too modern and you risk incongruity, take too traditional an approach and your extension can appear like pastiche.

The practice was formed in 2004 by Felix and Catherine Finkernagel in Shoreditch, and they understand the challenges that come with refurbishing period homes.

“Other than technical challenges in relation to maintaining the integrity of the building fabric and structure, which can often have eroded over time and so be delicate and vulnerable, there is the constant question over whether to unify the whole of the property with the design or create contrasts within a balanced co-existence of contemporary and period living,” explains co-director Felix Finkernagel.

“Generally speaking, we prefer the latter as the former can often mean either loss of period features and so loss of the parent building’s integrity, or pastiche replication in new elements added to a property.”

The property was built by 19th Century architect Horace Field in an Arts and Crafts style

The property was built by 19th Century architect Horace Field in an Arts and Crafts style - Credit: Will Scott

At a property on Wedderburn Road in Hampstead, Finkernagel Ross took on the challenge of adding a contemporary extension to a Grade II listed, detached Victorian property, designed in the late 19th century by Horace Field.

The original architect was inspired by the work of Hampstead architect, Richard Norman Shaw, and having founded his own practice in 1882, took on the project of the Wedderburn House flats, and the adjacent Wedderburn Cottage.

Back in the 21st Century, architect Felix Finkernagel is thankful that modern redesigns have strayed away from copying the traditional Victorian materials chosen by Hampstead’s architectural ancestors. “There are numerous examples, especially in Hampstead, where modern, delicate materials used in buildings and extensions complement and strengthen their surroundings and parent buildings, respectively,” says Mr Finkernagel.

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When they took on Wedderburn Road, the Arts and Crafts house already had rear extensions which didn’t fit with the original building, despite utilising similar building materials.

The dark kitchen space was transformed into a timber-panelled ante room inspired by John Soane

The dark kitchen space was transformed into a timber-panelled ante room inspired by John Soane - Credit: Will Scott

In contrast to the closed, rigidly defined spatial delineation of traditional Victorian domestic homes, the clients were after a more open space for informal living and dining. This meant pulling back one extension, and completely reworking the other to restore the original massing of the building.

“The original kitchen and breakfast area towards the rear were dark, awkward spaces incongruous with 21st century habitation. The aim in the design, and the client’s brief, was to create an area where the family could come together to cook, live, eat, laugh and cry, and feel more connected to the rear garden,” says Mr Finkernagel.

With access to the garden, it was imperative that the new space blurred the boundaries between the interior and exterior living spaces. As such, the architects chose glass as the chief building material. Silicon glazing and sliding screens allow light to permeate the space.

“Conceptually the new kitchen extension was to simply encapsulate part of the new terrace and external space, rather than adding to the parent building. It also helped in stressing the idea that the extension was deliberately contrapuntal to the heavy solid brick construction of the listed house.

“Being of its own type and speaking of its own time, the extension - perhaps paradoxically – helps the reinstatement the integrity of the listed building,” explains the architect.

The dematerialised kitchen and dining space instead appears as a delicate, and separate, attachment to the rear of the house, and is topped with a marble-clad canopy which gives the impression of floating atop the structure.

“The marble canopy is designed to appear to be hewn from a solid block, carved into a wedge-shaped monolith; however it floats with no obvious support, which is contrary to its nature or its materiality,” explains Mr Finkernagel.

Typical of period homes, the dark former kitchen with irregular spatial arrangements and window placement also required a cosmetic update. Taking inspiration from Neo-Classical architect John Soane’s breakfast room, of the eponymous Sir John Soane’s Museum, Finkernagel Ross responded with a Soane-inspired ante room.

“John Soane’s breakfast room creates a perfect bisymmetry by arranging the layout to modulate the irregularities in the original space arrangement around the central courtyard,” says Mr Finkernagel. “The domed ceiling and raised soffits and timber panelling and shelving all further reinforce the main around a feature fireplace. Last but not least, the breakfast room is both a space in its own right as well as a pass-through or circulation space,” he goes on.

At Wedderburn Road, the intention was not to recreate Soane’s Neo Classical, bisymmetrical design, rather to inject some of Soane’s original principles into the new layout. Timber-panelled with secret doors, a coved ceiling and pendant lighting, the room is now flooded with light and places the focus on the fireplace.

The new space creates a harmonious transition between the fabric of the old home, and the newer, modern extension. “Furthermore, in a similar way this space has to serve both as circulation or ante space as a space to enjoy in its own right,” adds Mr Finkernagel.

Wedderburn Road is taking part in Open House London later this month. “We have followed Open House London for many years and think it is a fantastic opportunity for anyone to have access to great architecture and design that otherwise would not be possible,” says Mr Finkernagel.

“We put a lot of effort and heart into this project and are proud of it and excited that it is part of this year’s event; we hope that it may inspire or be of interest to others, whether it be fellow architects and designers or anyone interested in buildings, design, architecture and heritage.”

The property will be open to visitors on 16 September. For more information, visit the website.