Lateral Thinking: how this architect gave one a family a whole new home at the same address
PUBLISHED: 09:30 12 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:35 12 December 2016
Come for the extension, stay for the renovation. How Robert Hirschfield Architects helped one family unlock the potential for light and space in their NW11 family home.
What do you do when you don’t want to move house but you’re running out of space? The obvious answer is an extension, but converting a loft or tacking on an extra room or two at the back isn’t always the most efficient solution. This is where the holistic architect comes in.
The Open House in NW11 was once distinctly closed. The family living there had called it home for over a decade, and with the children now in their teens the need for more space was pressing.
In 2014 they approached Robert Hirschfield Architects to design a rear extension. However, it soon became apparent that in order to release more light and space within the existing structure they would have to think vertically as well as laterally.
“One thing we try and do as an architecture practice is to consider the space not just in isolation but in terms of how it actually relates to other spaces with the house and how the floors interact with each other,” explains Robert Hirschfield, who founded the practice in 2008.
Plans were drawn up to radically redefine the internal space of the house to dovetail into the extension.
Creating a new house within its existing framework required a major operation.
“The client realised that because we were attacking all corners of their house they were not going to be able to live through it,” says Hirschfield. In 2015 the family moved out into rental accommodation for the best part of the year to allow the property to be completely transformed.
The family have returned to a completely different house. The internal rooms now stretch up to the loft space, where a new bedroom with an en suite enjoys its own private terrace that’s been neatly and discretely carved into the pitched roof.
Connecting the levels is a sweeping stairway that’s a contemporary twist on a grand baroque swirl. The helical balustrade twists through the double height void, through which hexagonal pendant lamps hang.
“For us the staircase is always a fascinating feature,” says Hirschfield. “It connect spaces vertically and visually. It acts as a powerful aesthetic statement and also a unifying link to the upward/downward flow of the space, dramatically liberating the layout.”
Installing the staircase was a carefully handled process. Hirschfield’s practice designed and created a 3D model to help the clients visualise the plan and worked closely with the staircase fabricators Fowler & Co. It was made in the workshop then assembled on site, with the handrail made from pieces of laminated wood pressed into a curved mould.
“The underside is clad with timber and that was a huge technical challenge,” explains Hirschfield. “Each piece acts like a helicopter blade, twisting in two directions.”
The result is a sinuous shape that’s given continuity by the use of treated hand carved oak for both the underside and the ribbon-like handrail.
“The deisgn team and the client had good fun doing it,” says Hirschfield.
Careful consideration was paid to the bespoke joinery elements throughout the house. The wood grain of the staircase was carried through in the flooring and worktops, including the dark, tabletop style kitchen island.
Along the ground floor the space flows through to the glazed rear extension, with chevron patterned timber flooring lining the sunken living room.
“The timber floor offers a warmth in its materiality, says Hirschfield.
“Then at the upper level where the kitchen is located, the floor surface reverts back to stone, which is something that follows through from the hall so the timber is a surface treatment in the same way that the joinery also wraps around.”
As well as connecting the interior elements of the house, the project was orientated towards bringing the outside in and allowing the family to enjoy their newly re-landscaped garden.
“It was about making better spaces,” explains Hirschfield.
“The design sets up a reframing of a series of views through the kitchen into the sunken living area and into the garden beyond.”
Sinking the living area gives it definition and creates extra ceiling height to the space, whilst integrated skylights invite even more daylight into the house. A recessed seat against one glazed wall allows the sitter to enjoy the outside and inside space simultaneously.
The result is a house that has had its dark and cramped interior opened out to its best advantage.
The family were thrilled with the creativity of the solution.
“They have since told us that we have transformed their house whilst also retaining the feel of a family home,” Hirschfield says.
“We have created a brand new house at the existing address, which I think is an exciting result.”
So what was the trickiest part of prizing open the house?
“That’s a good question! It would be transforming a relatively dark house into a home filled with natural light. One of the most exciting things about being an architect is that you do end up with this physical manifestation of what was originally just an idea.”
Photography by Matt Clayton
Robert Hirschfield Architects
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