Love triangles? This Tufnell Park home has all the right angles
PUBLISHED: 18:00 15 May 2017
A triangular home from a trio of female architects, this modern Tufnell Park property built on an infill site has been a surprise hit with downsizers
What would it be like to live inside a Toblerone? That’s exactly the question that award winning architects vPPR have answered with their unique, angular project in Tufnell Park. Set on the site of what was once a disused Victorian workshop behind a row of terraced houses stands two dynamic, triangular sloping homes.
Otts Yard is the premier project from Bethnal Green-based von vPPR, and it’s quite a statement for a breakout build. It was acquired at auction in 2009 for £300,000 by two of the architects with the intention of creating a pair of homes for their own use, and was completed in 2013.
So who are the three female directors behind the fittingly triangular project? Tatiana von Preussen is one of the founding members of vPPR, alongside Catherine Pease and Jessica Reynolds. Before setting up vPPR she worked for the company that developed the High Line in Manhattan.
A mostly female architectural firm is still a rarity, and von Preussen believes that the attraction has something to do with the size of the firm. “I’ve spoken to larger practices and they say that they hardly get any women applying,” she says, “and we mainly have women applying so there seems to be something in that for some reason.”
While vPPR didn’t set out to attract women, the university friends set up the practice with an understanding of each other’s needs and their approach is clearly appealing. “Maybe we subconsciously felt that there was equality in setting up with three women and we would have mutual understanding when it came to childcare and maternity leave and that sort of thing, which I think can be a bit imbalanced in a male/female practice,” explains von Preussen. Companies who complain that they don’t hire women because they don’t apply: take note. Taking the pressure off the problems that women disproportionately face in the workplace gets results.
Upon acquiring the site, the architects were faced with a labyrinth of overgrown sheds but could see the potential. “It had quite an amazing feel to it, which was what attracted us to the land,” says von Preussen. The infill site was pennant shaped, which made the division into triangles rather than a traditional box or cubic shape the perfect choice. “It was the most efficient way of dividing the space between the two of us because if you tried to divide it by two you’d be left with these awkward leftover spaces,” she says.
Overlooked by the rear facades of a terrace of period properties, the exterior of the properties have been designed not only to be sensitive to the neighbours’ views, but also to positively add to them. The Otts Yard roofs are living, designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd to be artworks in of themselves. Arranged in a pinwheel structure, the windows look onto a central courtyard to limit nosy neighbouring.
“We worked quite closely with [the neighbours],” says von Preussen, who acknowledges that the oddities of the building could have caused a stir. “Any development is going to annoy someone because anything in London is going to tread on someone’s toes because it’s so tight. Now when we talk to people they just say that they can’t remember what it was like when it wasn’t there. It feels natural.”
Natural was the end goal when it came to choice of materials, selected to reflect the Victorian heritage of the infill site, and blend into the surroundings by merging exterior brickwork with interior white-painted walls. Structurally, the houses are comprised of a timber frame, with plywood panels and supportive steel. Rather than just one roof, each property has four rectangular vaults with roof lights, each of which hides huge beams underneath.
Exterior windows are few and far between. Instead the light comes from light-wells and skylights in the roof that bleach the interior of the bedrooms below with a brilliant natural light and allow the intricacies of the angularity to be illuminated by the movement of the sun as it casts its shadows throughout the day.
Inside, the two bedroom homes feature open plan kitchen and dining spaces, allowing long reaching views across the house, with bedrooms hidden behind the kitchen. Natural light floods the living area by way of a central triangular skylight that lights up the hub of the home. “They’re over the kitchen, which has a double height space,” von Preussen explains, “because we felt that the kitchen was the pivotal part of the house. The kitchen is the centrifuge and everything spins off that.”
The open plan design is a mathematical choice as well as an interior statement. The architects played with perspective in order to create open spaces that feel larger than they are. “When you’re in them, you definitely feel like they’re dynamic spaces but you don’t really have wasted corners, everything is used,” says von Preussen. The overall effect is one of depth cultured by the fractal pattern of the plans.
Angularity dominates the central motif of the house wherever possible. Skylights are three-sided while tiles and pale timber flooring playfully replicating the triangular pattern in the kitchen and bathrooms. Geometric patterns are carried through the stylistic choices of the home, as well as incorporated into the dominant structural fabric, creating a holistic vision and innovative spatial design.
The detached homes benefit from a tranquil location in a private gated yard, and feature a private garden to the rear. This is just why von Preussen is in no hurry to sell her property adjacent to the one on the market. “It’ll be a really huge wrench when I do finally sell it because it’s a very special place. It’s a sort of oasis because you’re in the middle of the block surrounded by greenery, you could be in the suburb or somewhere in the country,” she says.
The new owners will have their architect neighbour for a while, then. As for vPPR, Otts Yard has put them on the architectural map. “We seem to have made a name for ourselves doing these kind of sites,” says von Preussen, who adds that the project made her aware of the attractiveness of infill sites. “What’s really interesting is that these sites were always considered really unviable by other developers and councils. No one would have touched them because it’s so complicated,” she explains, “but because land values have gone up so much they’re suddenly becoming viable so even councils are now looking at sites like this.”
As for who von Preussen hopes will move in, the architect envisaged a young professional couple originally, but was surprised to find that it was the older market who came knocking. “There’s something in these infill sites because they usually have to be predominantly on one floor,” she explains. Given that the sitting room is the only room upstairs, the houses are perfect for downsizers who might fear for future mobility. “These are the people with the most money at the moment, the over sixties, they want to release a bit of equity probably because they don’t want it rattling around in a big family house and they want to stay in the area they’ve always lived in.”
What’s more, von Preussen argues that marketing for older couples has undergone a change in the last few years, and that older downsizers’ demands are changing. “They’re hip, they want cool coffee and they’ve got money to spend. They’re not really that old and they’re still cool. It’s funny that that’s a really big market out there.”
The benefit of that for von Preussen is that she hopes an older couple might cherish and look after the property more. “I feel so strongly about the house and I love it so much, I would really hope that whoever took it on loved it as much as I do and understood the design decisions I’ve made and wanted to look after it. Someone who had enough time to tend the garden and so on.
“In a way they’re the perfect kind of person to take it over because they would really love it and look after it.”