img(height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="")

Artefact revamps and extends former council house in Islington

Header Image

Daniel Marmot

Pirouette House combines open-plan living with niches for individual activities, adding a distinctive new architectural language to a nondescript context

Tell us about the project 

The project was built for a young family with three children, who were keen to remain in the Islington area where they had been renting for several years. They purchased this ex-local authority house in the Grove Estate with the intention of expanding it to accommodate more generous living spaces and a new ground-floor bedroom. They were keen to retain the open-plan living arrangement but also to have spaces and niches for individual activities.

The Grove Estate was built in the 1980s and comprises rows of identikit single-aspect houses, accessed via a warren of narrow passageways and flanked by blank brick walls. This nondescript context provided an opportunity to introduce a distinctive new architectural language.

Our project creates a new timber cloister made from deep red timber fins. This unfurls in two directions around the garden, enclosing it into a courtyard. Internally, the kitchen, dining and living spaces pirouette around a triangular blue column, which marks the transition between old and new. The extension is designed to be low cost and low carbon and has transformed the living environment.

Credit: Nick Dearden

How was the planning process?​ 

The estate is on the edge of the St Mary Magdalene conservation area in Holloway. Due to the estate’s peculiar configuration, the extension is largely hidden from the street and has little impact on the neighbouring properties in terms of scale, privacy or daylight. By finding local precedents of development within the estate, we were able to obtain permission for an unusually deep extension. The only restriction was on the height, so as to avoid making the adjacent passageway feel too enclosed. 

Explain the external treatment 

The project is a test bed for the use of timber to create character. Deep, rhythmic red fins sit on top of a pigmented blockwork bench and contrast with fine silver-grey larch boards. The plinth slides beyond the facade to create an outdoor bench that catches the midday sun. The rhythm of the piers is reflected in the courtyard surface, made from timber sleepers and light stone linear pavers. Amid the architectural order of facade and ground, the planting is maturing to create an informal green backdrop.

Credit: Nick Dearden
Credit: Nick Dearden

How have the interiors been designed? 

The interiors have been designed to create a free-flowing internal space that has intimate moments and spaces tailored to the daily lives of a family of five: a new ground-floor bedroom, shower room, utility room, expanded kitchen and dining spaces, a study and a musical nook for a piano under the reworked stairs. Warm Douglas fir beams and boards are interspersed with diamond skylights, which cast light patterns into the kitchen. Primary colours highlight the joinery, with the blue column, yellow bookshelf and terracotta red staircase enlivening the space. 

What was the biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it? 

The biggest challenge was the tight budget. In order to give the client some cost certainty, we procured the project through a two-stage tender. This allowed the client to get an idea of the overall cost early on and take decisions accordingly. The project was designed to be constructed using low-cost and readily available materials so as to minimise supply change issues caused by the pandemic.

We worked closely with the contractor to specify materials that were low cost and readily available while developing simple-to-execute details that brought character to the scheme. For example, Covid supply chain issues were overcome with simple window details that could be made on site, avoiding long lead times. Off-the-shelf rooflights were installed diagonally to create interesting light patterns while being easy to source and within the budget. Cost-effective MDF joinery has been enlivened by joyful paint colours that bring character to the space. Similarly, staining the external timber a bold colour meant the main frame could be constructed from hardwearing but readily available timber.

  • Credit: Nick Dearden
  • Credit: Nick Dearden
  • Credit: Nick Dearden
  • Credit: Nick Dearden
  • Credit: Nick Dearden

What is your favourite feature of the building? 

At the centre of the house, marking the transition between old and new, is a blue triangle column that conceals a steel post. This post was part of a previous refurbishment and we decided to retain and adapt it in order to reduce waste and cost. Clad and painted in a bold blue, it anchors the activity of the living spaces that encircle it.

Which aspect would you repeat next time and what wouldn’t you? 

We are very happy with the way the timber construction and detailing gives the spaces their character, and we will continue to use timber in interesting ways in our work as an attractive, readily available and low-carbon material.

While we improved ventilation by converting a single-aspect home into a dual-aspect one, in hindsight, we could have pushed the client and planners to create additional new openings to the existing blank walls of the house to further encourage cross ventilation.

Daniel Marmot is a co-founder of Artefact

Find more house extensions and other homes and housing

Credit: Nick Dearden
Credit: Nick Dearden


Total contract value £135,000 
GIA Before 88m2, after 113m2 
GIFA cost per m2 £200 (includes refurbishment and works to the existing house)

Client Private
Contractor MM Project 
Engineer Simple Works
Approved inspector Stroma



Latest articles

PiP webinar: Architecture for Schools and Education Buildings

  1. Products

PiP webinar: Architecture for Schools and Education Buildings