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Vernacular tiles front Bureau de Change’s unconventional extension

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Words:
Katerina Dionysopoulou & Billy Mavropoulos

This unusually shaped rear extension to a 19th-century semi in East Finchley, London, features clay tiles echoing the original ones on its front elevation, and contains a sunken living room

Who is the project for and what was the brief?

The house is for a family of three wishing to make internal layout alterations and add a rear extension to accommodate their daily routines and extended family, offering a new space for leisure and entertainment. The owners were keen to build a contemporary extension and reorganise the spaces of the ground floor to give them flexibility for hosting as well as provide them with intimate corners where they can relax.

What was the existing building like and what work have you done?

The project was informed by the materiality and architectural craftsmanship of the existing 19th-century semi-detached house in north London. The unconventionally shaped rear extension is clad with cascading red clay tiles, which are also found on the house’s front elevation as well as on other houses in the area. The unusual volume accommodates a new sunken living room, accessed via an open-plan kitchen and dining area. It acts as an enclosed suntrap with direct access to the rear garden, allowing the family to sit at a low level and take in views of the garden all year round.

What was the planning situation?

The area contains an abundance of extension precedents, each facing similar constraints with vertical and horizontal boundaries in relation to neighbouring properties. We approached this house in a different way from the others, inspired by the history of the area and the existing house’s materiality and character. To tackle restrictions such as the orientation of the garden and the 45-degree angle to allow light to the neighbours’ plot, we proposed a sculptural volume punctured by slim windows, which was welcomed by the council.

View from the kitchen into the new extension. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher
External detail of the Keymer tiles. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher

How did you treat the exterior?

The tiles echo the original ornamental Victorian clay tiles of the house’s front porch and window. Each tile shape is of a traditional profile, trickling down from clubs to fish-scale profiles at the peak of the roof, overlapping onto angular arrowheads and, finally, to a plain square cut. The clay tiles offer a contextual and durable treatment as well as a surprising effect in the way that they are laid on the roof and walls. A bespoke angled tile was made to order to ensure the cascading arrangement would remain uninterrupted as they move down from the roof to the wall.

How did you design the interiors?

The carved-out living room was inspired by the typology of historical Victorian boxing rings of the area, reimagined as an intimate space and transitioning threshold between kitchen and garden. The spaces are defined by the distinct materials and colour palettes. The living area is composed of natural materials, such as cork and timber, in contrast to the colour-blocked treatments of the kitchen, which is a few steps higher and overlooks the garden through an open picture window to the sunken living room.

Describe one challenge you overcame

The unorthodox geometry of the extension is a strategic manoeuvring response to a local planning policy that calls for a 45-degree angle between neighbouring properties. This is to ensure minimal impact on the adjacent properties’ daylighting, privacy and overlooking. To maximise internal space, the extension uses the existing party wall of the neighbour’s rear extension, with the lowest height of the wall determining the eave height. The result is a skewed faceted volume that attentively conforms to its immediate surroundings and which creates a vaulted ceiling that is different from the rest of the spaces in the house.

  • The bespoke terracotta tiles that wrap around the roof to wall detail.
    The bespoke terracotta tiles that wrap around the roof to wall detail. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher
  • The sunken living space with its built-in seating in the extension.
    The sunken living space with its built-in seating in the extension. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher
  • View from the sunken living space back towards the kitchen, a planter separates the two.
    View from the sunken living space back towards the kitchen, a planter separates the two. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher
  • The tiles change format down across the elevation to recall the tiles elsewhere on the original building.
    The tiles change format down across the elevation to recall the tiles elsewhere on the original building. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher
  • Joint detail of the different tiles.
    Joint detail of the different tiles. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher
  • The standalone, sculptural form of the extension.
    The standalone, sculptural form of the extension. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher
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What is your favourite detail in the project?

Our favourite detail is the corner pieces along the roofers. These special pieces had to be made bespoke, carefully crafted by Keymer Tiles, to perfectly drape over the changing angles. This allows for the desired coherent, uninterrupted textural shift between the tiles, and helps to achieve a homogeneous volume externally where one focuses on the changing profiles and appreciates the gradient and ‘movement’ from one shape to the other.

Which aspect would you do again next time, and what wouldn’t you?

With all our projects, we aim to deliver a proposal that is unique but contextual; something that stands out but also fits in; something new that feels grounded. We always aim to create something surprising and not just a box at the rear, always within the budget restrictions that have been given to us by our clients. We would do that again and again, as we believe in adding value to the historical fabric of the city by creating something surprising, functional, and timeless.

Katerina Dionysopoulou and Billy Mavropoulos are directors of Bureau de Change

Find more house extensions and other homes and housing

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Credits

Area 75m2

Client Private

Contractor STEC Construction

Supplier Element structures

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