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Common Ground Workshop creates hidden oasis in end-of-terrace house

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The practice explains how it transformed a modest 1980s east London property into Spitalfields House, where interior and exterior spaces merge to promote relaxation and clutter-free living

Who is the project for and what was the brief, including any specific requirements?

Spitalfields House transforms a prosaic and outmoded 1980s urban end-of-terrace house into an extensive and multifunctional family home. Importantly, the extensive renovation has allowed the client to achieve their dream home while remaining in close proximity to elderly relatives and friends rather than moving to a new location. 

The resulting property is very much a tale of two worlds. The simple yet refined residential exterior belies a hidden oasis and rich inner life within the confines of the unassuming two-up two-down house. 

The new home consists of four unique levels that seamlessly merge interior and exterior space. Inherent to the project brief was a vision of the client to achieve overlapping spatial narratives that could at once promote relaxation and repose, space for reverence and prayer, combined with minimal and clutter-free living.

It serves as a beacon of possibility for ‘cut-and-carve’ domestic renovation where a client’s family has outgrown their current property but they are determined not to move away from their surrounding community.

  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
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What was the planning situation?

The local authority is Tower Hamlets. The site is not within a conservation area but exists within a modest urban and architectural context. 

We worked with the local community to gain support, which served to push through approval for a full-width front porch, greatly enhancing the usability and utility of the ground floor and setting a new precedent for the area. 

Explain the external treatment of the project

The exterior uses a rendered cement board with a Keim mineral paint finish to create a seamless connection between the concrete interior and monolithic exterior spaces and surfaces. Timber-framed windows in Accoya have been used throughout, at all levels, alongside a zinc cassette lining. 

The external garden space intermingles with the interior at ground and basement levels, offering direct visual connectivity to the rear relaxation garden. 

Explain how the interiors have been designed?

The scheme consists of a warm palette of raw materials across a series of spaces. These have been designed to promote flexibility and to remain clutter-free in practice, despite the day-to-day requirements of family life. Light and a seamless relationship to exterior space are fundamental tenets of the building’s design philosophy at all levels. The unique staggered and porous sculptural form at ground and basement levels intermingles with the rear relaxation garden and a series of pocket terraces to harness an abundance of natural light.

  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
  • Spitalfields House.
    Spitalfields House. Credit: Stale Eriksen
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Describe one challenge and how you overcame it

When we took on the commission, the site comprised the original structure as well as initial layout work and partial construction of the building superstructure at all levels, undertaken by Studio Idealyc.

We worked with the concrete superstructure walls, concrete stairs and floors in the living spaces, and the roof dormer construction, and developed a series of minimal, flexible and sustainable spaces that responded to the owner’s needs, spatially, stylistically and environmentally.

The design also needed to maximise passive environmental features, healthy and low embodied energy materials, and low-energy fixtures and fittings.

Explain your favourite detail/moment in the project

The ground-floor kitchen and dining space is the real jewel in the crown. Space and materiality flow seamlessly between the inside to outside, and vice-versa, via large picture window apertures. Natural features, such as the rainwater pond and liner planting, create natural biodiversity and a sound of flowing water that pervades the family spaces and adds to the sense of connectivity to the exterior and to nature, and of calm and relaxation within this highly urban context. 

Explain which aspect you would do again next time and what would you do differently

If we could do the project again we would very much focus on creating a similar high-specification finish and minimal spaces that are both beautiful and utilitarian, offering flexibility well into the future and focusing on sustainable and low-embodied energy materials. 

The pandemic pushed up construction costs, so in the future we would work with the client to lock in costs and pre-order client supply items at an earlier stage. 


Find more house extensions and other homes and housing

  • Basement floor plan.
    Basement floor plan.
  • Ground floor plan.
    Ground floor plan.
  • First floor plan.
    First floor plan.
  • Second floor plan.
    Second floor plan.
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In numbers:
Total contract cost £950,000   
Area 169m2
GIFA per m2 £5,621

Credits

Client Private 
Architect Common Ground Workshop (with phase 1 works by Studio Idealyc)
Contractor Tuga Contractors (main contractor) / Studio Idealyc (phase 1 contractor)

Suppliers

Timber windows and doors Accoya 
Furniture Another Country
Timber linings EJ Timber
Microtoppings Decora Cement
Metal blackening Artistic Metals 
Mineral paint for facade and internal surfaces Keim

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