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Grace Choi Architecture turns darkness into light with reinvented Newcastle home

Header Image

Words:
Grace Choi

A timber loggia connects the garden to the reconfigured house in Grace Choi’s refurbished Kenton Road home, which which expands the space on an unchanged footprint

Who is the project for, and what was their brief?

The client is a family of five, who lived in a detached 1930s house in Newcastle. Over the years the original building was subject to piecemeal evolution, resulting in a dated, haphazard, cold and dark home. The brief was to create additional space for a kitchen/dining area, a work space, an extra master bedroom and ensuite – a home suitable to the needs of a growing family. The client described a love of craft, warm materials and a desire to connect more with the garden.

What was your design approach?

We sought to carefully reconfigure the existing, rather than simply add an extension. Adaptations are deliberately non-invasive, to the extent that the building’s footprint has not been increased (though the volume has). Instead, wasted space at first floor level was filled to provide the desired extra bedroom without encroaching into the loft.

A key move was opening up the central stair, which is now the centrepiece, introduces natural light and articulates the east-west axis of the house. Around it, a generously proportioned hand-crafted kitchen-diner, utility space, study and WC have been created at ground level, with new bedrooms and bathrooms on the first floor.

The south-facing living spaces open onto the garden and are connected by a new timber loggia made from oiled Iroko. This theme is repeated through the design to introduce the materiality mentioned in the brief.

  • Rear elevation in existing condition.
    Rear elevation in existing condition.
  • Sketch of the front elevation.
    Sketch of the front elevation. Credit: Grace Choi Architecture
  • Existing ground floor plan.
    Existing ground floor plan.
  • Proposed ground floor plan.
    Proposed ground floor plan.
  • Existing first floor plan.
    Existing first floor plan.
  • Proposed first floor plan.
    Proposed first floor plan.
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How does the work respond to the context?

The house is on a busy residential street, where the typical approach of adding extensions above garages to the side of detached houses has given them an oddly imbalanced appearance, with the weaker side dominated by the needs of the car.

In designing a two-storey extension on the site of the existing garage we aimed to rebalance the awkward massing of the house. To the rear, that was addressed by introducing the timber loggia that runs across the elevation, binding the newbuild element to the main body of the house and to a bay window reconstructed in timber. It creates a threshold between the house and garden and screens south-facing living spaces from the sun.

How was the exterior treated?

We were keen to be sensitive to the style of the original house while maximising natural light, material richness and a sense of comfort. Ideas were originally tested by sketching and model-making. One reference point for the interiors was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House, where chunky timbers bring warmth, material contrast, rhythm and scale to the home. Introducing timber elements externally introduces a material language that is further developed inside.

  • ) The new loggia makes a deep threshold between the kitchen-diner and the garden.
    ) The new loggia makes a deep threshold between the kitchen-diner and the garden. Credit: Jill Tate
  • Sliding doors to the kitchen diner.
    Sliding doors to the kitchen diner. Credit: Jill Tate
  • Loggia detail.
    Loggia detail. Credit: Jill Tate
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How have the interiors been designed?

The overall re-organisation of spaces deliberately shifts everyday movement along the length of the house. This helps simplify the central circulation spaces and creates a bright heart for the home.

The ground floor living space was rationalised and retrofitted. The new kitchen-diner is generously proportioned, with a scale that is in keeping with the rest of the house, while providing access and views onto the garden. The utility room, home office and an additional en-suite bedroom are subtly tucked away, as if they were always part of the house. Intervention is modest, but the resulting home is opulent, generous and crafted.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

During the initial strip-out we uncovered some significant structural issues, including a bay window without any foundations and an upper floor that wasn’t adequately supported. Both contractors and consultants responed proactively and were able to resolve what could have been significant set-backs quickly, without losing the clarity of the design.

  • New kitchen-diner.
    New kitchen-diner. Credit: Jill Tate
  • New kitchen-diner.
    New kitchen-diner. Credit: Jill Tate
  • Stair detail.
    Stair detail. Credit: Jill Tate
  • Stair detail.
    Stair detail. Credit: Jill Tate
  • New timer stair brings light and a sense of openness to the heart of the house.
    New timer stair brings light and a sense of openness to the heart of the house. Credit: Jill Tate
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Do you have a favourite detail?

The loggia stretching across the rear elevation adds a special place to sit. Views from the living spaces are framed with shifting shadows as the sun moves across the structure, which the client loves and enjoys. Such a simple element has both solved a variety of problems and been a surprising source of delight.

Which aspects would you do again, and which wouldn’t you?

I would take up the challenge to see how the existing fabric can be re-configured first, before adding any additional structure (and associated embodied carbon). Often the space we live in is adequate in area, and simply needs re-envisioning, re-proportioning and conceptually re-visiting.

When adapting this home, the scope of the works increased to include more than originally intended. We’ve learnt to have clear, open conversations about how adapting a part of the house can often lead to turning attention and budget to other parts of the house. This has become a critical discussion point, that helps deal with expectations, creeping scope and budgetary priorities, and manages unintended consequences both technically and in design terms.

Grace Choi is director of Grace Choi Architecture

Find more house extensions and other homes and housing

IN NUMBERS

Contract cost £237,000
Total area 268m2
GIFA cost £884/m2

 

Credits

Client Confidential
Main contractor True North Construction
Structural engineer JC Consulting
Windows and external doors Timbermate
Internal joinery and bespoke kitchen True North Bespoke

 

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