Salmen House: in the pink

Words:
Isabelle Priest

Designed as build to let by Office S&M, a three-bed/three-bath house for £205,000. How did they do it?

Green on green on green: geometric entrance door detail
Green on green on green: geometric entrance door detail

A blown-up pink Monopoly house scattered on the edge of the board, a giant new Liquorice Allsort, or a heavily adapted Corbusier house in Pessac. It seems hard to believe from the outside, but this building’s design is substantially informed by its local context. It is the final piece in a terrace of 1950s system build houses in Plaistow, east London, but built 60+ years later. Around it is a mishmash of house building styles from the past two centuries: Victorian workers cottages, Edwardian speculative houses, 1930s bays and beyond, all layered with individual customisation over the years to varying degrees of taste.

Yet, look closely and the window sizes do replicate those on the Victorian homes over the road, the fibre cement roof tile does match the neighbouring slate, all the houses along the street do have porches and blend the render opposite with the pebbledash behind, and you’ve got something like the stippled effect here. Just when you think the crazy colours are chosen to subvert it all, you’d be wrong on that too: the Germolene pink is a perfect continuation in gradient from the dusty shades of blush pink and orange concrete panels along the row, and the jade green terrazzo plinth and sap coloured entranceway could be the front garden bushes the house replaced. In that contextual framework, it is only the exact composition that changes, with the young London-based practice Office S&M drawing on Edward Hopper’s Drug Store (1927) and the materials themselves .

Bathrooms are composed to have more value than their low-cost durable constituent parts
Bathrooms are composed to have more value than their low-cost durable constituent parts

‘It’s so familiar that many people think it is a refurb,’ explains co-director Hugh McEwen.

But the house is a new build, on a side garden attached to the neighbouring 1950s former end of terrace. Young developer/private landlord Isla Kennedy bought that in 2015 to branch out from refurbishment to new build, and this has been designed as build to let – unperturbed by garden grabbing guidelines in this downbeat area of Newham that wants more infill and is even doing it itself.

Office S&M  had to keep costs down, and has designed a three-bed, three-bath 87m² house costing £205,000 that can be let out equally to young professionals, as it now is, or to a family, with even a fully accessible granny bedroom downstairs. Its principal idea externally is to celebrate geometrically its corner presence by turning openings and recesses around the corner and rotating the entrance towards the crossroad, and putting a mini-me bin house on the corner too.

Salmen House seem from its gable end elevation, terrazzo forms the plinth and frames the windows.
Salmen House seem from its gable end elevation, terrazzo forms the plinth and frames the windows.

There's colour everywhere – pink tinted gravel, a pink bespoke steel railing and polished green-framed openings that bounce in the light. Inside though, it’s about white and black, except in the bathrooms where, for example, blue grout has been used. The plan is formulated around the cranked entrance porch, with the axis of the house shooting through to the rear living space and up a half spiral stair to the attic-less roof. There’s one bedroom downstairs and two upstairs, which reach 4m to the rafters to give a sense of spaciousness.

To remain on budget, the project has been about removing structure but still making space. For example, to avoid the cost of underpinning the party wall, the slab is cantilevered by 650mm from new foundations behind. Mean­while, the entire building is constructed as a single skin of blockwork with 200mm thick external insulation and rendered. To minimise steelwork a blockwork pier doubles as shelving and breaks the rear living space into areas to support the back of the house where it meets the single-storey kitchen dining room.

Although Salmen House’s architecture is incredibly new – breaking from the biscuit-coloured trends all around – it is also remarkably congenial. There’s an air of Viennese cocktail bar with the richly ornamented terrazzo, stepped door frame details, and bare bulb lighting stuck in the wall beside big round frosted hanging lamps. There is also a touch of FAT on the exterior but inside features have been made from ordinary objects. The kitchen is 100% IKEA, bathroom bulbs cost £2 each and the skirting is £2.50 for 3m. 

A small but growing community of architects and designers like S&M and Studio Rhonda are re-injecting spirit and personality into the home. Office S&M is doing a rubber clad extension in Walthamstow. It’s not whimsical, it’s contextual and about time. 


 

The entrance porch protrudes out and recedes at the same time
The entrance porch protrudes out and recedes at the same time

Credits

Architect Office S&M

Client My property and Home

Contractor Catalin London

Structural engineer Structuremode 

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