Live/work reaches its apogee in Flower Michelin’s elegant rebuild of a London home that includes a ‘weapons grade’ composer’s studio in the newly-dug basement
If Sir John Soane were a Bond villain, then Arch House would be his pied-à-lair. The radical refurbishment of a south London townhouse, carried out by architect Flower Michelin for a movie composer and his family, required complete demolition of the building behind its Victorian facades and the digging out of a new basement to contain the composer’s new work studio, playroom and ‘guest’ WC – though those simple appellations do little justice to the actual nature of the subterranean spaces created.
At ground and upper levels, the firm was charged with creating spaces that had the requisite level of formality for entertaining industry clients and guests, while at the same time having the sense of domesticity that would make it an everyday functional and comfortable home for the family. This the firm achieved via the clever insertion of a ‘Club Room’ space that has not only broken down the scale of the ground floor areas that it connects to, but whose nature emulates the Soanic spatial ‘flow’; a caesura of outrageous opulence in an otherwise relaxed, if highly considered, set of spaces.
Faced with a complete refurb, which would involve interior designers as well as themselves, Flower Michelin stuck to simple themes and spatial moves, which would allow others – client included – to intervene on the home while the architect maintained control of the bigger story and the small details that run throughout. And, according to Flower Michelin associate Ben Ellis, it was the two arches that appeared in the fanlight of the home’s entrance that proved the inspiration for almost everything that occurs behind it. Past the arch of the hallway leading to the large kitchen diner at the back of the house are seen the three large brick arches of its garden elevation, but on the way to that view are clues in the details that speak of the same provenance – from the fluted panels of cast plaster that form the wall and dado-height inner lining to the hallway, and catch the light in a special way, to the Cremo Delicato and Grey Marquina marble floor inset with brass perimeter strip, echoing the arch motif.
But the spatial play really comes into its own in the Club Room. This acts as a reception off the hall and as an ante space to both the dining area at the rear and a ‘revealed’, large but quietly luxurious, living room facing the front of the house. The client had eschewed the typical open plan area, ultimately giving rise to this modern interpretation of Soane’s breakfast room. With doors on three sides and able to be totally enclosed, the space’s intimacy is counterpointed by its ostentation, with every wall and fluted inner door leaf hand-painted in lustrous, duck egg lacquer work; even the flow of space from this room has vague intimations of Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Down a timber stair, the ‘guest WC’, a throne room of black marble and weighty white porcelain, and hung with hand-stitched de Gournay wallpaper, is a distraction for the main event – the composer’s own studio. This is windowless for sound reasons but state of the art, with a 400mm thick concrete floor and 1.1m ceiling build-up, within which the timber-frame room sits on springs or is suspended, courtesy of industry acoustic consultant, Yellow Technology. Deadened sound was achieved, says Ellis, with massive ducts and low velocity air flows fed and extracted via a bespoke coffered ceiling. With a huge, drop-down cinema screen running along one wall served by a Dolby Atmos system, all other auditory life is dampened via the studio’s weighty door, lined in plush red leather.
Four years in the design and execution, the client admits that at one point in the half year basement dig out, when nothing but front and rear facades remained, they looked up to the sky and asked themselves what they had done. They won’t be thinking that now. Clearly, eyewatering amounts have been spent here on architectural specification, but – apart from the dramatic crescendo of the Club Room – it’s been done in a murmur-rather-than-shout way. All to ensure that a weapons-grade audio bunker is kept firmly in its place by the warm domesticity of the family home above it.
Architect Flower Michelin Architects
Contractor Bailey & Jones
Interior designer Salvesen Graham
Structural engineer Blue Engineering
Audio visual consultant Equippd
Acoustic consultant Yellow Technology
M&E consultant QuinnRoss
Stone All Brick and Stone
Acoustic items for studio Christie & Grey
Fabric walling studio Desmond & Sons
Timber flooring Element7
Ironmongery Danico and Charles Edwards
Silk wallpaper De Gournay
Joinery Clarksons Builders Ltd / Alfred Newall
Kitchen 202 Design
Brick arch structure to rear Litespeed
Sanitaryware Drummonds / Lefroy Brooks
Water Monopoly Balineum
Marble floors Mander and Germain