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Tsuruta Architects’ remodelled apartment conjures a taste of Japan using SterlingOSB Zero

Named Dragon Flat, the practice has reinvented a 1950s former council flat in Notting Hill in unusual and intriguing ways

The lower floor has been opened up by removing all internal partitions to exploit the flat’s dual aspect. The floating timber stair leads to the upper floor.
The lower floor has been opened up by removing all internal partitions to exploit the flat’s dual aspect. The floating timber stair leads to the upper floor. Credit: Tim Crocker

Dragon Flat is a minimalist take on the refurbishment of a two-level maisonette in a 1950s council block in London’s upmarket Notting Hill. Designed by Tsuruta Architects, its Japanese-inspired interior is a response to the client’s wish to turn its outworn post-war home into something more contemporary. 

Constrained by the block’s concrete structure and low 2.4m floor-to-ceiling heights, Tsuruta Architects’ scheme has focused on opening up the apartment’s lower floor to liberate it from its post-war configuration and create an open, light-filled space. ‘The dual aspect of the flat was a gift, but was not apparent due to being subdivided by the stairwell, kitchen, dining and living room partitions,’ explains Taro Tsuruta, the practice’s founder.

Opening it up was not easy. Only through ‘painstaking’ structural surveys has it been possible to remove all non-load bearing walls from this level without affecting the existing structure.

Free of partitions, the space has been completely transformed with all utilities – kitchen, toilet and corner sofa – pushed to the floor’s perimeter. Storage is provided by a full-height cabinet that runs window-to-window along the length of the party wall. This features an engraving of the River Thames across its grid of cupboards. ‘The engraving will draw occupants’ attention away from the low ceiling,’ explains Tsuruta.

A floating timber stair leads to the upper floor. Built in the same central position as the flat’s original enclosed stair, this elegantly crafted timber structure is both sculptural and practical, enabling light to filter through its perforated form.

Engraved SterlingOSB Zero is used as wallpaper in the tatami room. Credit: Tim Crocker
AI was used to generate the peony image for the engraving. Credit: Tim Crocker

The tatami room’s interior is enhanced by SterlingOSB Zero-panelled walls engraved with flower images, transforming what could have been a stark, minimalist space into an informal, private retreat. ‘We focused on the surfaces in this constrained space,’ Tsuruta explains.

Tsuruta says the choice of SterlingOSB Zero boards as wallpaper ‘pays homage to the flat’s humble beginnings as economical post-war housing’. However, engraving and then meticulously edging each panel with a discrete brass strip has transformed this utilitarian material into a highly decorative, almost luxurious finish. ‘We discovered that if you frame OSB with brass it becomes a very different material,’ he says. 

The floral peony image used on the SterlingOSB Zero was generated using artificial intelligence (AI). Tsuruta says he was playing around with DALL-E, an AI program that generates images instantly from text prompts: ‘We typed in flower many times. It gives you a choice, you select one, modify it a little and so on... the choices are infinite but the decisions are yours’. He says using nature as an inspiration has echoes of the Arts & Crafts movement, but while that was a reaction against technology, ‘we have embraced it’.

The digitally-created image was engraved on the SterlingOSB Zero by transferring co-ordinate data to a CNC router – a digitally controlled cutting and carving machine. First the OSB is treated with oil containing a light pigment to create a contrast been the surface of the board and the CNC engraving. ‘Because the SterlingOSB Zero is layered, it did take a bit of trial and error to get the cutting blade and cutting speed right,’ he explains.

  • Tsuruta Architects was unable to alter the concrete structure of the 1950s block.
    Tsuruta Architects was unable to alter the concrete structure of the 1950s block. Credit: Tim Crocker
  • The tatami-matted floor has been raised to create an intimate bedroom.
    The tatami-matted floor has been raised to create an intimate bedroom. Credit: Tim Crocker
  • Brass-edged SterlingOSB Zero boards contrast with Carrara marble in the downstairs toilet.
    Brass-edged SterlingOSB Zero boards contrast with Carrara marble in the downstairs toilet. Credit: Tim Crocker
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OSB has also been used as a wallcovering in the toilet on the lower level. In this small enclosed space, the architect has playfully (and successfully) contrasted SterlingOSB Zero boards with Carrara marble slabs. ‘Marble is one of the most luxurious building materials and OSB one of the most functional. We wanted to express that contrast,’ he laughs.

SterlingOSB Zero edged in brass has also been used to construct the bathroom furniture. Here the architect has embellished the precisely detailed cabinetry with subtle cut-out silhouettes of bats, which Tsuruta says are a popular auspicious symbol in the far east. He says it is important the symbols are ambiguous additions so people talk about them. ‘Why images of bats in the bathroom and why the Thames River?’ he says. ‘Such a question would evoke a conversation between occupants and visitors which we hope adds colour to their everyday life.’ 

 

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