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Reeded House treads the line between veiled and distinct

Words:
Michèle Woodger

Reeded House is full of verticals, but the line between old and new, seen and hidden, is distinctly blurred

The south facing main reception facing the street.
The south facing main reception facing the street. Credit: Jim Stephenson

‘The company that produces “Big Brother” is based there,’ says Dan, pointing out the six-storey office block behind his terrace to architect Ross McArthur of Oliver Leech Architects and I. This is ironic because, as we sup coffee in an airy, double-height kitchen extension, we can observe these poor souls slaving at their desks, but they cannot see us. It is thanks to an ingenious application of reeded Linit u-channel glass, and effective 3D modelling, that this privacy is achieved.

It’s also astonishing that a mere 2m² addition can have such a dramatic effect. As McArthur justifiably observes: ‘The value of square meters is always talked about, but not so much the volume, and the volume that this creates is phenomenal’.

Looking for a project and a forever home, Dan and Eliott negotiated patiently for two years before acquiring this Victorian house in a west London terrace. Thankfully, unlike the previous Spartan owners, they are highly design literate. The couple formulated a detailed brief, which explored how they wanted to live in the home but was not prescriptive about the rooms – an approach they gleaned from Terence Conran’s book Plain, Simple, Useful. This sort of ideal client behaviour allowed the architect to approach the house as a whole, truly optimising its spaces.

Several key moves were necessary. First was to reintroduce coherence to the circulation route, entrance sequence and the hierarchy of spaces. The original house (which had been divided into flats but then lived in as single occupancy) needed rationalising into a more sociable and communicative layout. Next came maximising natural light, which was mainly achieved with the addition of the ‘light-box’ rear extension. (While the front of the house is south-facing, pre-existing incongruities had led to dark and isolated rooms). Then there was a need to capitalise on the fact the roof was failing to add a pod-like fourth storey – an involved process as the house is in a conservation area. And finally, of course, they wanted privacy from ‘Big Brother’.

  • The rear of the reception engages with the dining room via the double height volume. Linit channels provide privacy and light.
    The rear of the reception engages with the dining room via the double height volume. Linit channels provide privacy and light. Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Looking into the kitchen from the garden space.
    Looking into the kitchen from the garden space. Credit: Nick Dearden
  • The kitchen WC ‘hides’ beneath the stairs.
    The kitchen WC ‘hides’ beneath the stairs. Credit: Jim Stephenson
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One does get the feeling of ‘hiding in plain sight’ in this house: be it from the impossibly-neatly-tucked-away downstairs WC (with its unexpectedly jazzy Barber Osgerby ‘Puzzle’ tiles), the wiring and television concealed in bespoke cabinetry, or the plant neatly stowed under the main entrance stairs. From the elegantly classical front facade of stripped back London-stock brickwork and bay windows, there is no indication that the back is so startlingly modern.

‘We did want to balance modern and old,’ explains Eliott. ‘Keeping the Victorian charm, but bringing it to today’s standards’ – and this respectful approach applies throughout. In the living room, for instance, the marble fireplace is modernised with a slate insert. Original cornicing is painstakingly restored, but is colour-drenched in subtle greys from Paint and Paper Library to bring the room into 2023. Oversized chevroned Reeve oak flooring references the Victorian era but rejects its fussiness. A Nemo ‘Potence’ light helps bridge the gap between old and new – with its timeless, purist design by Charlotte Perriand the 1930s it falls squarely in the middle of the timeline.

On every floor there is also a sense of transitioning from old to new (and from domestic to commercial) as one moves from the front to the back of the home, via a gradation of spaces. Take the master bedroom, with its Victorian proportions and original detailing: an anteroom, separated by panelled wooden pocket doors, operates at a smaller scale, beyond which is the en-suite, partitioned by Crittal-style reeded glass doors. The sequence introduces a logical progression, allows light to be controlled, and enables one partner to get dressed without disturbing the other.

Every detail – down to the grouting in the bathrooms – is executed for longevity and durability

  • The first floor main bedroom opens out to a dressing room and ensuite bathroom beyond.
    The first floor main bedroom opens out to a dressing room and ensuite bathroom beyond. Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Upper level spaces visually engage with the rear garden.
    Upper level spaces visually engage with the rear garden. Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • A picture window looks down over the dining volume. Light filters down via the curve of the plasterboard soffits.
    A picture window looks down over the dining volume. Light filters down via the curve of the plasterboard soffits. Credit: Jim Stephenson
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Likewise, the entrance sequence: in the entryway, chevroned ‘Mews’ tiles by Barber and Osgerby direct us inward. From here we are beckoned towards the back of the house by a long, thin, vertical window illuminating the oak staircase down to the kitchen and the voluminous extension, where the Linit glass forms a large expanse above a Maxlight sliding door. The use of u-channel glass profiles was partly inspired by Carl Turner’s Manser Medal-winning Slip House, as well as applications in council and commercial premises. Primarily, though, it was selected for its diaphanous translucency: ‘It changes the opacity, the light changes throughout the day, you get this shimmering effect...when you are walking past it, shapes are obscured but you get a sense of something there,’ explains McArthur.

Vertical lines in the reeded glass create a motif that has been applied to the entire house. The balcony overlooking the kitchen from the TV room above makes use of thin, vertical, metallic railings. The slats of the garden fence, whose width matches that of the narrow clay external tiles; the linearity of the wooden cabinetry; even the fluted drapery of the cotton voile curtains in the bay windows, which creates a diffuse, clean light – all play to this vertical line, elongating the narrow and shallow-planned home.

Every detail – down to the grouting in the bathrooms – is executed for longevity and durability, because, says Eliott, ‘we were very much driven by practicality: how will we live, how will we use this space, how will we maintain it, does it damage, can you clean it?’. This can be seen in earnest in the kitchen, with its Bianco Quartzite surfaces and custom oak cabinetry (designed by Oliver Leech), which optimises storage space to a surprising degree. Even the colour palette, of navy and grey with black accents, is viewed as a canvas. ‘With all the walls we have been very safe – sorry, “architectural”,’ joke the clients. This is indeed a ‘plain, simple, useful’ home, whose apparent simplicity stems from architectural complexity. ‘Who knew Terence Conran would have some good ideas?’ quips Eliott.

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Credits

Client Daniel and Eliott Bhalla-Forman

Architect / interior design Oliver Leech Architects

Structural engineer Constant Structural Design

Main contractor Sutton Construction

 

Suppliers

Aluminium doors Maxlight

Reeded glazing Linit

Timber flooring Reevewood

Handrails/balustrade Metalworks London

Timber windows BoisRois

Reeded internal door West Leigh

Kitchen & joinery Weymont & Wylie

Lighting Astro Lighting

Sanitaryware Laufen, Crosswater

Tiles Parkside, Domus

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