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California dreaming: Movie references inspire Twilight House

The sunshine state illuminates Birmingham as Intervention Architecture channels John Lautner’s Schaffer House for its domestic extension and fitout

The Victorian facade a full width extension makes the most of the mature garden.
The Victorian facade a full width extension makes the most of the mature garden. Credit: Dion Barrett / Studio 50two

It’s not unusual for architects to reference details from an earlier time, pulling ideas from the past into new contexts. Intervention Architecture has done just this with Twilight House, transposing to Birmingham the aesthetics and qualities of John Lautner’s mid-century Schaffer House in California. The quotation, however, wasn’t direct but came via fashion designer Tom Ford and his 2009 film A Single Man, based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, which was shot in the Schaffer House.

The film reference came from the architect, though the client was happy to follow. ‘They put complete trust in our vision,’ says Anna Parker, director and founder of Intervention Architecture, ‘from our ideas of materials, exposing the structure where possible, and having natural finishes throughout.’

Through these details, as well as a careful palette of colour, light, and furnishings, Lautner’s sleek modernism and Ford’s tonal range are translated into not just a place to dwell, but a space of transition from inside to out.

To the front, the Victorian property addresses a key suburban road, but the rear looks into a deep and mature garden. Nearby properties might have opted for Victorianesque extensions, but project architect Marina Strotz wanted a more industrial approach, expanding the entire width of the elevation and adding a filmic window, inviting those inside towards a stepped terrace.

  • Extensive glass creates a direct relationship between the living room, new terrace and garden beyond.
    Extensive glass creates a direct relationship between the living room, new terrace and garden beyond. Credit: Dion Barrett / Studio 50two
  • A single door in the wall by the kitchen storage leads back into the main body of the house.
    A single door in the wall by the kitchen storage leads back into the main body of the house. Credit: Dion Barrett / Studio 50two
  • There’s a subtle level change between the kitchen and living space, differentiating the zones.
    There’s a subtle level change between the kitchen and living space, differentiating the zones. Credit: Dion Barrett / Studio 50two
  • Generous work surfaces make this very much a kitchen for entertaining as well as cooking. Its qualities are filmic.
    Generous work surfaces make this very much a kitchen for entertaining as well as cooking. Its qualities are filmic. Credit: Dion Barrett / Studio 50two
  • A dedicated utility room allows space for humans as well as the family pet to get cleaned up before entering the house proper.
    A dedicated utility room allows space for humans as well as the family pet to get cleaned up before entering the house proper. Credit: Dion Barrett / Studio 50two
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It starts with a generously sized kitchen which acts as a backstop to the extension. Strotz and her colleagues had also worked on parts of the main house, connecting new and old with a brushed, smoked oak herringbone floor. This passes through a single doorway in the full-height kitchen cabinetry – deep units painted in Little Greene’s Obsidian Green, a darker hue of the nature calling back through the facing window.

The clients enjoy cooking and entertaining, both of which can now be focused on a space-filling Neolith Beton work surface island, supplied and fitted by Ultramarble. Light fittings add an industrial edge, shedding soft light on the space, that becomes gentler still when it hits the Clayworks-supplied pigmented plaster ceiling and walls – ‘that kind of natural, living, breathable material that responds to the light,’ Parker explains.

The parquet floor and plaster walls continue as the kitchen subtly gives way to the living and dining space, defined by a change in level, while the palette and finishes also gently soften as the conversation with nature becomes more profound. Intervention Architecture was involved in selecting the furniture throughout, including sofas upholstered in umber and a leather New Grigri swivel chair, conveying a shift to the sensuality of the garden as you approach it.

Glazing in the pitched roof of the living area draws you into the space as well as relieving the constructed ‘gloomth’.
Glazing in the pitched roof of the living area draws you into the space as well as relieving the constructed ‘gloomth’. Credit: Dion Barrett / Studio50two

This is all further enhanced by a change in the quality of light courtesy of glazing to the pitched roof. North-facing light bounces off vertical structural timbers connected with pronounced and celebrated steel plates. ‘We worked closely with the structural engineer,’ Parker says of this industrial riff. ‘I think it’s something that the Tom Ford film references really well, an exposure of all the elements in the home.’ Along one side, new cabinetry makes way for a wall clad in 480mm long, narrow bricks from the Bespoke Brick Company, while the opposite cabinet is cut short by a Dik Geurts Odin Plateau wood burning stove.

The house had very cellular Victorian spaces that didn’t open-up or connect to the garden,’ Parker explains, leading to the practice’s design response as an ‘inside outside space – kind of inspired by that Tom Ford aesthetic and a filmic quality of perceiving nature as you move through.’ It is an aesthetic that’s tightly adhered to across materials, light, tonality, and cinematic timbre – that is, with the exception of one additional room which has the house’s third client at heart, Feargus, who now has his own dedicated dog-shower podium, the main feature of a side-annex that offers the owners space to clean their boots post- gardening, before entering their Lautner and Ford filmset.

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