Before & After: A London Townhouse Gets a Bold Remodel

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When London-based architecture and interior design firm Gundry + Ducker was hired to reimagine a 1970s Neo-Georgian terrace house, founders Tyeth Gundry and Christian Ducker were given very little design direction. The client provided a vague brief, with only functional requirements like the addition of a third bedroom. The look of the space was left for Tyeth and Christian to envision.

Located in the historic, residential district of Islington, the house is an anomaly in the area famous for stately Georgian and Victorian structures. Though its brick façade is meant to resemble the Georgian style, the interior was exceedingly plain before the architects arrived. “It’s quite a typical house of that period, a 1970s terrace house,” Christian says. “It didn’t really have any particular qualities to it. It was just a very ordinary, standard sort of property.”

Slabs of black, white, and gray terrazzo dominate the kitchen, along with green-painted fiberboard. Andrew Meredith

The goal, Tyeth and Christian decided, was to evoke the grandeur of the Georgian architecture found throughout the neighborhood. “We wanted to make a modern version in miniature of one of the much grander, older houses,” says Christian. “We wanted to make a house more typical of the area, but on a meager scale. When we first got it, it was so ordinary inside, so we wanted to inject a bit of drama into it, a bit of theater.”

The extension before “was divided into lots of small rooms,” Christian says. “There was a very tiny, separate kitchen. There was this strange conservatory on the back.”Courtesy of Gundry + Ducker

The duo stripped out the entire interior, maintaining just the external walls. This allowed them to achieve the primary request from the client. Originally, the house had just two floors and a storage space in the eaves. In order to fit a third story, and therefore a third bedroom, within the existing perimeter, Tyeth and Christian slightly lowered each floor level and worked with an engineer to make the floors themselves extremely thin. They also removed the old addition in favor of a new extension with a simple concrete-block construction.

Though the renovation was successful in the end, the team was backed into these plans by local conservation laws. In this London locality, structural changes that can be seen from the street are not permitted. This rule authorized Tyeth and Christian to move forward with the ground-floor extension in the back, but thwarted them from constructing anything else. “We had to keep within the existing building envelope because there were local codes we had to comply with that were quite strict,” Christian says. “We actually tried to get permission for a more elaborate other floor, but we were turned down. You’re allowed to do whatever you’d like, as long as it’s only one story tall and it’s in the back and no one can see it. It’s a bit silly, but that’s just the way it is.”

The extension is outfitted with industrial-looking Crittall windows. “They have a slight 1930s look to them, which is another theme in the house that has appeared,” says Christian. “They’re not too modern in appearance. Often aluminum window systems are meant for super-minimalist, slick schemes, but these feel a little bit more old-fashioned.” Andrew Meredith

Ultimately, Tyeth and Christian were able to squeeze three levels within about 1,220 square feet—without any notion of tightness. In fact, the entryway is rather airy and luxurious. From the front door, there presents a sweeping view up into the triple height space, with a cantilevered, pill-shaped staircase in the center. “You can look up three stories into the roof space, so you see from the bottom right up to the top of the original house,” Christian says.

The decor of the foyer is as impressive as the scale. In accordance with Georgian tradition, the home features stone stair treads and a checkerboard floor right at the entrance. Made of terrazzo and black marble tiles, the two-tone pattern is at once quirky and elegant. Tyeth and Christian worked with a single craftsman, so the material was relatively affordable and completely customized. “When we do the terrazzo, it’s a bespoke mix, so we choose the background color and then we choose the color of the pebbles,” Christian says.

Cherrywood is the other chief element employed around the house. The natural, reddish brown material is represented in the living room floors, the upper stairs, and the winding banister. “It’s quite a rich contrast to the terrazzo because obviously we didn’t want to make it feel too hard or too cold,” says Christian. “We got the cherry to try to balance out the terrazzo with something much softer and warmer.”

Christian  and Tyeth chose to build the upper stairs in cherry specifically to signify the transition from the downstairs to the cozier bedroom area. Andrew Meredith

Of course, the use of the color green is bold and striking, so it may come as a surprise that the choice was made on a whim. “It wasn’t part of a grand scheme,” Christian explains. “It’s just what felt right at the time. The green came along fairly late in the day, so there isn’t any complex reason for the green, really.”

Nonetheless, both vivid and pale hues of green make a major impact. Using paint colors Hopper and Acorn Mid from the coincidentally named Little Greene Paint & Paper, Tyeth and Christian covered many of the walls and doors in green. In the tunnel hallway and continuing along the back of the kitchen, an array of fiberboard cupboards appears in the brighter of the two shades.

“When you come in the front door, there are two views. There’s a view up into the triple height space, and then there’s a view down the dark green tunnel that’s then reflected on the arch window that looks through to the garden,” Christian explains. Andrew Meredith

This wall cleverly hides a coat closet, the washer and dryer, and a powder room, all within the tunnel. In the kitchen, the cupboards tuck away an entire countertop full of appliances, the refrigerator, and a pantry. “They have sliding doors, so they actually slide into a recess, so when you’re cooking in the kitchen, you can open up a whole series of worktop behind you. You can cook some dinner and then if people come around, you can just close the doors,” Christian says.

For texture, the fiberboard is routed by hand with vertical lines. These carvings are also part of a brilliant strategy to trick the eye into thinking the cupboard doors are uniform in size, when they actually vary in width to accommodate different items and needs. “Because the grooves are quite narrow, you can hide the door openings,” explains Christian. As a contrast, the base of the island has a smooth finish.

“We took this arch motif from the original house and we just projected it through,” Christian says. “It informs the little arched tunnel that runs from the front of the house to the back of the house; the window beyond; and then all the doors upstairs have got the arches on, as well.” Andrew Meredith

Each bedroom is minimal and directly accessed off the spiral staircase, which Tyeth and Christian thought would flow more effortlessly than multiple corridors. The two bathrooms are constructed from polished plaster, an Italian material the client insisted upon. Though Christian was and remains worried about its durability, it adds a dreamy glamour that seems to permeate the home.

“I feel very nervous about the polished plaster, I must say. In this case, the client said, ‘I don’t care if it goes moldy. I want it anyway.’ I just don’t think it’s that durable of a material,” says Christian. But it sure is beautiful! Andrew Meredith

It’s no wonder, then, that Tyeth and Christian named the place White Rabbit House, a reference to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Just like the fantasy book, the home reveals playful details, lively colors, and surprises in scale, moving from a lofty entryway to a compact tunnel to an open kitchen with a skylight. The result is a sophisticated and psychedelic palace unlike any other spot in London.

 

Via AD UD

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