Photography: Gareth Gardner
We were appointed as architects by Anna and Mark Stafford in June 2008. Our brief was to design a beautiful new sustainable home for their imminent family at 11 Morden Road Mews in Blackheath, south-east London. The site, which included a cottage with a 50’s extension and a large greenhouse, is within a conservation area.
During the early stages, Anna was keen to retain some of the existing cottage and build a traditional-looking house.
However, as we pursued various design options, we convinced Anna and Mark that the existing, inefficient buildings should be demolished and that a new house be built. In response to Anna’s concerns over the house being too contemporary and just a glass box, we proposed a pitched roof, the use of traditional crafted materials and the preservation of a large rear garden for Anna’s vegetable patch and chickens.
As we developed the scheme, we discovered that Mark is a keen athlete and wanted to be able to enter the house following training with his bike without using the main entrance. We therefore proposed a separate ‘dirty’ entrance via the garage, where Mark could hang up his bike and shower before entering the main living spaces (and created a space where the dog could be washed).
Anna liked the idea of bringing the garden spaces into the living areas, so that fresh ingredients could be picked from the garden and used in the kitchen. We also wanted to provide open plan spaces that made it easy for her to keep an eye on the children. In response, we designed a large open-plan entertaining and eating space on the ground floor, which opens up towards the garden and vegetable patch. This space is integrated with baby and dog gates to isolate different areas as required.
At first floor level, the story addressed the master suite. Mark has to get up very early for work, but doesn’t like to wake Anna, so we designed a series of dressing, sleeping and bathing spaces that allow Mark to get up and ready without disturbing his wife. To create further connections between the interior and exterior, the master bedroom extends to form a west-facing terrace, with a two-person seat and access to the garden.
On plan, the house is divided into four wings – two to the west and two in the east. All four areas are linked by a circulation route and library space, visually connected by a large glazed element next to the entrance. Externally, these different elements are expressed with a subtle palette of materials, which are in harmony with the surrounding buildings and reflect their orientation and function. The two west wings are clad in a mixture of split flint and render. Unifying the overall composition, the warm render is a constant background to the flint, which only covers the rear of the house. The east elevation, which brings together the landscape, home and garden, is enclosed in a ribbon of vertical oak cladding that runs from the ground floor, along the terrace and first floor walls.
The south-facing façade incorporates horizontal oak louvres, to ensure privacy for the bathroom and to reduce solar gain. The rear façade uses vertical oak elements, while the front incorporates horizontal oak elements – the pattern of vertical timber is then echoed internally, in a ribbon of white painted T&G boarding that runs through the kitchen, roof light, staircase, landing and joinery.
To maximize natural light and to reinforce visual connections with the beautiful garden, all windows and roof lights have a view of trees and foliage. The simple concept uses its natural form to provide a transforming view and allows different levels of light to permeate the house as the seasons change. The reading seat in the library, which was conceived as a calm and contemplative space, faces the large chestnut tree in the garden. Integral to the story of the house is its construction. The frame is based on a timber, pre-fabricated system, with high levels of insulation and was designed using a BIM approach.
The house brings together a rich mixture of crafted elements: the flint wall, lead cladding and timber joinery, which are all made by hand, employing specialist trades people. This level of care and detail, creates a new home that is both sustainable and a perfect fit for the family. This, for us, is the beauty of architecture.