Council House Renovation | VATRAA

London / United Kingdom / 2020

5
5 Love 727 Visits Published

The client commissioned VATRAA for a complete refurbishment of her 1980’s ex-council house, aimed at keeping a discrete appearance on the outside, while optimising space and creating a warm, inviting atmosphere on the inside.


We saw the client’s constraints as a catalyst for practical, creative solutions. With thoughtful decisions fully grounded in the context we operated in, we managed to turn a nondescript ex-council house into a home with a distinctive character, now proud to tell its story through space, light and materials.


Our sustainability goal was to achieve more with fewer resources.


To reduce waste, we acted almost like a surgeon, first investigating the existing structure to remove the unnecessary parts only, while keeping any new additions to the minimum. As a result, the design was reduced to its essentials.


Respectful of the appearance of the council estate, we did not extend the house but rather took an investigative approach on how to make a tiny volume feel spacious and open. We saw the potential of using the compact, 7x7 m footprint of the existing building to enhance the front-back transparency and open the interior towards two different gardens - an evergreen garden to the front, and a seasonal one to the back.


On the front facade, we removed the overly detailed bay window and replaced it with a larger square window to frame the garden. On the rear facade, the interventions are also discrete. We looked to avoid major structural changes, and only replaced the windows with hidden sash frames to provide curated views of the garden.


On the inside, we packed the functional core of the house around the stair and heating source, both of which we preserved as existing. Part of a communal heating system, the pre-feed water tank emanated a significant amount of heat at any time. We made use of this by (1) organising the laundry room around the tank to create a perfect place to dry clothes, and (2) relocating the 1st floor bathroom right above the tank to have a sustainably warm floor, without the use of an underfloor heating system.


This configuration allowed the other functions to gravitate in an open, but clearly defined plan, organised around the idea of privacy and connection to the outside. Paradoxically, although part of an open plan, each space has a different atmosphere defined by the function it serves.


At the entrance lobby, by incorporating the old external loggia as part of the interior and opening the ceiling to the pitched roof, we turned a tight space into an entrance that feels grand and inviting.


The original structural joists are now exposed to resurrect the spirit of the old house, bringing authenticity and time into the design, while making a 2.4 m ceiling feel high.


To highlight the qualities of space, light and textures, we limited the finishes spectrum to only three, complementary materials. White painted ceiling joists and whitewashed oak flooring are tied together by a plaster finish which reacts in the presence of natural light.


From living room to dining area, a series of solid oak furniture were designed by VATRAA specifically for this project to suit the client’s way of entertaining.


The kitchen and the dining area are articulated by a large pantry, angled to meet the spatial requirements and absorb the difference in width between the narrow stair and the wider storage functions below it.


 


The plaster, a banal ‘British Gypsum Multifinish’ applied with extra skill and care to achieve a reflective surface, eliminated the need for paint and saved cost and resources.


It creates a warm background for exhibiting art objects dear to the client, while allowing the overall atmosphere to change in the presence of natural light. Under sunlight the space becomes vibrant and warm, while under cloudy weather it becomes reflective and makes the 80 cm narrow stairwell feel wider.


To keep the focus on the beauty of natural light, views and materials, we aimed for all details to
be as minimalist as possible. Using the existing stair presented a challenge, which we overcame by leaving the original stair stringer exposed and cladding the steps in the same whitewashed oak flooring that we used throughout the entire house.


At the first floor, white walls and minimalist details are brought into the bedroom areas, creating a neutral atmosphere, to contrast the vibrant day zone. Therefore, the morning transition between the night and day zones becomes an event, giving the homeowner a sensation of energy, immediately as she steps into the stairwell and descends to the ground floor.


Ultimately, sustainability did not come with artificial measures but with practical solutions that gave a new purposeful life to a disregarded building. The result demonstrates that if fully embraced, the constraints and specifics of the project can lead to surprising solutions grounded into the actual context we operate in.


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LOCATION Bermondsey, London
PROGRAM Full refurbishment and remodelling of an 1980’s ex-council house AREA 76 m2
STATUS Completed 2020
ARCHITECTURE AND INTERIOR DESIGN VATRAA
PHOTOGRAPHY Jim Stephenson


AWARDS
2021 Don’t Move Improve!, Winner, Compact Design of the Year
2021 AJ Retrofit Awards, Shortlisted, Best House under £250,000
2020 British Home Awards, Highly Commended, Home Transformation of the Year


 

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    The client commissioned VATRAA for a complete refurbishment of her 1980’s ex-council house, aimed at keeping a discrete appearance on the outside, while optimising space and creating a warm, inviting atmosphere on the inside. We saw the client’s constraints as a catalyst for practical, creative solutions. With thoughtful decisions fully grounded in the context we operated in, we managed to turn a nondescript ex-council house into a home with a distinctive character, now proud to...

    Project details
    • Year 2020
    • Work finished in 2020
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Interior Design / Custom Furniture / Building Recovery and Renewal
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