CAN turns a neglected structure into a family home with colour and character

London-based architecture studio CAN radically transforms an Edwardian semi-detached house into a colourful, multi-textured family home topped with a stage set mountain.

by Nadezna SiganporiaPublished on : Jul 24, 2021

When architect Mat Barnes focused his talents on designing a home for his young family, he used a neglected Edwardian semi-detached house as his creative playground. The house, which had sat empty for over six years, was in a state of dereliction when they embarked on the project. The founder and director of London-based architecture studio CAN, intersected a myriad of materials, shapes and colours throughout the home to create highly textural and tactile spaces.

The two-storey building seamlessly blends with the surrounding houses; the characteristic details are reserved for the interiors| Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
The two-storey building seamlessly blends with the surrounding houses; the characteristic details are reserved for the interiors Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

From the street, the two-storey building seamlessly blends with the neighbouring red brick houses; the distinct design details have been reserved for the interiors and rear extension. “Rather than one overriding concept for the design, it is a collection of disparate ideas, references, materials and texture brought together and purposefully clashed; a rejection of the homogenous design sensibilities of modern architecture,” expresses Barnes.

Mountain View, has a plethora of design references and various sources of inspiration including pop culture | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
Mountain View, has a plethora of design references and various sources of inspiration including pop culture Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

The home, titled Mountain View, has a plethora of design references and various sources of inspiration – theatre sets, geography, an Edwardian bread plate, and numerous pop culture sources including a Disneyland rollercoaster and a scene from the film, Trainspotting. “Widening the pool of references outside of architecture allows a design to evolve that is highly bespoke and personal…this gives us a rich tapestry of references we can then pull together to help influence the spaces we create,” Barnes continues.

There was a focus on opening up the space and using the exposed textures and structure as the final finish | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
There was a focus on opening up the space and using the exposed textures and structure as the final finish Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

The main design approach was to try and use the bare surfaces and original structure of the house as the starting point but also as the finish or ornamentation instead of covering it all up with white plastered walls. Every feature – walls, ceiling and staircase – was viewed as its own element. Barnes worked in the perfect colour or texture for that individual element rather than worry what colours or materials were next to it.

They transformed the space to progressively open up as you move through the ground floor | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
They transformed the space to progressively open up as you move through the ground floor Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

“Designing for yourself has the benefit of endless possibility and fewer constraints – except budget – and I had a lot of big ideas! In a way my wife served the client role, tempering ideas that were too impractical or downright absurd,” he laughs. The original layout consisted of a warren of small rooms on the ground floor, unconnected from the garden. They transformed the space to progressively open up as you move through the ground floor from the dark, monochromatic front room through to the light-filled, rear extension – “like walking from the shadows of the wings onto the theatre stage”.

  • In the lounge at the entry, the striking blue hue covers the walls, ceiling and floor | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    In the lounge at the entry, the striking blue hue covers the walls, ceiling and floor Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN
  • Soanian-like architectural fragments are arranged as sculptures on the walls | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    Soanian-like architectural fragments are arranged as sculptures on the walls Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN
  • The fireplace is the only fixed element that isn’t covered in striking blue | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    The fireplace is the only fixed element that isn’t covered in striking blue Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

As you enter, you are greeted by a bright, long hallway with a striking blue, monochromatic lounge to the right with Soanian-like architectural fragments arranged as sculptures on the walls. The deep blue hue covers all surfaces from the walls and ceiling to the floors except one fixed element which is the fireplace. The hallway eventually opens up towards the back of the house into the east-facing, open kitchen and dining area.

  • The multi-coloured and multi-textural open-plan kitchen and dining area | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    The multi-coloured and multi-textural open-plan kitchen and dining area Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN
  • A running theme in the project - Waste not Want not | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    A running theme in the project - Waste not Want not Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

Two kitchen counters, made from recycled chopping boards and milk bottle tops, anchor the room. Designed to accentuate the 3.4metre ceiling height, the colours of the cabinet doors are alternated to keep the eye moving up. “The height of the room brings us such joy. It feels somewhat grand or cavernous, with the variety of materials bringing texture and an unexpected warmth. We have also tried to make use of as much of the material waste as possible on the project,” Barnes explains. This sentiment is permanently inscribed in the steps to the kitchen with the phrase ‘Waste not Want not’.

  • The partially-demolished, brick wall of the old house leads to the rear extension which is the living area | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    The partially-demolished, brick wall of the old house leads to the rear extension which is the living area Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN
  • The mountain idea came from images of the Matterhorn Bobsleds Ride at Disneyland under construction| Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    The mountain idea came from images of the Matterhorn Bobsleds Ride at Disneyland under constructiont Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

The space continues to unfold into the rear extension, through the partially-demolished, brick wall of the old house into a living area featuring exposed steel, timber and glass. As the original site slopes towards the garden, it allowed for them to lower the floor level of the back of the house by a metre. “The composition of the ruined wall and steel columns marking the transition between the old house and new extension is taken from a scene in the film, Trainspotting, which for us represents the archetypal ruined wall. The columns are added to frame both the walls and the view out to the garden. There was a focus ‘on opening up the space and using the exposed textures and structure as the final finish,” says Barnes. The mountain idea came from images of the Matterhorn Bobsleds Ride at Disneyland under construction – a fake mountain lofted upon a skeletal steel frame. “It fit with exactly what we were trying to achieve at Mountain View: a thin fragile structure holding up an overtly ‘heavy’ roof, though made from lightweight aluminium foam,” adds Barnes.

  • A neutral and calming palette starts to emerge as one walks towards the bedrooms on the first floor | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    A neutral and calming palette starts to emerge as one walks towards the bedrooms on the first floor Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN
  • The first floor landing | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    The first floor landing Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

The original layout of the first floor was reconfigured to work in an additional bedroom and bathroom, remodelling the home to be comfortable for a growing family. However, the focus, as with the rest of the home, was to open up the space. In contrast to the vibrant ground floor, this floor which houses the private areas features neutral spaces to invoke a sense of calm. Clean white walls lining the pastel staircase begin to relax the occupants as they climb up. The ceiling of the hallway has been left open with structural timber beams painted in pastel blue and pink, allowing plenty of light to filter in.

The only vibrant space on the first floor is a chequerboard bathroom| Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
The only vibrant space on the first floor is a chequerboard bathroom Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN

The only vibrant space on the first floor is a chequerboard bathroom – referencing original tiles found in the house – broken only by a large window, black and white fixtures and a tangerine ceiling. The project is a highly personal response to the family's tastes and way of living. “The world outside the home is a rich combination of colours and textures so why can't our houses be as well? It is bizarre to me that the minimalist aesthetic of art galleries has reached into people’s home and regarded as good taste. Boring if you ask me,” Barnes concludes with a smile.

  • Architect Mat Barnes, founder and director, CAN | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    Architect Mat Barnes, founder and director, CAN Image: Jim Stephenson, Courtesy of CAN
  • The ground floor plan | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    The ground floor plan Image: Courtesy of CAN
  • The first floor plan | Mountain View | Mat Barnes | STIRworld
    The first floor plan Image: Courtesy of CAN

Project Details

Name: Mountain View
Location: Sydenham, South London
Site area: 150 sqm
Year of completion: September 2020
Architecture: CAN
Lead architect: Mat Barnes, Director and Founder, CAN

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