by Pooja Suresh HollannavarAug 26, 2023
“When you walk up the steps from the tree-lined street and in through the front door, you see dramatic views, past the refurbished curved Victorian staircase, out through a glazed double-height space to the lush, jungle garden,” architect Jo Edwards of Edwards Rensen Architects tells me of this house called Cerulean. Listening to her description, I find it hard to imagine this gorgeous, minimalist four-storey as the old, dilapidated Victorian house that was once in dire need of a lot of attention. Yet, it was love at first sight for the clients who treasured the double aspect rooms, unusually large Victorian windows and the wide, west facing garden.
What the London-based architects started out with was a neglected four-storey building; one where the lower ground-floor was divided into a series of tiny, cellular spaces. “The house was dilapidated and had been divided up into a HMO (house in multiple occupancy) – the previous owners had let out more and more rooms, without dividing the house officially or to modern safety standards,” explains Edwards. “The transformation had to be absolute and courageous. Minimal structure, openness, light, and making a strong connection between inside and the rear garden was the aim from the outset,” adds architect Adrie Rensen.
The front, sides, roof and the intermediate floors were all kept, as well as the large Victorian window openings. The elegant staircase in the top part of the house was also kept and restored. It was the lower ground floor which used to be a series of dank, dark rooms that saw a dramatic shift. “The most challenging aspect of the design was to connect the entrance hall with downstairs, to create a natural draw towards going down,” mentions Rensen.
Now, a sculptural black steel stair takes you down to the lower living space, which has been transformed into a large light open space with minimal visible structures. This large, airy room features double-height glass, a sleek staircase re-oriented towards the lush garden and full-width sliding doors; making the journey to the lower floor almost irresistible.
“The other challenge,” Rensen adds, “was to make sure the lower ground space did not feel like a basement. The solution to this was to extensively excavate the garden to create a patio running the full width of the house.” The architects opened up the lower ground floor space, replacing thick brick walls with four minimal, slender steel columns. They also added a small extension with a glass roof where the dining table now sits. This extension allowed for them to achieve large sliding doors with minimal frames that can open in a variety of configurations. The four columns along with the staircase also work to create visual demarcations of various zones in the room.
“The clients had a very strong sense of what the house should be like,” Rensen enlightens. “Much care was taken to design out any unnecessary elements. We aimed to achieve a calm aesthetic – which is both rich and minimal – by using carefully chosen materials and colours, attention to detail and the restoration of some key historical features.” Edwards adds, “The colours and materials were chosen to enhance the function of the rooms. Colour palettes were deliberately kept small, to allow a few elements to stand out.”
Sitting in a sea of sleek black and white, these elements are few and far between; their scarcity creating the most striking of visuals from the rich natural textures of the quartzite countertop and the dark, stripy timber cupboard doors to the sculptural light fixtures and dramatic staircase. “Each space required its own approach; each function its own atmosphere…Compare for instance the airy, open space of the living–kitchen with the dark, muted space of the study. You will find this approach throughout the house; we responded to the micro context of each room, its place in the house, the function of the room and the relationship with the outside,” elaborates Rensen.
Even on the upper floors, tremendous reconfigurations and refurbishments were undertaken. Walls were moved to create larger bathrooms, a dual aspect living room and to open up views from the restored Victorian staircase to the leafy avenue out front. A new window was added – indistinguishable from the adjacent original windows – to make a single aspect room into a dual aspect one. The roof structure has been rearranged to make the top floor into tall, airy spaces with high sloping ceilings and large skylights. The main bedroom is lit by a large triangular skylight. Old windows were replaced with new double-glazed ones and insulation was increased in the lower ground floor, roof and back.
“The clients had a very strong sense of style and they knew broadly what they wanted. Our role was to make suggestions, explore alternatives and to make the shared vision work. It is not the space that should shout the loudest but the life that goes on within it,” concludes Edwards.
Location: Islington, London
Total area: 302 sqm
Construction duration: Phase 1: August 2017 to December 2018 and Phase 2: ongoing.
Architecture: Edwards Rensen Architects