by Jincy IypeApr 05, 2022
Creators, designers, and artists alike have an innate gift of bringing out beauty in the simplest of things. Not long ago, most looked at concrete as a basic material in construction – few saw its value in interior design. Architect Ben Allen is one of those few who reimagines the material in marvellous ways. “Concrete is usually covered up,” he tells us, “…we like the idea of doing something with it which is not only structural but also expresses the load-bearing element in a way one can see, feel and enjoy its presence.”
Founder of Studio Ben Allen, the architect's creative experimentation and celebration of the material along with the exploration of off-site fabrication techniques lead to an explosion of colour in a home that is warm, fun, and sophisticated. Tucked at the end of a terraced housing row in the North London borough of Haringey, is a hidden wonder. Concealed behind what is considered quite an ordinary Victorian façade lies House Recast - a world of pigments and patterns.
While the material in itself is an uncommon option for local residential design, it was the surrounding Victorian architecture that played a defining role in the choice. “The brickwork facades are patterned and decorated while also being load-bearing materials. Using bricks had the speed and quality of being fabricated off-site.” These features also lend themselves well to concrete. Allen continues, “We were inspired by late Victorian architecture but also drew inspiration from the exotic architectural elements of the Middle-East translated through Gothic colours like deep, dusty reds and greens.”
Terraced houses of the yore had narrow, cellular rooms; this one was a little different. “Since it is located at the end of the row and next to a 400-year-old man-made river, it is wider than any other house on the street with larger rooms than usual. However, it contained a convoluted arrangement of visually disconnected spaces, especially at the back of the house. The kitchen, which is several steps lower than the rest of the house, was a dark and shadowed space – almost like a basement,” explains Allen. The client – a retired couple – had been living in the house for 35 years and they had done small amounts of work over the years which included construction of a loft on the third floor. Excitingly for Allen, the house was primed for a complete restructuring of the ground floor living spaces.
The new plan involved crafting a two-storey extension at the back of the house with a light-filled kitchen and two bathrooms, one of which is on the first floor. “We opened up the home by creating a multitude of axial and diagonal views,” explains Allen. “The main door opens into a big entrance hall with a 1.5 metre sliding door leading to the living room. An open archway on the other side of the entrance hall flows into the dining room with generous openings into the lowered double-height kitchen. There’s a direct view of the back garden from the dining room through a large window in the kitchen.”
The double-height void above the kitchen visually connects the extended ground floor spaces with a new curved mezzanine and the first floor, which in turn, is connected to the main staircase. “This void allows light to penetrate into the house while also creating visual and aural connections,” says Allen. The mezzanine leads to the new bathroom and first floor landing with a bedroom and guest room. Another flight of stairs leads to two bedrooms on the second floor and the loft on the third.
A striking feature in the home are the celadon concrete columns and beams that create the basic framework, while serving their purpose of strengthening the structure. The rear external façade features a criss-cross of green, patterned beams cutting through brick and salmon-coloured concrete walls of the first-floor bathroom. Inside the home, the use of coloured concrete continues with stairs, countertops, sink, floors, benches, bathtub, and washbasin. The pattern on the main façade is mirrored in the deep blue balustrade of the circular mezzanine.
“The structural and exterior concrete elements were made in Cornwall while the interior concrete elements were made in Kent. These prefabricated pieces were then assembled and cast on-site. We also used our skills as architects to design 3D models and sent it to Germany to make rubber moulds used by the concrete companies to make the patterns in the beams,” says Allen. Another stand-out feature is arched louvered vaulted ceilings in both the kitchen and the first-floor bathroom. These louvres bathe the home in soft, diffused light filtering in from the roof light above. The curves of the vaulted ceilings are echoed in other openings throughout the new spaces.
What truly steals the show is the hammam-inspired bathroom on the first floor. Allen used the same arched louvre details to create an illusion of a vaulted ceiling. Bathing in soft light, the bathroom soothes the senses with a lower half of calming green concrete across the wall panels, custom sink, bathtub, and a bench. The creamy white upper half stands in soft contrast; the colour palette is elevated by a smattering of sleek brass fixtures and faucets. “The idea was to create interesting areas and a spatial sequence of connected spaces; we wanted to encourage the clients to rediscover their home,” concludes Allen.