London and Sheffield-based Merrett Houmøller Architects has completed Cornerstone House, the renovation and extension of an Edwardian townhouse in Crouch End, north London. Floors and walls have been removed so as to relocate the kitchen, living and dining spaces to the basement level, where they open to the reconfigured back garden. Bedrooms and additional living areas are on the ground and first floors, connected by a central staircase that has been refurbished to highlight its original Edwardian features.
The client’s initial brief was to provide comfortable and connected living spaces with a better relationship between the house and garden. The original townhouse was dark and disconnected internally, while the east-west street direction, set on the northern slope of Crouch Hill made the garden level a storey height below the entrance side. The architect’s approach was to sympathetically reinterpret the characteristic domestic spaces of the townhouse typology, at the same time creating a sequence of connected volumes and views with internal and external cuts.
The new internal arrangement comprises a mix of ‘open’ and ‘broken’ plan, with double-height ceilings and windows to the rear and a newly cut-out mezzanine that allows light to enter deep into the plan. The kitchen sits below the mezzanine, playing with levels and views – a sleek timber and black steel stair case draws the eyes up to the ground floor, and fully glazed doors demarked with astragal bars look onto the newly level garden. An attached, enclosed dining area features custom-made furniture and lighting, designed collaboratively by the architect and client.
“Creating visual connections between rooms was important for this young family”, says practice director Robert Houmøller “Carving out walls and windows in the home’s new interconnected and layered spaces work both for practical purposes and to create a sense of dynamism throughout a once stale period property. Rooms are visually linked but physically separated, letting in light and visual movement, yet retaining privacy and spatial divides.”
Design patterns and motifs run across internal and external finishes, giving a sense of continuity and expressing the transition from the original Edwardian elements to contemporary interventions. Most prominent is a chevron pattern, apparent in the restored turn-of-the-century parquet flooring, which is echoed in the brass-inlaid concrete on the lower-ground floor. The 45-degree angle of this pattern recurs in the triangular waveform of charcoal-coloured porcelain tiles and the black zinc apron of the dining room exterior. The chevron angle also sets the pitch of the dining room roof gable and the layout of garden paths and planting. Importantly, the pitch coincides with the falling ground levels, producing a massing that is not overbearing on neighbouring gardens. The overall relationship between home and garden was especially significant for the clients, who saw it as another living space. The use of brass strips extends from the kitchen floor out into the garden, blurring the lines between inside and out.
Simple colours and materials are employed throughout, with doorways, windows and stairs lined in black steel or painted timber, and polished concrete and oak flooring in the living/dining space and bedrooms respectively, where the walls are white. Two flexible home working spaces are incorporated, one within the converted front basement and another in a partially-sunken studio cabin, clad in EPDM rubber, at the rear of the garden.
Cornerstone House is Merrett Houmøller Architects first project, but subsequently it has won commissions for more home renovations and extensions, and competitions, including RIBA’s Beyond Borders and Waltham Forest Council’s Making Places. The practice has also been appointed as part of a consortium to masterplan of Sheffield Midland Railway Station for the HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail services.