Down by the river

New Zealand-born ar­chi­tect Giles Reid breathes light and air into a Lon­don apart­ment con­ver­sion on the Thames

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — Tom Mor­ris PHO­TOG­RA­PHY — Mary Gaudin

That on a good day, you can look due east to the city with glimpses of the Shard from this prop­erty in south­west Lon­don is a strange twist of po­etry.

New Zealand ar­chi­tect Giles Reid devoted seven years of his life to the UK’s tallest build­ing, while work­ing as part of Renzo Pi­ano’s team. Af­ter such a mam­moth task, Reid took on a slightly dif­fer­ent river­side prop­erty 16 kilo­me­tres down­stream: the ren­o­va­tion of this third-floor apart­ment in a Vic­to­rian build­ing for own­ers Alan Southan, his part­ner Pala and their seven-year-old daugh­ter. Po­si­tioned on a quiet bend of the Thames with the yelps of row­ers the only in­ter­rup­tion, the peace­ful prop­erty could not be more dif­fer­ent from the steel-and-glass be­he­moth fur­ther up the river. “It was quite a scale shift,” says Reid, dead­pan. The scale and tricky lay­out of the space were ac­tu­ally why Alan and Pala drafted Reid in for help. The ed­i­fice, orig­i­nally built as a pub, had lain un­used af­ter World War II be­fore be­ing turned into flats in the 1980s. The cou­ple’s apart­ment was largely open plan with all rooms en­joy­ing the view, but it didn’t work for a young fam­ily. The bed­rooms were po­si­tioned off the main liv­ing area, so Alan and Pala had to tip­toe around af­ter their daugh­ter had gone to bed. “We had a flat that was 140 square me­tres and we were re­ally only us­ing 55 square me­tres of it. It felt like we were al­ways on a cor­ri­dor to some­where,” says Southan. The bath­room was off the glazed en­trance lobby, which felt ex­posed to the street. “We never re­ally set­tled – and then Giles came along.” Reid was im­me­di­ately taken by the river­side gem. “My first im­pres­sion was to do with the build­ing as a whole, which is this cu­bic, solid brick palazzo sit­ting with its feet in the river. It felt then – and still does now – a very ro­man­tic re­sponse to the site,” says the ar­chi­tect. Reid moved the main bed­room to the side and in­stalled an in­ter­nal hall­way with bed­rooms and bath­rooms com­ing off it. The cor­ri­dor leads through to the main liv­ing area, which opens out across the en­tire river­side façade of the build­ing. It was a sim­ple and straight­for­ward de­ci­sion. “It has trans­formed the way we live,” says Southan. The cou­ple pur­chased the prop­erty fol­low­ing six years liv­ing in Ja­pan and their so­journ there is im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent as you en­ter the home. Fur­ni­ture, for now, is sparse and highly prac­ti­cal. Doors slide open. Oak skirt­ing boards are re­cessed, a de­vice in­spired by ar­chi­tect Kazuo Shi­no­hara’s ‘House in White’. From the chalky ex­posed brick fire­place to the stone kitchen bench, nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als reign.

“My first im­pres­sion was to do with the build­ing as a whole, which is this cu­bic, solid brick palazzo sit­ting with its feet in the wa­ter.”

“One of the things we liked about liv­ing in Ja­pan was the tremen­dous craft used there, es­pe­cially in the use of wood,” says Southan. “We tried to use nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als where pos­si­ble and hope­fully it will age prop­erly be­cause of that. It will mark and even­tu­ally ar­rive at some­thing that’s taken on a lot of char­ac­ter.” The Ja­panese sim­plic­ity of the in­te­rior and neu­tral pal­ette seem nec­es­sary in the pal­lid, north-fac­ing space (mean­ing it re­ceives no di­rect sun­light in this hemi­sphere). The view is left to speak for it­self. Across the river is Dukes Mead­ows park, one of the last pro­tected patches of open land be­fore one hits the main conur­ba­tion of the city and its swathes of apart­ment blocks. To the west is Chiswick Bridge, a 1930s arched Port­land Stone num­ber, and to the east is the listed wrought-iron Barnes Bridge. It’s an over­whelm­ingly beau­ti­ful set­ting and yet this stun­ning view is ap­proached with mod­esty and sub­tlety; two el­e­ments that are quin­tes­sen­tial of both Reid’s per­sona and port­fo­lio. “The view is there if you want it, but you’re not sucked into it,” says Reid. Southan agrees: “When we first moved in we tried to work with the out­side more ob­vi­ously. We chose things that picked up the green of the trees and it was a mas­sive mis­take. It fought with the out­side.” The min­i­mal ap­pear­ance is de­cep­tive and enor­mously clever. The kitchen is a per­fect ex­am­ple of a highly suc­cess­ful ve­hi­cle for warm, and per­haps, scruffy fam­ily life. Two tall cup­boards open to re­veal a well-fur­nished pantry. A team of dog-eared cook­books is stored in a hid­den al­cove. The hob is placed on the stone is­land and kit­ted out with a down drafter to avoid an ex­trac­tor fan ob­struct­ing the view for the chef. But don’t be fooled, it is very much a room for en­ter­tain­ing. Up­stairs there’s a cosy den, which is var­i­ously used as a stu­dio, play­room, of­fice or TV cub­by­hole. The bal­cony is the place to drink wine while watch­ing events such as the fa­mous Ox­ford and Cam­bridge boat race, which takes place ev­ery spring and fin­ishes in the stretch of river just be­low. The orig­i­nal co­nun­drum was how to turn this space into a har­mo­nious fam­ily home. Reid has qui­etly re­sponded with clar­ity and sim­plic­ity. In at­mos­phere, scale and as­pect, it’s a mil­lion miles away from the Shard. “When the row­ers are out very early in the morn­ing, even three floors up you hear every­thing. You feel so con­nected to the river,” says Reid. “This gives the apart­ment an acous­tic and a rhythm that I doubt you get in many other parts of Lon­don, or per­haps the world.”

Right Oak boards line the floors and stair­well walls, with a re­turn that cre­ates a nook for stor­ing fire­wood. Fac­ing page An art­work by Jeea Mirza (2015) sits on a shelf in the crisply de­signed kitchen.

Left A wood-block print by Seiko Takeuchi hangs in the main bed­room, and a screen­print by Sato Ju­nichi hangs in the hall­way.

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