Fash­ion mavens mark and robert

Living Etc - - HOMES / ETC -

are used to turn­ing con­ven­tion on its head. They trans­formed their pre­vi­ous home by build­ing up­wards in a top-floor apart­ment, giv­ing them soar­ing views over the City. In their new home, they took the op­po­site ap­proach, dig­ging down to cre­ate a new floor. Yet, in a feat of ar­chi­tec­tural alchemy, the re­sult is not dis­sim­i­lar: a flow­ing space flooded with nat­u­ral light. ‘We wanted a base­ment ex­ten­sion that de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions – and we got it,’ says Mark.

The cou­ple were search­ing for a prop­erty chal­lenge, but also wanted some­where that cap­tured their imag­i­na­tions. ‘This place has a quirky his­tory,’ says Robert. The build­ing had pre­vi­ously been a Vic­to­rian mis­sion house, a ragged school for waifs and strays and a Sal­va­tion Army hall. ‘That was all part of its ap­peal.’

Go­ing through li­brary archives, Mark dis­cov­ered that, un­til the 1890s, two Ge­or­gian houses had stood on the spot. ‘Then, all records of those houses dis­ap­peared – pre­sum­ably be­cause of a fire – and only recom­menced decades later with a mis­sion hall.’ By the Eight­ies, de­vel­op­ers had chopped the space up into flats. Once Mark and Robert viewed it, the build­ing had been con­verted back to a sin­gle home, ‘but of the fea­ture­less, white box va­ri­ety – very Noughties,’ says Robert. Yet be­neath its bland, boxy rooms lay the bones of an in­trigu­ing build­ing and, more in­ter­est­ingly, a cel­lar.

The duo come from cre­ative back­grounds – and have an eye for a good op­por­tu­nity. Be­fore suc­cumb­ing to a love of in­te­ri­ors, Mark was a fash­ion buyer for major stores in­clud­ing Deben­hams, while Robert was at Ar­ca­dia Group and also played a key role in launch­ing asos.com. They trans­formed this place with the same am­bi­tion.

From the start, Mark was dream­ing up ideas for the dé­cor and sur­faces, but to trans­form the build­ing’s struc­ture, the cou­ple called on ar­chi­tec­ture firm Michaelis Boyd As­so­ciates. ‘We loved their work at Soho House ho­tels and they did a great job con­vert­ing a friend’s base­ment, so they were the nat­u­ral choice,’ says Robert. The ex­ca­va­tion of the cel­lar fa­cil­i­tated the flow­ing lower-ground floor with double-height Crit­tall glaz­ing on to the gar­den. ‘In­cred­i­bly, the most ef­fec­tive way to re­move the earth was dig­ging by hand and us­ing an old-fash­ioned wheel­bar­row,’ says Mark.

Up­stairs, on the en­try level, part of the floor space was cut away to cre­ate a gen­er­ous void over the new din­ing area be­low. ‘Now, light flows not only down into the lower level, but across, into the liv­ing room and then up the stairs,’ says Robert.

The old stair­case, with six cum­ber­some flights and three half land­ings, was re­placed by a lin­ear, stream­lined ver­sion in dark wood and riser-free steps. It serves to draw the eye up­wards, aided by a con­tin­u­ous run of bare brick wall. ‘We love how its pit­ted sur­face hints at sto­ries of the build­ing’s past,’ adds Mark. At the end of the en­trance hall, a re­stored stained-glass win­dow from the house’s mis­sion days now casts its bib­li­cal mes­sage into a very dif­fer­ent in­te­rior.

While the hall­way bricks err to­wards a grit­tier ware­house vibe, the liv­ing room in­dulges a more lux­u­ri­ous feel, with a sand­stone fire­place and an Ital­ian chan­de­lier pro­vid­ing tra­di­tional fo­cal points. ‘We knew we needed to go big with the light in here, so this Seven­ties-in­spired num­ber is a glam­orous cen­tre­point,’ says Mark. Plush vel­vets and a gen­tle­manly li­brary cor­ner with Six­ties and Seven­ties art are the fin­ish­ing touches in this com­fort­ably so­cia­ble space.

Sur­faces on the lower-ground floor tend to­wards earth­ier, nat­u­ral tex­tures, with worn-in leather, moon­rock mar­ble and a run of dark wal­nut cab­i­netry. Let­ting light shine on both liv­ing lev­els is that game-chang­ing ex­panse of Crit­tall glaz­ing. As a break from stan­dard black metal frames, Mark opted for a dark bronze fin­ish. ‘The look is still strong and graphic, but not quite as harsh as black,’ he ex­plains.

Mark and Robert en­ter­tain a lot – par­ty­ing was al­ways part of the long-term aim for this home. ‘The spa­ces re­ally come into their own when we have friends or fam­ily round,’ says Mark with a smile. It’s hard to be­lieve that over a cen­tury ago, this home echoed to the sound of mis­sion­ary ser­mons and chil­dren’s hymns. But Mark and Robert have seen the spa­ces deftly re­worked in a way that both re­calls the build­ing’s past, but also sets a con­tem­po­rary beat.

See more of the ar­chi­tect’s work at michaelis­boyd.com. Find out about the be­spoke kitchen at jack­trench.co.uk

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