The architecture of happiness
They say you shouldn’t bring your work home with you. Architects Russell Potter and Laura Sanjuan took this adage seriously – and literally – when they embarked on the transformation of their threefloor Victorian townhouse in Clapham, south London, where they live with their two children, Isabella and Oscar.
The couple are known for their designs of Soho House branches in Greek Street and at nearby Kettner’s Townhouse. The latter is characterised by a dark, decadent look packed with tweeds and marble; the couple’s first personal project at home could not be more different.
With its bright white looks and large sliding glass door, they have been asked more than once if their goal was to create an homage to a cool Ibiza villa. “That wasn’t the plan,” says Sanjuan. “But we can see why people ask.”
Despite such a clear separation between their professional and personal design styles, Potter and Sanjuan have used a few clever tricks picked up from working with bar and restaurant clients, such as Polpo, in order to create an atmospheric yet minimalist family home. The trifecta, they say, is background music, dimmer switches and a ban on all non-essential door handles.
The Stripe House is so-called because of the pastel-coloured timber batons wrapped around the perimeter wall. It is ruthlessly uncluttered – particularly in the kitchen, where a utilitarian style underpinned by cool whites and greys prevails. The aesthetic could not be further from the comfy, cosy look preferred by many clients they work with through their practice, Soda Studio.
“There are so many things we have learnt from designing for the bar and restaurant sector that we have used to create a vibe here,” says Potter. “Sound and light are two easy ones to get right.
“I don’t think people realise what an important role sound can play in a home. We always have something on in the background hooked up to the speaker.
“Then lighting: have dimmer switches everywhere. That is so important, especially in a simple, straightforward space. You need that to create a different mood.”
But what about the hard graft that went on behind the scenes ahead of these finishing touches? Potter and Sanjuan bought their house in May 2013 for £918,000 and the work took 18 months and £170,000. The joinery was the most expensive element of the process, as it had to be made bespoke. “It was worth it for the storage because we were able to do things like run the cupboards along the walls even in front of the chimney breasts,” says Sanjuan
“I also didn’t want any handles on anything that didn’t need one. They get in the way, kids can bang their heads on them, you get your clothes caught on them. Not having them creates a much cleaner line. The handles we did need we had sprayed to match the joinery.
“There is very little in this house that is massively sophisticated, which is why it works,” adds Sanjuan. “It is simple, straightforward and not overly planned. The furniture we have is here because we like it. We didn’t try too hard to match it all.”
For those outside the design world who are looking to create their dream family home, the couple advocate the power of perspective and pragmatism.
“It is definitely much more emotional when it is your own home,” says Sanjuan. “We had a relaxed faith, or maybe it was a blind faith, that everything would come together in the end,” adds Potter. “And that point about not desperately trying to match things is an important one. People come here and say ‘how did you think to put that over there or that with that?’ The truth is, we didn’t. We just saw what worked where.
“My final piece of advice would be to prioritise. We focused most of our attention on the parts of the house where we knew we would spend the most time. We eat around the table as a family, so the inside/outside kitchen and the living area was where we concentrated, rather than a guest bedroom which will be used twice a year.”
You should also be prepared for some of your best-laid plans to fall by the wayside, Sanjuan says.
“We created these two big steps down from the front living room into the kitchen because we envisaged the children sitting on them all the time,” she says. “Somewhere for them to be with us in the kitchen but not at the table. They have not sat on them once.
“I suppose that’s the ultimate lesson with any project, whether it is commercial or personal, there are only so many things you can control.”
Russell Potter and Laura Sanjuan with Isabella and Oscar
Isabella, four, playing in the garden, below, and her bedroom, above
The house in Clapham, south London, has a minimalist look