The Crawford Partnership

Darling House

With land in London being at a premium, the practice has honed its skills and developed considerable expertise working on new residential projects on challenging urban infill and back-land sites considered too problematic to develop. Having purchased the 80m2 double-garage site at auction, without any planning consent, the client contacted us after learning of our expertise in delivering similarly complex developments.

Set within a Conservation Area with neighbouring gardens forming the site boundaries on three sides, this meant that windows could only be positioned on the front facing wall, with resultant conflicting issues of privacy and the provision of adequate natural daylight to rooms. The subsequent design of the three-dimensional internal volumes and spaces needed to push architectural boundaries to fit in all accommodation and incorporate inventive ways to maximise daylight and sunlight into the lowest levels of the house, at the same time providing the desired tranquility, security and amenity within the client’s budget.

In responding to these site constraints, our design solution turns the typical house configuration upside down locating all three bedrooms within the new basement and with all main living spaces set at ground and first floors to gain maximum benefit from light, ventilation and views. From the street only the new first floor is visible, perched above the front boundary wall and cossetted by a backdrop of tall mature trees. The exterior is expressed using a minimal pallet of materials with smooth black brickwork forming a bold base and burnt larch timber cladding at first floor providing a softer textured surface above. The black monolithic brick surface flows from the exterior to the interior creating internal volumes with a feel of being sculpted from a dense monolithic block.

A timber entrance gate of charred larch and a jaunty bright yellow number fixed to the brick wall signals the main entrance to the house. Beyond the gate is a private forecourt which discreetly houses an air source heat pump, providing renewable energy for heating and hot water in the house. A startling yellow front door then leads into the entrance lobby that accommodates a small office space and wc, and thereon into the main ground floor open-plan kitchen and dining area. Continuous high-level horizontal patent glazing set along the rear wall combines with floor to ceiling windows facing onto the front open lightwell, drawing daylight into the space. An open riser staircase fabricated in black colour coated steel with natural birch-faced plywood treads runs along one side wall from the first floor down to the basement hallway. Walk-on glazing inset within floor structure at first and ground floors runs parallel to the staircase with a large rooflight above that baths the heart of the house with ever changing patterns of daylight and sunlight. At basement level two bedrooms wrap around the secluded open courtyard. The third bedroom and master ensuite bathroom, although internal enclosed spaces, receive ample daylight via ‘light chutes’ set within the floor structure. The curved roof of the house conceals an array of photovoltaic panels supplementing energy back to the grid, and this profiled roof is dramatically defined internally at first floor ceiling level within the main living room space with a grid of exposed tapered glulam timber beams that rise up from the staircase wall and bend in a tight radius running from end to end along the birch ply clad ceiling.

A minimal assembly of tones, textures, and surfaces are repeated throughout the structure and fabric of the house providing clarity of the design ideology. Internally the dark brick walls are enhanced with warm interior lighting, and dark grey composite panelling and speckled grey Corian worktops contrast with lighter birch-faced plywood used for all built in furniture and storage. A soft grey resin monolithic floor finish running throughout each floor level unifies the entire volume of the interior. The sustainable materials and energy-efficient technology woven into the house work in tandem with the architecture and interior design both meeting and exceeding the client’s original expectations.

Darling House has taken five years from inception to completion and has been a unique self-build experience. Working on a project over this amount of time requires patience, careful attention to detail and a strong vision to ensure that the final product realises the client’s aspirations. Throughout this timescale, it has been a collaborative process working closely with the client, the planning department, the contractor, and all other members of the design team, and it is an example of what can be achieved with a strong will, passion and a degree of fortitude and motivation from all those involved in the process.