The process of creating a home can sometimes compare to creating a very personal work of art—and this was certainly the case when a sculptor and a painter bought a dilapidated, four-story Victorian terrace house in Hampstead, London. The home had previously been divided into two flats and hadn’t been restored for many years, leaving it in poor condition. The older couple had ambitious plans, and they approached Oliver Leech Architects to create a naturally lit, gallery-like space to exhibit the artwork they had collected over the years.
"Despite the poor condition of the home, there was a kind of derelict beauty in the faded colors, wallpapers, and textures of the original house," recalls Oliver Leech, founding director at Oliver Leech Architects. "Our clients set up a small art exhibition in the house before work began in celebration of the history of the house."
The project included a complete remodel of the home, to better connect the interior spaces through a series of split levels. The firm extended the ground, basement, and loft levels to accommodate a new open-plan kitchen and dining area, as well as two new bedroom suites. The design team also excavated the front garden to create a light well that floods the interior with natural light.
The team also completely reconfigured the entry sequence. Instead of entering the home through a dark, narrow corridor, the front door opens directly to a light-filled sitting room. At the top of the home, a new oak staircase with a full-height spine wall connects the split-level living spaces—and it stands in stark contrast to the more traditional staircases on the lower levels.
Oliver Leech Architects retained and restored a few of the home’s original features in creative ways. One of the clients created new molds of the original plasterwork to allow it to be faithfully recreated. Elsewhere, however, original features were lost. The firm designed a new minimalist marble fireplace for the living room that reuses the existing cast-iron insert.
Throughout, the monochromatic palette acts as a striking backdrop for the couple’s art collection. "Natural light is an important feature of all our work," says Leech. "On this project, we wanted to soften the light to provide a gallery-like setting for the clients’ artwork and sculptures."
The dramatic contrast between light and dark is most evident in the decorative white moldings in the living spaces—which are off-set against black-stained oak floors—and the black units and Nero Marquina natural stone worktops in the kitchen, which sit against a pale, porcelain floor. Upstairs, the palette becomes softer and more subdued, to encourage a restful atmosphere.
"We thought carefully about each material and every color to create an overall coherent palette, whilst also creating unique spaces within the home that serve their particular purpose," reveals Leech. One of the most striking elements—and the only diversion from the monochromatic palette—is the soft pink entrance hall, which draws inspiration from the Japanese cherry tree in the front garden.
"As a practice that relishes design challenges, Hampstead House has been a wonderful project to design and deliver," says Leech. "There is a wonderful sense of achievement in reviving buildings that have fallen into disrepair, and giving them a new future."
Architect of Record: Oliver Leech Architects
Main contractor: AKC Europe Ltd.
Interior Designer: Oliver Leech Architects
Structural Engineer: Entuitive
Basement: OBS Basements
Building Control: London Building Control
Party Wall Surveyor: Watson Woods Partnership
Photographer: Building Narratives
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