A Barrel-Vaulted Brick Addition Makes This English Home Feel Unexpectedly Airy
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A Barrel-Vaulted Brick Addition Makes This English Home Feel Unexpectedly Airy

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By Kate Reggev
A Victorian terrace house in York gains an addition that playfully pits traditional, handmade brick against modern concrete and millwork.

In Northeast England, the ancient city of York teems with L-shaped, Victorian-era terrace homes—like that of Paul Kirkman, the director of a local museum, and his wife Lilly Shahravesh, a textile designer. Theirs, which was purchased in a state of disrepair, is located in a designated conservation area populated by similarly proportioned buildings of handmade York brick. Their architect, Ben Allen, describes it as "a landscape almost completely of one material."

Located in a conservation zone in the historic city of York, England, Vault House was characteristic of the area with its red brick facade made of local, handmade York brick.

Paul and Lilly reached out to London-based Studio Ben Allen to address necessary upgrades to the windows, bathrooms, kitchen, and electrical and plumbing systems. They were also interested in creating a new workroom or studio, and an extension to the house—what Allen calls "the most open part of the brief." 

Studio Ben Allen was inspired by the textured brick "landscape" of the neighborhood. The same type of local, handmade brick from the existing home was used for the extension, creating an almost seamless transition between the two.

Although the exterior material connects the new addition back to the house, it distinguishes itself in form with an arched, load-bearing roof. The high ceilings allow light into the new kitchen, dining, and work spaces.

The concept for the addition was to convert the rear of the house—whose more industrial, secondary brick facade faced a small yard and an alley—into a light-filled work, dining, and storage space.

The new addition extends into the backyard, which has been transformed into a small courtyard that draws light into the interior.

Taking these ideas into consideration, Allen was inspired by the "local York brick facades, yards, and lanes" and designed the addition out of handmade York brick, whose handcrafted nature lends a rustic, textured appearance that ranges from brown to pale pink. 

The brick walls of the extension provide a warm, textured interior that requires little more than simple furnishings and light fittings to feel comfortable and lived in.

However, rather than following the traditional, rectilinear forms of the existing buildings, Allen created two tall barrel vaults whose load-bearing arches are simultaneously modern and connected to the area’s past. The creative approach brings a sculptural aspect to the material, and the transom windows at the top of the arches allow plentiful sunlight. 

Oak cabinets in the kitchen provide ample storage not only for food and cooking utensils but also bike storage, following the clients’ request.

In plan, the extension wraps around a small courtyard, turning the former small backyard into an outdoor room—a "room within a room," as the architect describes it. The extension contains the kitchen, living, and work spaces, and the motif of the arches is repeated throughout the renovation, including the open shelving below the sink, which is made of poured-in-place concrete and supports the matching concrete countertop. Shelving and cabinets are crafted out of solid oak with minimalist, simple detailing. 

The warm textures and tones of the exterior are continued on the interior, where the brick walls are left exposed in certain areas. The poured-in-place concrete arches under the sink echo the arched doorways and barrel-vaulted ceilings.

Throughout the project, materials were selected for their warm tones, simple but robust appearance, and, importantly, ability to last and improve with age—like the brick that inspired the addition itself. The renovated first-floor bathroom features exposed brass taps and accessories, and the stairs leading upstairs were made from kit-of-parts pieces milled out of birch plywood.  

The use of concrete and wood shelving and cabinets continue the texture and warmth of the brick, but in different tones and scales. 

This not only allowed for cost savings, but also meant quick and easy assembly on site. Similarly, the kitchen and bedroom millwork and cabinetry was laid out to be as material- and cost-efficient as possible. The result is a home that is clearly of its own era, but will feel timeless as it patinas over the years. 

The new work and study space benefits from direct access to the courtyard and its natural light.

The stair was crafted from birch plywood and milled with a CNC mill so that it could be delivered and assembled as a kit of parts.

Upstairs, clean, minimalist cabinets offer plenty of storage.

Even the renovated bathrooms maintain the arched motif with arched mirrors above solid, uncoated brass hardware that will patina over time.

The bath fixtures received a similar treatment of uncoated brass that gleams against a backdrop of white tile.

Vault House by Studio Ben Allen ground floor plan

Vault House by Studio Ben Allen section

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