Victorian Home in London Gets a Modern Office Addition

Inspired by the aperture of a camera, an angular home expansion brings focus to a new live/work space.

When a couple who run their own design and photography firm sought to turn an uninhabited Victorian villa in London into an integrated home and office, they gave architect Alison Brooks free rein to maximize the space. The result, dubbed the Lens House, features an unorthodox addition inspired by the aperture of a camera.

The roughly 5,000-square-foot Lens House renovation, which was finished in 2012 and just won a 2014 RIBA National Award, required six years, major remedial work on the roof and walls, approval from the planning committee, and even a sign-off from a horticulturalist to guarantee the backyard excavation didn't interfere with a walnut tree. "These things aren’t for people who are in a hurry," says architect Alison Brooks. The focus is the ten-sided trapezoidal office addition. "It wraps itself around the house with a completely different set of rules than the Victorian building," she says.

"I do feel non-orthogonal space has a more dynamic quality," says Brooks, who has experimented with organic geometries and trapezoids on many of her previous previous projects. "There’s a kind of movement, expansion, and contraction. There’s a forced perspective, which intensifies the spatial experience. The planes and surfaces of a building are manipulated and choreographed into a sequence of much more particular views than you'd find with a glass box, so to speak."  

Backyard excavation created a sunken courtyard, where the side entrance to a new 750-square-foot office space lies. The exterior is clad in Corian, a surface normally found on countertops. "The clients love that they can go to another wing of the house and have an office," says Brooks. "There's a physical seperation. We’ve designed it so in the future, if they close the firm, they can open up the door between the office and the dining room and connect the entire basement floor."

The resulting addition of sharply cut slabs of dark gray Corian cladding, a material normally found on countertops, looks like the viewing decks from a battlestar, and adds a striking contrast to the brick above. Between extending the back bay window, opening the interior to break down the "cellular spacing" of the 19th century floor plan, and excavating the sloping backyard, Brooks added edginess, airiness, and energy to a derelict building that had been abandoned for a decade.

The couple's firm specializes in illustration and photography for the advertising industry. The framed art is by Anthony Burrill and the wall calendar is the work of Crispin Finn. The Ikea office table is ringed by Fritz Hansen Butterfly Chairs and Herman Miller Aeron Chairs. The lighting is by Artemide.

"The format for contemporary urban housing shouldn’t be based on living room, dining, kitchen, and bedroom," says Brooks of the home's fused layout. "It’s not how we live. Everybody works from home. The more we design homes for people to work in them during the day, the more that our neighborhoods will take on a different life."

This image shows how Brooks opened up interior, turning it into a light-filled space. While the home suggests a contemporary point of view, her inspiration for the interior actually came from medieval architecture and the great country homes of England. "The great halls where you'd have a feast had a ceremonial function as well as a domestic one. Here, the kitchen becomes a social hub, with the island as a hearth, in a way. The living room is the minstral's gallery, and the entertainent is on the mezzanine. With the double-height space in the center of the home, you encounter space in a different way." A Jasper Morrison Smithfield light hangs above the kitchen island. Brooks designed the kitchen cabinets and tables, as well as the steel fireplace.

The abstract geometry of the exterior allows for unique openings and this sklylight, which provides natural light to the staff throughout the day. "One of my ambitions is to place openings, windows, and roof lights strategically, so you get a sense of the time of day and the weather," says Brooks.


The kitchen features a concrete island topped with marble. Deja-Vu stools by Naoto Fukasawa surround the island. A print by Guy Gormley, as well as a painting bought during holiday in St. Tropez, hang on the walls.

On the mezzanine level, different styles and eras complement each other, from the Georgian staircase to the sheets of glass and the Lola Convex Mirror to the James Irvine sofa.


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