Radical revamp for period London property

A Victorian house in the UK capital is given a comprehensive restoration that merges modern and traditional.

One of the bedrooms. Nerida Howard
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A five-storey period property in the conservation area of Belsize Park offered something of a rarity for a couple looking for a new London home - a free-standing house on a sizeable plot, with off-road parking.

However, the Lancaster Drive property, which is set on a corner plot at the end of a row of six identical houses, was built in the 1840s and, after a series of unsympathetic alterations in the past, was in dire need of renovation and modernisation. There were also a series of structural issues to be addressed. For instance, the settling of the property's timber substructure over the course of 150 years meant that the floor plates had sagged and, in some areas, the floor sloped by more than 100 millimetres from one corner of a room to another.

The couple had recently acquired a contemporary three-storey holiday home in Portugal and wanted to recreate that property's modern, sprawling Mediterranean style in their North London abode - no easy task in a typical Victorian house consisting of a collection of small rooms on each floor. They wanted "a bright, spacious home with high ceilings and flowing spaces" but instead found themselves with a series of dark, confined spaces and a distinct lack of natural light.

So they enlisted the help of sporadicSPACE, a London-based design firm founded by Andries V Kruger, who started his career working for South Africa's BILD, the firm responsible for designing Sun City, the Palace of the Lost City and the South African Reserve Bank. Kruger then moved to London to work with the luxury hotel specialists Seifert International before joining Norman Foster's practice, where he headed up a major refurbishment of Asprey's flagship store in London's Mayfair and worked on boutique hotels in both London and Las Vegas, as well as a number of high-end residential projects.

Kruger's extensive experience of refurbishing period properties and working on hotel projects mean that he was well placed to transform the 530-square-metre house on Lancaster Drive.

"The Victorian period property needed to suit a contemporary lifestyle with a strong emphasis on entertaining. The significant structural decline of the building and antiquated room layout presented a challenging brief for sporadicSPACE so a radical and comprehensive refurbishment was required," he explains.

Kruger decided to open up the house's floor plates to optimise space and maximise the size of the rooms. Each floor plate was freed of supporting columns and joined by a structural steel beam network and a timber joist floor system. A service core running through the building acts as a structural spine and provides the neural network for distributing services to each floor. The result is a fully flexible internal layout that can be modified at will.

In this way, Kruger was able to stay true to one of sporadicSPACE's core aims: delivering "responsible solutions".

"The biggest challenge for sporadicSPACE was knowing from past experience that structural interventions of this scale on period properties of this kind only happen every 100 to 150 years, so we had to come up with a design that was not only truly unique but that was also durable and future proof," he explains. "We therefore came up with an open plan floor plate with a service core," he adds.

"To us this was a durable and responsible solution that could stretch beyond a single person's lifespan and the concept was supported by our client. In my view, there is a responsibility for me as an architect to make informed decisions about our built environment that will benefit future generations."

The external appearance of the building was also enhanced by reinstating original features that had been removed over the years. A 7-metre vertical frameless glass slot was introduced at the rear of the building, creating a striking contrast between old and new.

The interior of the property was divided into two zones. Zone one consists of public spaces for welcoming and entertaining, while zone two consists of the three upper floors of the house and is more intimate and private. A modern steel staircase with a curved glass balustrade and floating, illuminated treads links the lower and upper ground floors, creating interesting contrast with the traditional Victorian staircase that leads to the bedrooms on the upper levels.

A master bedroom and study span the whole of the first floor. "The bedroom is spacious with doors that can be opened entirely, giving access to a balcony overlooking the back garden. The en suite master bathroom is screened off by a large semicircular walk-in shower and bespoke designed bathroom storage cabinets. The bathroom and bedroom space has been designed to be open plan but can be closed off with concealed side panel doors when required," Kruger explains.

Many of the bespoke interior elements were designed by sporadicSPACE, including a stunning chandelier that is Kruger's favourite part of the interior. The 2.3-metre-wide light fixture hangs in the double height dining area and consists of interdependent inner and outer components that counterbalance each other and can be raised or lowered depending on the required ambience.

"After hours of convincing the client of the concept, I was commissioned to design my bespoke chandelier for the house. As it was such a complex design, I decided to fabricate and construct it myself and it is almost an art installation in itself. This has led to a separate business idea whereby I am now welcoming commissions from clients to design and make these bespoke chandeliers," Kruger says.

To further fulfil the brief for an open, flowing interior, all doors in the property span from floor to ceiling, while the double doors entering the reception room are more than 3.2-metre in height.

"The flooding of natural light throughout the property, the expansive open plan spaces and double height volumes on the lower and upper ground floors were key elements in answering our client's brief. The interior spaces were carefully designed as a backdrop for collectable art, colourful objects and designer furniture to meet the client's personality," says Kruger. "House Lancaster presented an ideal challenge for our philosophy as it has given us the opportunity to create a dramatic contemporary backdrop within a robust Victorian building that will stand the test of time and offer future inhabitants a flexible and invigorating living experience," he concludes.