Open House London 2020:this year’s architectural highlights — from a windmill to behind the scenes at the Royal Opera House – Homes and Property



At first glance a squat little house in the back streets of Bermondsey seems an unlikely candidate to be named as one of London’s architectural highlights.

But after an award-winning £100,000 facelift, the 860sq ft former council home is a masterclass in how to make a small space feel generous.

It will be one of the buildings to open its doors, alongside the Royal Opera House and a fully operational windmill, during this year’s Open House Festival, which starts tomorrow.

In normal years more than 250,000 people use Open House to get inside buildings that are usually off-limits to the public. In this very-far-from-normal year there are fewer buildings to explore and more emphasis on online events and guided walks.

However, for those who want to get out and about — with masks and hand sanitiser at the ready — and whose greatest joy is nosing around other people’s homes, there are still gems on offer.

Anamaria Pircu, co-founder of VATRAA Architecture, was unfazed when she was called in last year to remodel the little ex-council house in Bermondsey.

“We like buildings which look like they don’t have potential,” she said. “There is always something to work with.”

The inside of the house was even worse than its nondescript exterior suggested, with lurid wallpaper, a faux stone-clad feature wall, dated built-in furniture and a bottle green kitchen.

Since the house is part of a terrace few changes could be made to its front façade. But inside Pircu and her team rethought the layout to enlarge the master bedroom, incorporated better storage and increased the feeling of space by taking down the ceilings to expose the joists.

The décor has been stripped back to basics with whitewashed wood floors and bare plasterwork on the walls — a cost-effective, stylishly industrial option that adds texture to the space and gives a great backdrop for artworks and furniture.

From a stable block to a family home

For a home right at the other end of the Grand Designs scale, head to Kew to marvel at how a Victorian stable block has been converted into a modern family house.

The ramshackle brick stables and adjacent garages were converted by architects Piercy & Company into a courtyard house with two parallel wings linked by a glass walkway. It is clad in panels of dramatically rusting, perforated weathered steel.

The industrial theme continues inside, with concrete floors and a red metal central staircase, while the basement has been converted into a huge playroom accessed from the ground floor by a wooden slide.

The property is more than four times the size of the Bermondsey house and the project cost almost £1 million to complete.

A courtyard theme

On Clerkenwell Green there is the chance to visit another take on the courtyard house theme, by Paxton Locher Architects.

Tucked away on an awkward backlands site and hemmed in by its neighbours, the windowless house gets its light from above with the help of a motorised skylight that transforms part of kitchen into a courtyard open to the elements.

A ‘two up, two down’ home in Camberwell

In Camberwell, Julia Hamson, who has just set up her own practice, 4S Architecture, and video game developer Alex Dowdeswell are preparing to show off their revamped Victorian two up, two down home.

The couple bought the house in 2014 and the first phase of the work involved reconfiguring the top floor, taking space from the over-large bathroom to create a third bedroom that’s now used by their daughter.

The more ambitious phase two began last spring, when the couple had a large rear extension built with a zigzag roofline.

At its highest point the roof is around 14ft tall. The couple were able to get away with this by agreeing with their neighbours, who were also doing an extension, to build a continuous roofline along the two homes.

“Internally it gives us a lot of head height which is important because Alex is 6ft 4ins tall,” said Hamson. “The house is long and thin, but this made it feel so much bigger.”

The kitchen/dining room is also full of clever space-saving ideas, from the coffee station hidden within a line of tall cabinets in the dining room, to the projector installed on top of the cabinets, which the couple use to screen children’s films on the opposite wall — meaning they don’t need a wall-mounted TV set.

The £160,000 project took five months to complete and added some 140sq ft to the house.

More Open House London festival highlights

Other must-see properties to enjoy during this year’s Open House include New Scotland Yard, home of the Metropolitan Police on Victoria Embankment, while after six months of darkness, the Royal Opera House is also opening its doors.

Visitors will be granted access to the world-famous stages, with the essential opportunity to take a selfie on stage.

In the suburbs you could visit Keston Windmill in Bromley, a fabulous working mill which dates from 1716.

Or you could go subterranean and take a tour of the fantastical grotto built by the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) when he lived in Twickenham.

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