The clients for this small residential jewel have an expanding family (with two twin two-year-old girls) but fixed walls. Since they couldn’t expand upwards or outwards (disputes with the residents’ committee had prevented them from both pursuing a loft conversion and acquiring the right to build on their external patio), we had to build inwards. We designed a room within a room.
The apartment sits within a larger 80’s mansion block on the far Northwestern corner of Narrow Street, in Limehouse, London E14. We grew a new space in the largest room of the house – the living room – to optimise the use of its generous ceiling height, minimise intrusiveness, and maximise distance from the noisy and busy LImehouse Link highway at the rear of their block. The stairway of our new construction lifts the room occupant high enough alongside the south-facing windows to finally afford a view of the nearby Thames that had been hitherto inaccessible.
The clients asked for a space that combined a new quiet bedroom for their young children with storage within the room and outside it. They also required that the room could function in the future as both a second bedroom, and a study – with the further option to transform the double bed into a large desk space. The new space was spawned from the exact geometry of the room’s window mullion, affording the necessary fire-escape from its host living room by co-opting a portion of the window. The new space was fed further light by the largest plane of acoustic glass that could possibly be squeezed (diagonally) through the front door – a 250kg slab of acoustic filter to complement the high degree of insulation that sonically separated the room’s occupants from the noises of the living room.
The project was generated from simple but severe planometric and sectional constraints, literally growing from its context, its plasterboard wrap discreetly unfurling from the neighbouring walls – with no perceptible boundary between old and new. The space juggles the minimum comfortable head-height both within it, along its corridor, and outside it, beneath its cantilever – a space where people can comfortably walk and access the generous storage cupboard beneath the floor above, where the bed is lifted to the level of a desk to afford passage beneath, its perch accessed by an extra plinth
Barely shoulder-width at its exposed entry elevation, the room offers a rich, sensual, multi-programmed journey from door to bed. Its volume tucks into a corner to take up minimum volume, yet its innards array to maximise the sense of interior spaciousness; bed and desk cantilever into the living room, their enclosing wall tapering outwards to provide a greater sense of perceptual spaciousness, and to more gently flow back into the ceiling above.
The structure’s thin CNC-cut plywood ribs swell and retract to provide integrated furniture and shelving, connecting across the insulated ceiling with minimal expression (severed, where necessary, to allow a curtain to pass), and tracing an expressive journey back across the floor, flush with fellow plywood floorboards. The hefty ribs – structurally strained by their demanding cantilever (and the desire to avoid the cost of reinforcing steelwork), arrayed on an elastic logarithmic grid that densifys to accumulate strength where most needed – were assembled on site from relatively small CNC-carved ‘3d-jigsaw’ components of 18mm birch plywood, screwed and glued at junctions that were later concealed by the integrated furniture. The contractor (and his accomplice, our mutual client) rapidly constructed the surrounding box template which provided millimetre-accurate positioning for the lattice of ribs, which arrived flat-packed in the back of a small truck, and were rapidly unfolded, connected and erected within a day.
The room is accessed by a spiralling set of stairs that grow from a skirting board slithering along a single edge of the room, their oak-edged lines flowing between and past the pillars of the entry portal, their lower levels continuing horizontally as a series of alcove shelves beneath the room. This oak trim provides the central narrative structure to the space, tracing (in this sequence) the edges of handrail, a range of window-ledges, shelving, 2 drawer handle, bedsides, alcove lining, above-bed shelf, bed-side window and storage, the edge and even structural support of the tapering floating edges of the desk, before folding down and traveling back into the line that first generated it.
The bed cantilevers over the floor to offer sufficient legroom for its future transformation into an extension of the generous desk as the children grow and migrate, and the room becomes a workspace. The lowest strata of wall-shelf wraps round the foot of the room’s integrated wardrobe to afford a step up in the meantime. The headboard book-matches an expressive walnut veneer to echo the dramatic mountainous forms reflected in surrounding water of the client’s hometown city – Guilin, China. The southern side of the bed carves its alcove (replete with sockets and switches) from the adjacent storage volume while the northern side borrows a pocket from the wall, and also offers a small vertical window - a peep into the domestic activities outside, all concealable by a pair of folding handle-free shutters.
The children – the ultimate spatial inquisitors - are still discovering details.