This project transformed a dark and cramped Victorian terrace backing onto Herne Hill Station into a characterful, energy-efficient home. The project creates a sequence of new interior spaces each varying in light and outlook. A new lantern roofed extension creates a tall dining space framing views of the sky.

Name of client: Ian Harding and Clare Checkland
Additional credits: Osborne Edwards Ltd, Photography Jacob Milligan, Kitchen design Ian Dunn.
Completion date: 27/06/2019
Project address: 277 Railton Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0LY GB
Floor area: 115 square metres
Project cost: £180,000

The Jewellery Box House Herne Hill by Michael Collins Architects - Sheet4
©Michael Collins Architects

The exterior was inspired by the simple poetry of boxy self-built ‘add-ons’ and ‘closet returns’ seen along the rear of railway terraces. A key issue involve ed how to maximise the sense of external space, and create a new sequence of generous living spaces to address a tall verdant railway embankment. The clients, Ian and Clare, had a large collection of fine furniture and an ambition to curate’ a series of distinct spaces each with their own identity. A responsive approach was taken to this particular site in terms of the materiality and form of the extension, we feel that the design has a specific resonance with its backland context and indeed its unique clients and could not exist easily elsewhere. A ‘jewellery box’ was used as a metaphor by our clients to describe how a structure that was seemingly small from the outside; could unfold into a varied array of spaces when one progresses through the building. A dark and apparently simple exterior form would have a warm and eclectic interior.

The Jewellery Box House Herne Hill by Michael Collins Architects - Sheet4
©Michael Collins Architects

The choice of the materials was inspired by the site, we quote liked to sootiness of the existing brickwork, furthermore we discovered that the property was once home to Alan Naish who ran the oldest chimney sweeping business in London and whose clients included Winston Churchill! We wanted to use oxidised copper and charred larch cladding to relate to that historic context and relate more softly to the existing textures of the site, furthermore the changing and oxidised finish alluding to railway infrastructure.

The intimate character of the existing property is retained whilst creating a light and tall proportioned new space to the rear. The extension to the rear is conceived as two cubic volumes embedded within a plinth. The lowered plinth along the boundaries contains the kitchen cupboards and units, and avoids overshadowing issues to neighbouring properties. One volume creates a tall central ‘lantern’ over the dining area and is detached from the rear of the property to allow light to enter from all sides. The second volume, a timber clad bathroom rests above the roof structure and defines a space for a large roof-light below. The tall dining space directs views up into the tree canopy of the embankment. A large pocket door opens the new kitchen to the garden area. The first floor bathroom and bedrooms, overlook a green roof to the plinth to provide visual continuity with the embankment behind. A warm and rich timber lined interior with flecks of brass contrast with the existing victorian brickwork, complemented with sharply detailed darkened metal and charred timber exterior of the new extension. The external materials to the new extension were chosen to blend with the sooty coloured London stock brickwork at the rear, and speak to the oxidised qualities of small structures along the railway line itself. A ‘fabric first’ approach was taken to improve the thermal performance of the existing building (natural sheepswool insulation) and extension involving a 50% improvement on the current building regulations. Reclaimed timber was used extensively for all floors, the new kitchen. The new biodiverse roof is fed by recycled rainwater. Although copper is seem as a ‘luxury’ material with a higher embodied levels of energy, we were impressed by its extreme longevity, resistance to moisture and its ability to be re-cycled in many ways.

The Jewellery Box House Herne Hill by Michael Collins Architects - Sheet5
©Michael Collins Architects

Our approach

This project was largely self-built by the clients with a modest budget, and our role was one of the project enablers, collaborators and problem solvers, the project was shaped by the input and experience of the various specialist craftsmen, council planners and the clients each of who left their mark. Innovation At the heart of this project and the clients brief was an ambition to create an environmentally responsible project inherent within all aspects of the design, from the whole to the detail. This included: – Three new ‘gardens’ are created where none previously existed. An upper sun-terrace and shaded lower courtyard and water garden for the inhabitants. An accessible biodiverse wildflower roof ‘garden’ exists over the extension, primarily for birds and insects, fed with recycled water from the new lantern roof. – The extension that was thermally modelled, pulled into the garden to maximize natural light, natural ventilation to the rear of the existing property. – The existing property was substantially insulated with consideration for new renewable installation to the ‘London roof’. Innovative construction systems and materials -A hybrid steel and timber-framed structure was incorporated over a new cantilevered concrete slab to deal with onerous ground conditions and the historic foundations of the terrace. – Various new systems were employed involving the careful coordination and visits to workshops, such as glazing specialists, brass and copper installers, timber veneer bookmatchers, charred timber workshops. Key points: – A sensitive project that is linked to and enhances its context. – An example of how the rear of existing buildings with limited space or outlook can become an enjoyable green terraced landscape. – A low energy retro-fitting model for existing properties.

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