Adelaide

We first viewed this house in 2012. The house and garden were for sale in two separate lots, the garden being sold as a potential development site.

It had a beautiful character of decayed elegance but the feel of being a well-built house. The gardens were overgrown and a huge cypress tree dominated the front garden. It retained its original room layout with the kitchen on the north side and scullery, pantry, and service rooms on the west side.

The interior while faded had clearly been carried out to a very high standard and had remained largely untouched for some time, we later found out that the last major interior redesign had been in the 1930s.

Thankfully our clients purchased the entire plot – house and garden and we set about designing a family home.

Existing house​

With any project involving a historic building, the first step is to find out as much about it as possible, that is the history of the house and physical condition of the structure.

We knew the house had been built in the 1890s and had only been occupied by two or maybe three families in its lifetime. The structure of the houses was in very good condition, and we found that the house had been constructed of no-fines concrete with a facing of redbrick.

The technique involved constructing four courses of red brick then pouring concrete between the brick and a timber shuttering inside. The sash windows were in good condition and retained a lot of the original glass. The heating and electrics were minimal in nature at best.

The plan of the house was designed for a Victorian family – kitchen on the north side of the house where it was coldest and service room around it. The large garden was mostly to the west but only the service rooms overlooked it.

Design solution

Our intention from the outset was to create minimum intervention and where we did need to alter or add that these works would blend as seamlessly as possible with the old. The problem with the layout was that the service rooms occupied the best part of the house – the South-west corner with views to the garden and access to sunlight.

Unlike Victorian times, modern family life now rotates around the kitchen and we needed to provide one large enough to accommodate this with access to sunlight and links to the garden. To achieve this we partially demolished a single storey return that contained fuel stores and a bathroom, constructed a new kitchen in its place with a bay window facing south, and French doors opening onto a west-facing terrace.

A pantry and scullery were knocked together and extended to the south to form a living room we called the Morning Room. The original kitchen became a TV room and a wine room and cold store were altered to make a boot room, laundry, and WC.

The new interventions took their cue from the existing architecture, and to ensure this we spent a considerable amount of time measuring, drawing, and photographing the existing details. Detail drawings were made of the windows and French doors, the special bricks, architraves, and skirting.

We worked with Ibstock Bricks to remake the special bricks evident around the windows and string courses. The design for the new kitchen bay window was based on an existing bay and the French doors copied for the morning room and kitchen. A new rear entrance was constructed by adapting an existing window, lowering the sill and designing a new Dutch door recessed into the room to form a small covered porch.

The Works

The main contractor was appointed to the works using the RIAI Form of Contract. The contractor was a company that we had worked with previously and had a track record of producing a high-quality finish.

The demolitions were carried out very carefully. Bricks and slate were salvaged for reuse and old joinery from the scullery and butler’s pantry were carefully removed and stored for rescue later. Even the old encaustic floor tiles in the back hall were expertly lifted and relaid on the new subfloor.

Besides the structural alterations repair and upgrade works were carried out. The house was replumbed and rewired, underfloor heating was laid in the new kitchen, the attic and floors were insulated and the original windows expertly refurbished with the original glass retained.

Removing original glass and replacing it with double glazing has very little benefit in an old house and can seriously detract from the original character. Getting the sashes in proper working order and fitting new seals is far more beneficial.

The Orangery

It was always intended that there would be a phase two to the works. The original client brief had called for a guest bedroom but having looked at the options for adding another bedroom we all agreed that it would compromise the character of the house too much. It was agreed that at some point in the future we would design a separate building in the garden to house a guest room and study.

A number of options were investigated including converting the existing coach house or building a small gate lodge but the solution that was finally agreed was an orangery. An orangery is a very particular building type. They were originally devised to house tropical fruit trees during the winter and protect them from frost. Typically orangeries have solid masonry walls, a solid roof, and large expanses of south-facing glass.

There had been a range of glasshouses along the northern boundary of the garden at one time but all that remained was a 5 metre high brick wall. It was decided to site the orangery where the original glasshouses had ended so that the old brick wall would then contain a sheltered little garden that would have its own climate and character in the garden.

Inspiration & Proposal

The design of the orangery was inspired by the work of Sir John Soane particularly the stables at Chelsea Hospital with its spare elevation of three brick arches. The building itself is designed to appear as a single room from the outside but actually contains three rooms. Two bays are a single living/study space while the third bay has a small bedroom and a bathroom behind. Internally the main room has a huge, oversized piece of joinery that contains a kitchenette, TV, and file storage with glass cabinets over for books and objects.

Site works

Externally the building is distinctive for the brick arches and W20 steel windows. The brick arches were constructed on-site in the traditional way with each brick cut and laid on a curved formwork.

The steel windows were manufactured in England using the traditional W20 system and were fitted onto cills of Wicklow granite. The roof is covered in natural slate detailed with lead-roll ridges and with cast-iron downpipes.

Completed

The steel windows face south and maximise the light in the space. A large piece of built-in furniture contains a galley kitchen, TV cabinet and library.