New London Architecture

Plaster pleasure: Council House Renovation

Thursday 06 May 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

‘I thought it was the essence of the competition. It did so much with so little. I loved it and think it is an inspiration for people who live in smaller houses, even council houses, that they can have great architecture as well… It was so well done; it was just beautiful’ - Kunle Barker, Chief Operating Officer, Melt Property


Council House Renovation by VATRAA is the Joint Winner of this year's Compact Design of the Year Prize. The client commissioned VATRAA for a complete transformation of her ex-council house, aimed at preserving a discrete appearance on the outside while becoming warm, protective, and spacious on the inside.

The surprise is revealed when stepping through the door: a tall entrance lobby marks the start of a journey through different spaces and atmospheres, each tailored to the function they serve. By turning constraints into opportunities, the project transformed a disregarded house into a home with a distinctive character, now proud to tell its story through space, light and materials.

This is, as its title suggests, a renovation of a council house. But it is far more than that. Situated on a Bermondsey estate with little in the way of interventions on the outside, a stylish, warm, characterful transformation awaits within. The architects created a new ‘event’ entrance with storage – including for the client’s Brompton fold-up bicycle – opening the eaves to create more headspace and connect to a rooflight above the stairs. The roof was raised in the living room by removing a ceiling and pushing insulation and plasterboard between joists, adding character in so doing, again using plaster for the walls, and creating floors in a similar-looking material.  Bespoke, architect-designed joinery and furniture adds warmth, while a new warming room is used to both dry clothes and heat the floor above. More plastered walls continue up the sky-lit stairs, setting off minimalist handrails and contrasting with the treatment of the calm, white-walled bedrooms, the eaves in the master bedroom used as a walk-in closet space, with a spare room including an ensuite. The dining area connects with the kitchen, again unified principally by the ceiling treatment, with more wooden furniture including a bench with storage and table again designed by the architect. 

Bernadette Sexton, Homeowner, and Anamaria Pircu and Bogdan Rusu, Co-founders, VATRAA









COMMENT FROM THE JUDGES AND HOMEOWNER

The Judges:

‘They’ve clearly been light on their toes as they have worked through this, and really reacted to the building. And I think it’s lovely; spatially very successful with little in the way of changes. it feels very striking what they’ve done with very little’ – Melissa Dowler, Director, Bell Phillips Architects


 ‘It’s a real, complete, whole project; the fact that they designed and built the furniture as well, and the storage, and every single aspect has been taken care of, which could be a bit scary for the client and perhaps it was at some point. But I think it’s achieved a complete project that looks fantastic in every aspect’ - Karen Stylianides, Editor, Grand Designs Magazine

The Homeowner:

From the first meeting, I saw Anamaria and Bogdan’s ambition to unlock the true potential of my ex-council house. After an exciting collaboration, we obtained a result that became my definition of a home: discrete on the outside, but warm, protective and spacious on the inside. Each area has its own personality. My favourite is sitting on the dining room bench, which connects the front and back garden, connects the kitchen to the dining, and connects the pictures and lighting on the walls in the hallway and dining. It gives so much and uses the available space to the max.'
WHO ARE THIS YEAR'S JUDGES?

TEAM CREDITS

Architect
VATRAA

Structural Engineer
StructureHaus

Contractor
Tomasz Zmelty Building Ltd

Photographer
Jim Stephenson

PROJECT INFORMATION

Status
Built

Borough
Southwark

Size
80 sqm

Completion
May 2020

VIEW THIS YEAR'S SHORTLIST
FOLLOW DON'T MOVE, IMPROVE! ON INSTAGRAM
ABOUT DON'T MOVE, IMPROVE!

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


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