Tigg Coll Architects were approached by the clients to reimagine a basement apartment in a conservation area that was impaired by low ceiling heights, poor levels of illumination, and rising damp.

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The architectural proposal sought to create a completely open plan living area in the main footprint of the dwelling in order to maximise natural light levels, but also to make a connection between the principal reception rooms and the external light-wells to the front and rear of the property.

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In order to facilitate such a move, all ‘secondary spaces’ (Utility Room, Guest W.C., Dining Area, and storage cupboards) were placed along the wall furthest from daylight sources, and then their volumes combined into a timber ‘storage wall’ – a single piece of furniture at the scale of a room and treated as an integral part of the interior architecture. Like the painting that inspired the idea (‘St. Jerome in his Study’ (1460-1475) by Antonello da Messina), the storage wall acts as a bridge between the large volume of the living space and the more intimate areas contained within the joinery.

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St. Jerome in his Study’ (1460-1475) by Antonello da Messina, National Gallery, London

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The façade of the storage wall engages with the reception room along its entire length, playing with the inhabitant’s perception of depth through a variety of threshold treatments. Banks of storage cupboards straddle a void to form a Dining/Study space. A grid of cupboard doors are arranged to form a sliding door portal for access to the Utility Room. The Guest W.C. is found behind a concealed door, clad in birch-ply and spanning from floor to ceiling, so that its presence is only revealed by a single line in the woodwork.

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The wall also interacts with its surroundings through a pair of angled niches, which open-up key site-lines (eg. from the Entrance hall) and give the volume a dynamic quality, whilst also breaking down the mass of the joinery. They have become a dominant motif of the project, echoed in the fireplace reveal and the Dining Space shelving.

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The final result is a completely transformed space. Natural light floods into the interior through a 3m high glazed extension which offers generous views of foliage and the sky above so that it is possible to forget that the apartment is below ground. Yet a gentler domestic scale is suggested through the material palette and careful detailing, providing an additional richness to the linear volume.

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