Box clever: it’s hip to be square at Coffey Architects’ Hidden House
Coffey Architects inflicted a savage architectural initiation upon the youngest member of their team, Ella Wright. In order to pass her Part Three qualification and join the architects’ club, she had to design a house on a 72 sq m site, formerly a caretaker’s shed, set on ground above a Grade II-listed prison built in 1847, in a mixed use, green conservation area, and the final challenge: an architect client. Against all odds, the resulting house is graceful, neat and rather luxurious.
Located in the heart of London’s Clerkenwell district and separated from an old school building converted into offices by just a slim footpath, one of the key challenges was maintaining a sense of privacy. The context also meant that planning restricted this project to one-storey height, so a second key challenge was creating space and bringing in natural light.
The client, Selim Bayer, founder of Flat C Architecture, needed a central, city base for him and his wife, who split their time between London and Istanbul. They also were looking for a place to host friends and family. While Wright had been wary of working with another architect, she was pleasantly surprised, saying, ‘He was really on board with the process and really open to ideas.’
Fitting like a glove into its surroundings, the house unfolds like a box of boxes. It is the careful attention to functional detail that allows this house to be a success, yet practicality is never secondary to aesthetic. The smooth oak panelling that hides sliding doors and invisible storage, becomes a design concept, while similarly the roof lights that bring in light while preserving privacy, are deep set and strongly geometric bringing a sense of generosity to the small space. Again, polished concrete floors that hide underfloor heating, also give this home a contemporary edge.
A wide rectangular roof light is positioned directly over the bed in the master bedroom, with another glazed roof light above the shower in the master bedroom. ‘It’s quite unusual to have a bedroom without a traditional window in the wall, but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic,’ says Wright, who also designed a narrow, long and deep roof light that runs along the ceiling connecting the bedroom entrance to the bathroom like a guide.
‘This was an obnoxious piece of plastering for the builders to do – they were not impressed,’ she smiles. Coffey work with the same joiners on many of their projects. ‘We talk them through the concept with the 3D model, so they have the visual from day one, they understand the space and what we are trying to achieve – it’s all about alignment.’
In the combined living, kitchen and dining room, another wide window overlooks a private communal garden. ‘Everywhere we have a window, it’s almost like a punch. They have deep reveals, either made from – brick or oak which is punched, framing a very specific view. It’s the same with the front door, there's a really deep threshold,’ says Wright.
In addition to architectural details, bespoke pieces of furniture also designed by Wright fit perfectly into the box further continuing this smooth and seamless living experience. From the sofa bed in the guest room with matching side tables, to the extendable oak dining table that hides cutlery drawers within, these elements cleverly preserve space while remaining conceptual.