Modern House, Cambridgeshire

Sensitive refurbishment throughout this unique, modernist home in a stunning location in Cambridgeshire.

Project Story

This unique Modernist home was built in Cambridgeshire in 1973.  It’s a striking property and the design has stood the test of time, although there were many parts of the interior which had become tired and in need of updating.

As the overall envelope of the building was the most striking and high-quality aspect of the property, along with the original joinery, it was felt that these areas should be concentrated on, with a new kitchen and new bathrooms that would be sympathetic to the original design and in keeping with the simple, modern style of the property.

The house had been built from Forticrete architectural blockwork throughout, and this material is a major part of its aesthetic.  The interior walls don’t have additional finishes on them, so the blockwork – and the visual rhythm is creates – is just as strong on the inside.  This original fabric, as well as the original floors and joinery, was an important consideration throughout our design work.

Although the original kitchen and bathrooms were still there, we weren’t setting out to create a period piece, or to preserve everything about a 1970s design.  The client was looking for an up-to-date, contemporary living accommodation, as well as a modern backdrop to their own collection of mid-century furniture.

The spirit of the house is encapsulated by the original staircase.  A spiral stair of teak treads is cantilevered from a central column, the treads not touching the cylindrical blockwork that surrounds it.  A magical design, although at the top of the stairs a heavy, square newel post and balustrade spoilt the effect from above.

We removed these and installed a new slim post on top the staircase.  As this will be held and touched as the stair is used we wanted it to be a warm feeling, and so had the post clad in bridle leather.  We were also using leather on some of the door handles and so we finished them all to match.  With the site being close to Newmarket, we engaged a local saddler to complete the leatherwork on site for us, and the result is simple yet beautiful, complementing the original design.  Fixed to this is a glass balustrade from the pole to the blockwork at the side, and the end result is that the original cylinder of the stairs is now a purely sculptural centrepiece to the house.

The living accommodation as well as the bedrooms are split across the two floors.  Upstairs is the main reception room, dining room and kitchen, as well as the master bedroom and bathroom.

The kitchen was a separate room though, and with only a skylight above it felt cramped in comparison to the other spaces.  We reworked the layout of the kitchen and removed most of the wall and the door to open it up to the dining room.  3D computer modelling enabled us to test the layout and the views, and to show the client how this would work, as well as how it could be detailed to feel like part of the original design.  We kept the low section of the wall and followed the original timber capping detail used by the staircase alongside to match the original works.  As such this changes feels deliberate – an improvement rather than an alteration.

The kitchen now enjoys views into the dining room and out into the countryside.  The carefully planned kitchen includes a peninsula for both preparation and serving, and the rest of the kitchen wraps around the space with extensive storage, worktop space.

The materials proposals for the kitchen were again aimed to be sympathetic to the original house and in keeping with its design.  We used a sleek, minimal white lacquered kitchen and white worktop.  The splashback was very important and, as the interior walls are already perceived to have a strong rhythm, to their appearance, a finish without any breaks was proposed.  We used backpainted glass for the splashback and extending up the back wall, in a mid-century archive colour which suits the home perfectly.  The finishes were chosen in conjunction with the planning of the layout, and in fact in the final design the main splashback is the maximum size that it was possible to have the glass produced in.  A black glass extractor by Elica and an evocative mixer tap designed by Paola Navone complete the kitchen.

The original teak parquet floors were restored and refinished.  An extension had been added to the property by the original owner, although the teak parquet flooring hadn’t been continued.  In collaboration with a specialist parquet flooring supplier in the Netherlands we sourced a teak floor in an exact match with the colour tone of the original.  This was machined to the same size as the original for us, and then installed in the same, unusual offset stack bond layout.  The extension finally feels like a true continuation of the original house.

In fact all of the flooring was sourced from the Netherlands.  The carpets are a cotton pile from Van Besouw, in a melange of subtle colours that echo the texture of the blockwork walls.  In the bathrooms the tiling is all by Mosa.

The bathrooms were designed with visual simplicity in mind.  They were fitted with porcelain tiles in contemporary, neutral colours, and sleek fittings.  Design details included hidden slot shower drainage, frameless shower screens and bespoke storage cabinetry is oak timber.

In the master bathroom a selection of complementary tile colours and formats creates a backdrop to the bathroom.  In the second bathroom recessed lighting washes down the wall in the shower.  The third bathroom includes organic-shaped fittings by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.

The snug room in the ground floor extension looks out over the garden, and houses some of the clients’ collection of mid-century furniture and artworks.  For the study behind we used a sculptural, contemporary desk with an Eames ‘soft pad’ chair in white leather to tie in with the other furnishings.  White lacquered shelving with the books arranged by colour is a backdrop to the space, alongside the cylindrical blockwork from the back of the main staircase.

In the master bathroom we designed custom bookcases which also serve as bedside units.  Within the white lacquered cabinetry, dark oak dividers can be moved around at will to suit different uses and books of varying sizes.  Faux suede caps keep the dividers fitting tightly.  We also integrated power discreetly into the units, so that lamps and other items can be easily connected and the cables tidied away.

This project was the subject of an extended feature by LINK[Grand Designs Magazine].

Location

Cambridgeshire

Rooms

Complete property: Hallway, Drawing room, Kitchen, Bedrooms, Bathrooms

Style

Modern, Modernist

Scope

Layout & remodelling, Services, Joinery, Finishes, Fittings