I have to confess, when this project came to my attention, I was initially reluctant to feature it on the blog. After all, Gus isn't a local, even if the house is, and the idea of featuring a developer didn't really echo what the blog is about. However, on my first visit, I was so impressed with design of the house, and with what Gus is setting out to achieve, that I thought it was worth including. Essex Mews, as the project is known, is the company's third completed build, following a house in Queen's Park, lived in by Gus and his family, and a small apartment block adjacent to railway lines near Waterloo Station. Four other projects dotted around London, are currently on the drawing board.
When Solidspace took on the site in SE19, it consisted of a few semi-derelict garages, and already had planning for bungalows. There then followed the usual drawn out debate with planners over how many dwellings could be built, and their appearance. Solidspace use different architects on all their projects, in this case, Peckham based, MWArchitects, but all share a basically modernist aesthetic. In an area of terraced Victorian dwellings, the planners were pushing the developer and architect to be more traditional in their approach. Although this may have compromised the original vision somewhat, the result is thankfully a long way from the ersatz historical references with which so much house building is daubed.
Thankfully the interior more accurately reflects the ideals of Gus and his company. As he points out, although Victorian homes have enduring appeal, they are not particularly practical, and people invariably want to alter their layout, knocking down walls and opening up living space. So in a Solidspace house, you have split levels and open plan living, rather than boxy rooms and dark corridors. The split level feels oddly appropriate in a hilly environment, as if the house is hugging the contours of the landscape. It reminds me of the approach taken by builders in the 50s, 60s and 70s, such as the houses found in abundance locally, built by the Dulwich Estate. Not only in terms of layout, but also in the detail, such as the open stairwells, and built-in joinery, these new homes are reviving many of the features pioneered half a century ago. They are also defined by what they omit, so you won't find fake panelled doors, and certainly no stick-on coving around the ceilings. Much thought has gone into other details that make this particular home so appealing; decent quality windows of a type that is the norm on the continent but comparatively rare here, integrated window blinds, and deep reveals that project inward beyond the wall line, slate and hardwood flooring, as opposed to laminate, exposed brickwork feature wall, and right at the top of the house, the wonderful raised play area up a broad ladder. Of course, all this detail doesn't come cheap, but then, as Gus argues, we are willing to pay a premium on top notch products by Apple or BMW, why not homes?
The show home has been simply kitted out, and unlike most show homes it contains a mix of styles, much as a real home might. Some of the mid-century pieces were supplied by our friends up the road at Do South, with homeware accessories including the lovely rabbit print cushions and napkins, from Thornback & Peel. The various artworks were created by Brian Deighton & G. Calvert. And don't forget, the house hasn't just been dressed for viewings, you can try it out for a night too!
It's often said that modern homes lack character or just aren't cosy. I must beg to differ...
For further reading about the Dulwich Estate:
The Dulwich Society