London is full of odd hidden corners. This house, designed by Niall McLaughlin, is one of three mews houses clustered around a tiny cobbled courtyard in Knightsbridge, behind an ivy covered portal. At the rear, the backs of tall terraces as high as Glasgow tenements stretch north to Hyde Park.
Though it was originally built in the late nineteenth century, the existing house had been substantially altered in the 1950s and McLaughlin has completely rebuilt it. The ground and first floors contain bedrooms and bathrooms for various members of the family, and the second floor contains the living quarters with kitchen, sitting room and south-facing terrace.
Because Knightsbridge is a conservation area, planners asked that the main face should respect local character: windows facing south on to the courtyard are plain wooden casements that suggest the traditional without imitating it and accord with the simple glass canopy over the front door. In contrast, the rear face is a fiat abstract composition of windows cut into a white plastered wall.
The main problem was getting light into the building, for it is hemmed in almost completely on three sides. Accordingly, McLaughlin pulled back the main face to allow the insertion of side windows to the west of the front door; on the second floor he retracted the roof behind a parapet to create the terrace, which is lined by the glass walls of the living room.
The main conduit of light is the stairwell at the rear of a narrow entrance hall. Illuminated by skylights and by windows cut into the rear wall, the stairs curve upwards through a void.
At first floor level a bridge leads over the void to the main bedroom and bathroom. Turning in the other direction, a tiny view of the campanile of the Russian Orthodox Church is afforded by a piece of clear glass in an otherwise opaque window.
Blocks of orange and yellow on the walls are brilliant in the gauzy light: the pale blue rear wall rising two storeys under a skylight acts as a light reflective plane.
This is a tiny house but McLaughlin skilfully manipulates light and space, cutting through dividing planes, allowing vertical and horizontal glimpses of what is beyond. On the second floor the T-shaped plan, formed by the terraced sitting room and skylit kitchen (both with windows on to the stairwell), permits cross views through the building. Besides creating an impression of space, the device produces magical kaleidoscopic patterns of light on walls (seen before in McLaughlin's work - AR September 1998) as bluish north light encounters warmer light from the south.
While the sitting room looking south on to the terrace is a clear bright space with orange furniture, the kitchen/dining room looking north over the tall terraces, has a different character, with luminance flooding through the long skylight diffused and made milky by a white diaphanous screen, like the roof of a tent.
Architect Niall McLaughlin Architect
Builder Barry McGowan Construction
Photographs Nicholas Kane
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|Title Annotation:||design of a compact house that manipulates light and space poetically to create a luminous interior|
|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||May 1, 1999|
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