Text: Kerryn Du Preez
Photographs: Richard Bryant
Visiting an architect’s home is always an interesting experience. You could find yourself in a pristine architectural showpiece that literally sings its creator’s praises or just as easily encounter a space oozing with potential, but neglected in favour of a client’s more pressing architectural needs. The Victorian terraced home of architect Jennifer Beningfield in London’s Maidavale is of the former variety – but it is also every inch a home.
In fact, such was her manipulation of this former traditional two-bedroomed, 85 square-metre Victorian space that the luxuriously roomy result seems nothing short of a miracle. ‘Buying existing properties means you always end up paying for other people’s mistakes’, says Jenny. ‘I pulled out a lot of unnecessary fitting and bashed down walls in an attempt to open up and simplify the space.’
This was achieved by making openings along the periphery of the space so that none of the internal walls are attached to external walls. The result is a seamless circular flow of space that allows uninterrupted views from room to room. Moving through the apartment offers a fluid experience as the openings in the walls provide different entry and exit points in each room. These relatively minor changes have also maximised the quality of light throughout the apartment – each room now borrows light from the windows in the rooms adjacent to it.
The renovation involved stripping out all the existing surfaces and adding back only a limited number of materials such as timber, rubber flooring and white lacquer. Keen to use both colour and texture, Jennifer was careful to avoid any one material taking precedence over another. The incorporation of hardwood grain and teak veneer timber joinery (also the most costly part of the renovation) for the kitchen counter, a full-height sliding screen between the kitchen and living areas and two long benches served to ground the space.
‘I spent about four months on the design,’ says Jennifer. ‘Homes are made up of incredibly intensive sets of spaces and the biggest mistake that people make is not planning how they will be used.’ An example of careful planning is evident in Jennifer’s kitchen, where all the appliances are integrated so that there is no differentiation between them, the drawers and the cupboards. This makes the kitchen appear more like a piece of furniture and less like a utility space, which was important given the open-plan nature of the living space.
All the joinery was designed and detailed by Jennifer and was purpose-made for the flat. The tactile quality of the timber is influenced by 1950s detailing. ‘The timber pieces are meant to be warm and robust, in fact the teak side units weigh a ton, ‘ explains Jennifer. Finished with natural oil to preserve the physical presence of natural wood, the cabinets also have integrated timber handles which are shaped to fit the hand.
As counterpoints to the richness and colour of the timber, the other surfaces are a neutral white. ‘The logic was simple: if things formed part of a wall, then they were white. If they detached themselves from the wall they became teak.’ The full-height cupboards in the study-cum-dressing room are white lacquer in the same plane as the walls. ‘I took all the cupboards out of the bedroom as we wanted a peaceful space with nothing but artworks on the walls.’
The floor is laid with large light-grey rubber tiles and the windows are screened with light-diffusing white roller blinds. The timber benches in the living room marry collections of African and English pottery, while the white lacquer benches (made to the same design) in the hallway and the bedroom carry pieces from Central, West and South Africa. Small etchings and paintings are propped along the back of the benches behind the objects, while larger artworks are hung on the walls.