Dartmouth Row, Blackheath, London

A quietly radical renovation of a large Victorian town house involving significant spatial intervention, the fine detailing of loose furniture and the implementation of a new hard and soft landscape; conceived to echo the internal architectural narrative.

Situated on the site of a former cattle market and constructed on the first ‘considered’ street to be completed in Blackheath, the project sits on an elevated area with surrounding land falling away to the south and west to nearby Lewisham.

An early matter-of-fact approach, inline with the original project timeline, saw the opening of living and loft spaces and the insertion of new architecturally considered windows, to channel natural light deeper into the plan. The project’s scope then grew to encompass the decoration and detailing of the entire house, including loose furniture, the garden and a new, more generous garage and route-to. An unusual and notable aspect of the project is the architectural use of joinery as both a device for spatial organisation and furniture.

Inventions and interventions were rigorously related to the original Victorian fabric – most notably, a series of pyramid stretcher bricks that feature in the external, street-facing facade. The pyramid is explored in two ways. In its graphical manifestation, it is flattened and appears as a cross motif on furniture and other elements. In relief, as a further abstraction of the cross motif, it appears as a single, slanted line rendered in notched vertical slats. These motifs recur rhythmically throughout the house and the joinery, often announcing key elements – they appear on screens, a dining table and a bar cabinet; folding and pivoting double-doors, cupboards and a desk. They appear in smaller items like fireplace hearths, door knob backplates and finger pulls. And they feature in the garden, uniting the interior and exterior fabric, the hard and soft landscaping.

Now, internal spaces appear generous and light-filled; befitting the original intentions of the house and its immediate, urbane context. Critically, the project now has a tangible warmth and presence, perhaps as a result of the total and singular use of handled timber, with multiple elements from different periods, layered harmoniously.

The project started quickly and unconventionally, with merely an overall sense for the desired spatial reconfiguration. Everything else emerged, over the months and years from the ongoing dialogue between architect and client, and as a dynamic and learned response to the fabric of the house itself. Floor joists were removed because the operation was a simple one, creating a double-height void in front of the entrance. The ‘canvas’ of uninterrupted walls, exposed original floor-boards with overt repairs and generous skirting boards was established – architectural joinery and loose furniture was then added in successive, in-dialogue layers. The project made a virtue of iteration and testing, and was run on jointly-editable online project documents: an approach echoes the ‘lean startup’ method of product development in the tech sector, where the client works.

The output also reflects the strength of the working relationship between master craftsman Adam Stevenson and architect Carl Trenfield, who had collaborated for several years before this project. The pair of them, working together with other specialists but without a main contractor, were able to streamline a process of design, iteration and construction that might otherwise have involved several architects and craftsmen; considerably more work-steps and documentation.

In its final form, the project – with a rare integrity of narrative and process – unites major interventions and fine detailing; original features and new furniture; the Victorian and the melded-modern.


Value:  Undisclosed

Client:  Private

Status:  Complete

Architects Journal Architecture Awards:  Finalist