If there is a guide to working with existing structures it could perhaps be titled Explore, Restore Ignore. Explore the physical condition, materials, their uses, the social context that brought the specific design about and what changes have occurred and why? Restore the original structural fabric where possible and relevant to the new narrative. Ignore those areas that do not benefit the overarching physical and social history and introduce newer interventions to complete it.
Surrounded on three sides by eight and nine storey mansion blocks shielding it from the heavy traffic on Bayswater Road and tourism on Queensway, Caroline Place is a quiet enclave of late 1950’s terraces north of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Built with a Modern Northern European sensibility of sharp brick lines and crisp mortar joints layered with softer timber detailing, their interior layouts remained firmly rooted in an earlier English Edwardian tradition. Retaining a desirous separation of served and servant areas of maids’ rooms, sculleries, coal houses and a working yard, altogether occupying the ground level while the owners were set out above, across larger light filled rooms. Bayswater had however already begun to lose its luster to that class so that within a decade of being built its new younger inhabitants found these social conventions to be out of step with their aspirations. Undertaking iconoclastic remodeling of the interior and where possible the exterior and replacing these with what was felt appropriate at the time. Four decades on, the new occupiers, a family of five, retain the aspiration for open plan living with a desire for tactile material finishes and inevitably to different tastes.
As the street façade had only been slightly remodeled with later windows and doors to no further purpose than expediency a decision was made to repair and restore the exterior finishes where their details were easily at hand from intact neighbouring properties. Some of the internal new brass detailing was brought forward in the form of door furniture to present some indication of the newer intervention. Early internal open up works revealed remains of original travertine flooring, densely plastered walls behind the 19760’s pine boarding and one room lined with dark cherry timber paneling. As travertine has a wide spectrum of textural and visual possibilities its reintroduction allowed for a hard wearing surface across each floor including the open courtyard and into garage. Varying from quarry tooled to polished these finishes emphasized and differentiated the journey from interior to exterior, from basement to ground and above.
In this respect the original materials are restored as are the social intentions behind the later open plan arrangements. The latter is further accentuated by a clearer tabula rasa across each floor with the removal of downstand beams and brick nibs that had been structurally necessary at the time but perhaps unintentionally retained the memory of room and social separation. At that stage each floor can be considered as completed shell of travertine and plaster, allowing the type of occupation to later definition and indeed a reversal to the tabula rasa. Habitable areas become spatially defined with the reintroduction of cherry timber paneled cabinetry. Their functionality finally determined with loose furniture and their character built with the gradual introduction of the family’s day to day belongings. For instance, the first floor can be occupied wholly as a single reception room with a corner study area. Two adjacent full height bookcases can fold out and slide doors to firstly enclose the room then sub-divided it from the study. One of the bookcases when pivoted can fold out a guest bed to change the study to a bedroom. Cabinetry elements are for these purposes all full height with shadow gaps and rebated lighting details to emphasize them as standalone and detached servants. Their purpose and scale are further expanded to provide utility in the form of bathrooms, walk-in wardrobes, and laundry rooms. As they are present with access and knowledge to all areas of the house their discretion is kept within rooms and passages behind secret doors and bookcases.
The restoration of travertine, cherry paneling and plastered walls to form the internal backdrop is counterpointed with new tactile details whose genus alludes to the mid C20th work of Scarpa, Mies and Khan. New but related, perhaps at some time in the future mistaken as original. Point tooled and fair faced concrete, polished and patinated brass, cruciform columns and glazing details lightly reference the period. Cast in concrete, the soffit of the basement is left exposed and textured for a bush hammered finish to suggest subterranean material and form. A load bearing cantilevered travertine staircase rises from the basement floor with its underside left as ‘quarry found’ to maintain the connection and spirit of the earth bound stone while spiraling and rising to the skylight above. Together these strategies helped structure and define the new occupant’s preferred way of living, leaving enough flexibility for them to grow, change and delight in its details which is perhaps the longer legacy of the restoration.