The co-founders of Scenario Architecture in north London have turned an unexceptional Victorian terraced house into a stunning split-level family home.
Tall, narrow and dark – 19th century terraces are not designed for modern family living. But the space which Ran and Maya created within an unpromising envelope is light-filled and fluid, open-plan yet intimate. It’s a vivid expression of their ethos that homes should tell the stories of their owners.
Ran and Maya had already bought and renovated a two-bedroom, upper floor flat in the area back in 2007. When their sons Romi and Leo arrived (now aged nine and six), they were eager for more space – and, most of all, a garden. When a house on the same road came on the market, they leapt at the chance.
Untouched for decades, the house was not a project for the faint-hearted. “It was in desperate need of renovation from top to bottom,” says Ran. “But that suited us, as we wanted to tailor-make a house around our own requirements. And it had a decent-sized, south west facing garden, which scored the property lots of points.”
It was also a chance for the couple to flex their creative muscles and test the philosophy on which their architectural practice was founded. As Ran succinctly puts it, it was an opportunity “to be our own clients and practise what we preach”.
So what exactly does Scenario Architecture preach? The clue is in the company name. “The design process that we’ve developed over a decade of work in and around London is based on a deeper understanding of the way in which every one of us would like to interact with our home,” explains Ran. By visualising highly personal “scenarios” using analysis and simulation tools, the team are able to design homes that are exceptionally finely tuned to the needs of their owners. “The clients’ requirements and aspirations are the drivers of the design process,” says Ran. “This allows us to create functional homes that tell the story of the people who live in them, rather than that of the architects.”
Working in this way allows a highly personal design to emerge in an organic way from the briefing process. “We feel that if people would recognise us as architects and our particular ‘signature style’ in our work it would be a sign that something went terribly wrong,” says Ran.
Applying this approach to their own home has resulted in a house that is elegant, practical and playful in equal measure. Each family member has had a personal wish fulfilled: Maya had always wanted a dressing room of her own and Ran lusted after a peaceful place to meditate. Both were incorporated into the plans. And what was on the boys’ wish-list? This is where the Scenario approach of digging deeper into clients’ desires and aspirations really came into its own.
“Children are naturally free from preconceptions, they find it particularly easy to imagine themselves in a new house and come up with a clear set of ideas,” says Ran. “We showed our boys the empty envelope of their room, modelled in 3D, and asked them what they would like to have in it – apart from the essentials, and they chorused: ‘a secret space’. When we asked them how they would get into it, it took three seconds for them to say: ‘up a climbing wall’. The idea of a fireman’s pole as the only way down quickly followed. Although they knew that we were really serious about it from the beginning, I’ll never forget the look on their faces when they came to visit the site and saw their design being built.”
Although the footprint of the house was only slightly enlarged, the project was an ambitious one. It took about 18 months from start to finish, including the design process, securing planning permission, tendering the works and construction on site. Some unforeseen issues (the floor joists were rotten and the roof was in poor shape) meant that the couple ended up gutting the house. But the main challenge was creating a coherent design. “We wanted to connect the front part of the house physically and visually with the basement below, while creating an open plan space that included a living, dining and kitchen area,” explains Ran.
They solved this conundrum by creating a split-level double reception room, that is connected to the kitchen and garden via an angled glazed roof light, and a ‘floating’ library feature that leads up to the bedroom floors. The result is a spectacular, light-filled space that’s perfectly adapted to the needs of this growing family. Throughout the house, “left over” spaces under the stairs, in the eves and in hallways, and limited height areas have been put to good use. A storage unit under the stairs, for example, has a pull-out table and bench, where the boys can play or do their homework.
Asked to name his favourite part of the house, Ran nominates the “inside-out” window seat in the kitchen. “It creates a seamless flow between the house and the garden. And it somehow invites wonderful conversations between different members of the family while they’re engaged in their own activities scattered around the kitchen living areas.”
Ran and Maya’s experience of being their own clients was a fascinating one and proved to be extremely revealing. “It helped us to fine tune several aspects of our process, based on insights which could only come from direct experience,” confesses Ran. What advice would he give to anyone with young children contemplating a similar renovation project? “Make the design process as inclusive as possible,” he advises. “Consult everyone who’ll be enjoying the space – children, parents, friends and anyone else who spends time with the family. Everyone’s needs should be considered – even pets! When our clients recognise themselves, their input and the unique features of their lives reflected in their new home, we know that we got it just right.”
Photography Matt Clayton.