- Year: 2022
Manufacturers: Albury Lodge, Arco, Artisans of Devices , Cake Industries, Chimney Care, Dane Care , Full Metal Jacket , Heather Burrell, Heritage Plaster Services, Ikonic Lifts, London Mosaic , Mosaic Factory, Platform Lift, Roofglaze, Rupert Bevan, Scotscape, Soltech, Sterling Joinery, Steyson Granolithic , Tony Miccoli , +1
- Architecture: Chris Dyson Architects
- Client: Philip and Charlotte Colbert
- Interiors: Buchannan Studio, Philip and Charlotte Colbert
- Project Team: Chris Dyson, Mathew Witts, Victoria Bromm, Oscar Plastow, Diana Raican, Muireann Egan, Alexandra Baidac, Estelle Hobeika
- Party Wall Surveyor: Goldsmith Partnership
- Building Control: Sweco
- Fire Engineer: IFC
- City: Spitalfields
- Country: United Kingdom
Text description provided by the architects. Maison Colbert is a family home for Philip Colbert, artist, and Charlotte Colbert, writer, and filmmaker. It’s also a venue for exhibitions, with space to create, produce and run their commercial operations and welcome guests to be immersed in their world, surrounded by works of art. The project repurposes a semi-derelict terrace of five four-story houses – ‘mean dwellings’, according to the historian, Nikolaus Pevsner – in Spitalfields, close to the City of London and the busy street markets of Petticoat Lane and Middlesex Street.
All the internal walls of the narrow houses have been removed to open the spaces up laterally. A five-meter basement has been excavated to create the top-lit, 185-square-meter gallery. At the back, the building has been extended to create new circulation and a light-filled garden atrium, topped by a glass-pitched roof. Only the gable wall and modest brick Cobb Street façade have been retained. To keep the scale and rhythm of the surrounding streets, there are four false shopfronts and a discreet entrance in the final bay. The team worked with a sign painter, Mia Warner, to incorporate traces of long-lost fancy goods and watch shops.
The design establishes a hierarchy of privacy, from the semi-public ground level to the four more intimately-scaled bedrooms on the top floor. Throughout, interlocking volumes, dramatic changes in height, perspective, and different levels are all used to create a strong framework for the highly personal, bespoke interiors. There are playful details: round windows in the study and main bedroom look down into the living space, the lift has a bespoke car interior and an arched concierge booth has been incorporated in the entrance hall. It’s like a Tardis.
Architecturally, there’s a separation between the main body of the building, the staircase rising up against the back wall, and then a very modern glazed enclosure. The new volume hangs from the rear elevation like a rucksack. It’s quite diagrammatic – the new spaces serve the rooms in front and the basement below. It allows for a natural division between work and pleasure, between the gallery, studio, and offices, and then the home above.
The experience of moving through the house has been carefully curated: moments of enclosure widen out to reveal spectacular double- and triple-height volumes. The entrance lobby leads to a sitting room, with the garden terrace visible beyond Crittall glass doors. From here, a sculptural metal staircase with straight and wavy spindles zig-zags up through the atrium, connecting the upper four levels.
The heart of the building is the main living and dining space, a double-height piano nobile with high sash windows, which extends across the footprint of three of the original houses. On one side, the wall is exposed brick, on the other, a cantilevered mezzanine with a patinated metal balustrade gives access to the primary bedroom, bathroom, dressing room, and study. The kitchen is in the adjoining space, separated by the dramatic hand-carved stone fireplace.
To give the space warmth and the patina of use, we recycled as many fixtures as we could from the former houses. We incorporated some of the original doors, as well as many of the fireplace surround. The timber for the bedroom floors, some of the floor tiles, various fittings and furniture pieces, and bricks was also from salvage – these were kept, cleaned, and reused for the rear facade. As well as repurposing existing materials, the building is designed to be naturally ventilated, with openable windows and blinds.
The building stands just beyond the site of London’s ancient city walls – the excavations uncovered evidence of London’s Roman past, including a cow skull fountain. The Museum of London investigated the site for six months, recording the layout before removing the remains for further analysis. Instead of seeing the delay as a hindrance, the client embraced the opportunity to engage with the site’s history and allowed the archaeological dig to inform some of the Romanesque interior details and relief plaster works.