Recast in stone – Uk works

Words Amin Taha

Photos Tim Soar


Architect: Groupwork

Structure: Webb Yates Engineers
Services : MLM
Jackson Coles
Main contractor
London Basement

Maids’ rooms, sculleries, coal houses and a working yard occupied the ground levels while their owner’s domain was above in the larger light- filled rooms. Within a decade of their construction, however, this segregated way of living was in retreat, and the new, younger inhabitants reorganised the interior, replacing a great deal with what felt appropriate at the time.

Four decades on, our client, a family of five, shared its predecessors’ aspiration for open-plan living, but had a desire for tactile material finishes and, inevitably, different tastes.

As the street facade had been only slightly altered (with later windows and doors), a decision was made to repair and restore the exterior finishes, referring to original details on intact neighbouring properties. Internally, the house has been remodelled by adding a new basement and reconfiguring the three floors above, linked by a new stair.

If there was a guide to working with existing structures, perhaps it could be titled ‘Explore, Restore, Ignore’. Explore the physical condition, materials, their uses, the social context that brought the design about, what changes have occurred and why.

Restore the original structural fabric where it is relevant to the new narrative. Ignore those areas that do not benefit the overarching physical and social history and introduce newer interventions.Surrounded on three sides by eight- and nine-storey mansion blocks that shield it from the heavy traffic on Bayswater Road and tourists on Queensway, Caroline Place is a quiet enclave of late-1950s terraced houses north of Hyde Park in central London. Built with a modern north-European sensibility, their sharp brick lines are layered with softer timber detailing, while their interiors are rooted in the English Edwardian tradition.

Early internal ‘open-up’ works revealed the remains of original travertine flooring, along with densely plastered walls behind 1970s pine boarding, and one room panelled with dark cherry wood. As travertine has a wide spectrum of textural and visual possibilities, its reintroduction allowed for a hard-wearing surface on each floor, including the open courtyard and into the detached garage. Varying from quarry-tooled to polished, the finishes emphasise and differentiate the journey from interior to exterior, and from the basement upwards.

New basement

The social intentions behind the open-plan arrangements are 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 unintentionally retained the memory of separate rooms. Each floor can be considered as a single shell of travertine and plaster, allowing the specific type of occupation to lend further definition.

The first floor can be occupied as a single reception with a corner study or subdivided by two pivoted bookcases, one of which reveals a foldaway bed and provides a guest room. The cabinetry elements are full-height with shadow gaps and rebated lighting to emphasise their standalone role. This language extends to bathrooms and walk-in wardrobes, ‘servant’ spaces whose discretion is maintained by secret doors and their concealment within bookcases.

The restored travertine, cherry paneling and plastered walls are offset by new details that allude to mid-century work by Carlo Scarpa, Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn. Point-tooled and fair-faced concrete, polished and patinated brass, cruciform columns and glazing details lightly reference the period. New but related to the existing, they might in future be mistaken for original features.

The cast concrete basement soffit is left exposed, but textured with a bush-hammer to suggest a subterranean character. A loadbearing cantilevered travertine staircase rises from this ‘quarry found’ basement, as if to maintain the earth-bound character of stone while it spirals up towards the light from a roof window above. Together these strategies help structure the new occupants’ preferred way of living, leaving flexibility for them to grow, change and delight in its details, which is perhaps the longer legacy of the restoration.

See the project page for further images.