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Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors - WHITECROSS STREET

Robert Rhodes Architecture + Interiors


The renovation and extension of a Victorian industrial building to create a single-family residence above an existing art gallery, on one of central-east London's busy street markets.

Photographs by

James Balston Photography














Research suggests the building was originally built as a garment factory. When purchased by our client in 2011, the ground and basement floors were being used as an art gallery, which remains. The three storeys above were previously used by Rolling Stones guitarist, Ronnie Wood, as his painting studio. The top floor was a modern (1980s) extension of quite poor quality. With the flat also came a lapsed planning consent for a new top floor by Peerless + Noble Architects, consented in 2008 but never executed.

There were two main objectives of the design: 1) replace the existing 1980s top floor extension with something better than P+N's consented design, and 2) reorganize the internal layout to be more useful and efficient.

The owners, a young couple, were shooting the moon. They'd put all they had into buying the building and were scraping together pennies to fund the renovation. They sold their car to make the final payment to the builders.

Nic insisted he wanted a city home where he could walk to work. Tiffany wanted the same, but also wanted a garden. Neither of them wanted what they called "one of those damp little houses" - referring to surrounding little Georgian terraces of near east London. They both wanted something special, that they could grow into and stay in forever.

The building is quietly urban. It is fabric. Res econimica, as Leon Krier would say. It is streetscape. Its shape and mass define the corner of Whitecross and Banner Streets. As a corner building it allows a bit of a flourish, but not too much. It must, after all, remain anonymous. The anonymity is an essential part of being urban, being a good neighbour, being private.

Our work was concerned with the way it behaved internally. The first move was to reconfigure the circulation. By inserting a spiralling stair to connect all three floors we managed to make sense of the plan, and create the extra space needed to cram in a 3rd bedroom and a second bathroom. This alone paid for the renovation. The stair is made from new European oak by a joiner called Kevin. It is open at all landings, necessitating a delicately integrated sprinkler system. It has a vertical metal pole for a handrail.

We reconfigured the plan and put the more private spaces (bedrooms, bathroom, utility, storage) on the lower first floor. Windows were upgraded to triple glazing to keep the noise of the market out. The old, straight run stair was entombed beneath BATH 2, still visible in the cupboard where they keep their suitcases.

The main floor, formerly Ronnie's studio, was kept mostly as it was: one big space, with big east and north facing windows and paint blobs on the floor. The brick walls and timber ceiling were stripped back and sealed.

The top floor extension was reduced in size from the previous design, to maintain the existing sheltered terrace, connected to the kitchen by a 7.5m, east-facing sliding glass wall. The kitchen and its terrace are both bathed in morning light.

Above the kitchen we made Tiffany's garden, our urban meadow, complete with shed and Weber BBQ. It is a 5m x 7m pasture of artificial turf, surrounded by a near invisible glass handrail; a patch of bright green surrounded by the grey roofs of east London, illuminated at night by the towers of the Barbican.

From below, it's just zinc and glass and bricks. Quiet, private, urban, and anonymous.