A riverside renovation

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When Anna and Clive Wolman started looking for a new house, they weren’t hunting for a project, as such; they would have been happy with something they could move straight in to. They wanted somewhere commutable to London and were on the hunt for a home with a completely different feel to traditional urban properties. When they stumbled across a rundown building in a location that was too good to miss, they got straight in touch with Anna’s brother Simon, an architect, to see what could be done. ‘The old house was repulsive,’ says Anna. ‘It hadn’t been touched since the Fifties and was in very bad condition.’ Though the site was fantastic, the family knew that they would have to Start from scratch in order to create the house they wanted. Luckily, Simon agreed to take the project on.

The couple's priority was to develop a low maintenance house that engaged with the river and its surroundings. While they knew that Simon was the only man for the project, they had to reconcile their preferred traditional aesthetic (Georgian grandeur and soft, natural finishes) with his Modernist one. ‘It took me a long time to get used to the contemporary design,’ Anna says. Meanwhile, Simon wanted to design a state-of-the- art home, and was keen to pay homage to his modern-day style heroes, including Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier and Ernö Goldfinger. After much deliberation, the trio agreed on a striking design that, while heavily influenced by Simon’s style, incorporated the various features that Anna and Clive were keen to add. 

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The result is a house that’s both architecturally exciting and extremely liveable. From the moment you enter the front gate, with its curvaceous porch and timber cladding, you’re struck by Modernist influences. Throughout, Simon’s style is matched by the look and feel

Anna and Clive wanted, from fixtures and fittings to larger design requests. For instance, Anna asked for a view straight through to the river from the threshold; walking into the house you are met by a glass door which leads into the kitchen and through to the landscape beyond.

The couple’s desire to embrace the sweeping views has even influenced the property’s layout; the upper entry level, where the vistas are more majestic, is devoted to communal spaces, while the bedrooms are all on the lower floor. Simon designed the master bedroom to ensure a clear view down to the river from the bed, and added a window in the office on the first storey to give a similar sight line from Clive’s desk.

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Besides the views, what stands out most is the clever use of colour. ‘I wanted to reflect nature and its interaction with the river,’ explains Simon, who used greens, yellows and browns to mimic the landscape. Most striking are the vibrant yellow fins made of clear glass lined with coloured film, which reflect light right into the house. ‘The builders were really sceptical,’ laughs Anna. ‘But when the sun comes out the space is flooded with yellow light and it all makes sense.’

The kitchen-dining space is clearly the heart of the home, and it’s also Anna’s favourite spot. ‘I love waking up before anyone else and sitting at the table, looking at the views,’ she explains. The two living areas, divided by a bathroom and coat cupboard, give an open-plan aesthetic without feeling sprawling.

Downstairs, a long corridor runs the length of the house, with the master bedroom at one end and three smaller bedrooms along it. But it is the main bathroom that’s the real showstopper – its floorplan mirrors the shape of Aalto’s Iittala vase and the walls are covered with shimmery tiles that bounce light around the space.

You can see that Simon has taken into account his family’s requests, and created a space exactly suited to the way that they live. ‘Clive is a barrister,’ explains Simon, ‘which means he’s always asking questions, and keeps on until he’s satisfied with the answer. It meant I had to justify every single design decision. ’The family connection didn’t stop at Simon’s architecture and project management skills. Roz, Simon’s wife, designed many of the beautiful ceramics that feature throughout the house, while a large mural in the kitchen was masterminded by Simon and Anna’s sister, Nadia, who is a textile designer (she also made an ottoman for the living room). A lot of love has gone into making this house the perfect home for the family. Anna stresses that ‘it really is Simon’s baby,’ but it’s clear that something this striking has been born out of a close-knit and careful collaboration between everyone involved.

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Suppliers

Architect Simon Roden at Formation Architects (020 7251 0781; formationarchitects.co.uk)
Contractor Feltham Construction (01635 277 100; felthamconstruction.co.uk)
Joinery & glazing L2i (01494 451 545; l2iltd.co.uk); D Smith Joinery (01865 821 095)
Exterior staircase The Spiral Staircase Co (01273 858 341; spiralstairs.co.uk)
Kitchen Funktional Kitchens (020 7359 4041; funktionalkitchens.co.uk)
Sanitaryware CP Hart (0845 873 1121; cphart.co.uk)
Flooring Chocolate shell limestone by Stonell (01372 860 860; stonell.com)
Beds and side tables
Natural Bed Company (0114 272 1984; naturalbedcompany.co.uk)
Kitchen table
SCP (020 7739 1869; scp.co.uk)

Alan, who’s a tutor at Queen’s University in Belfast, has been studding the local landscape with modern buildings since returning to Ireland from London with his family in the late Nineties. He bought this plot for £55,000 and spent the next two years, and £250,000, creating what can only be described as an architectural anomaly. As fellow architect and friend Patrick Lynch says, ‘It’s completely bonkers.’ The house hovers, dark and menacing, over the landscape. Its arrow-slit windows and jagged profile conjure up thoughts of armour, battles and even Darth Vader. Despite this apparent nonconformity, it also sits comfortably within its landscape; at night, it almost disappears. ‘In scale it matches the front elevation of the neighbouring Masonic hall,’ says Alan, ‘while the form, with its pitched roof and gable presented to the road, follows local traditions.’

The graphite-blue fibre-cement tiles that clad the exterior are indigenous to the area, appearing on a number of pub extensions and a police station in Belfast. ‘I was impressed with the way the material dappled with age,’ says Alan. ‘Our tiles have only a 10-year guarantee. We could repaint, but I like the idea of them fading, as if the building will shed its darkness as it becomes more accepted within the community.’ The house has the air of an impenetrable fortress yet, in common with many of Alan’s projects, there is a complete contrast between the exterior and interior. Stepping from the porch through the large glass front door, you are struck by the light, airy and playful interior. The ground floor consists of a large open space, roughly dissected into a formal living room, dining room, kitchen and TV area. The room partitions vary in height and angle, allowing views through the entire length of the interior and also providing blind spots for privacy. If the communal aspect gets too much, the TV area can be completely shut off from the kitchen, thanks to discreet built-in doors. ‘Spatially, my work has become a lot less formal since my days in London,’ says Alan. ‘The spaces were very precise, whereas here it’s as if you’ve taken the architectural tray and given it a good shake.’

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