Personal Expression, Design Anthology

Finkernagel Ross’ maisonette for a boutique developer focuses on life’s pleasures: light, art and comfort

When it comes to space, architects always prefer quality over quantity – but persuading clients, especially if they are value-focused developers, to adopt this mantra is easier said than done. Architects Fingernagel Ross found that rare forward-thinking client in boutique developer Beaubridge, and they have just unveiled the result of their collaboration, a pair of semi-detached Arts & Crafts-style houses in London’s Primrose Hill.

Externally the properties appear just like their wider neighbours, but they have in fact been rebuilt in the same brick and half-timbered Victorian style. “At one point in time these two houses looked like the rest of the street, but they had fallen into disrepair and neglect over the years,” explains architect Catherine Finkernagel. The practice may have been restricted in the style in which they could rebuild, “but in terms of the internal layout, that’s where more freedom has been applied: we could organise them how we wanted.”

While one of the houses is a single dwelling, just as it would have been when it was originally built, the corner plot consists of a four-bedroom maisonette, with flats above it. Finkernagel Ross has furnished the maisonette in a style that’s far more imaginative than the average development. “We were really keen on not having that bland, taupe look – you know, ‘let’s keep it safe so that nobody finds it offensive,’” says Finkernagel. This complements the interior architecture, where Beaubridge’s brief was for something that looked as if a design-conscious private client, rather than a developer, held the purse strings. “The doors are all full-height, and on the lower-ground floor, where the bedrooms are, there’s a ceiling height of 3.1 metres – most developers would say that the extra excavation would be too much extra cost,” says Finkernagel. “We were also thinking about the details – things like good-quality ironmongery and light switches.”

For the interiors, “our ethos was that we wanted it to have a very earthy feel. We wanted there to be a lot of craft, a lot of natural materials and a lot of natural light,” says Finkernagel. The oak flooring is complemented by a screen of oak slats that divides one side of the open-plan ground floor, emphasising the height of the room and still allowing for light to flood from front to back. A helical staircase curves downstairs to the lower-ground floor, emerging at a generous landing that is filled with light thanks to the walk-over glazing sunk into the floor above it.

A palette of different natural materials has been used throughout, from the Screen Cannage cane pendant light by Marketset in the front living area, picked up in cane armchairs (by Madam Stolz) to the timber joinery in the rear living space, which also features a fluffy Mongolian-lambswool-topped stool and a slew of houseplants. This rear living area is open plan to the kitchen-diner, whose dominant feature is a bespoke, minimalist-looking island made from zebrano stone. “Going back to the idea of this really earthy feel, the stone is cut and installed to look like it’s a single block out of a quarry,” says Finkernagel. It may look like a monolithic block from one angle, but hides a wine fridge and storage on its inner side facing the kitchen.

YAP can use it as a gallery or events space and bring people in to see the art; it provides a great opportunity for the artists, who don’t really get the chance to see their work in situ, especially in a home

The maisonette is full of art, thanks to a collaboration with YAP (Young Artist Partnership), which works with creatives just starting on their career path. Paintings, sculpture, ceramics and photography feature throughout, and rather than YAP coming in after all the major decisions had been made, they were a part of the interior design process: consequently, there’s none of that sense that comes with many developments, that the art something of an afterthought, filling in the blank spaces left over.

“By coordinating both the art and the interiors, it feels as though all aspects of the home have been curated,” says Finkernagel, “and YAP can use it as a gallery or events space and bring people in to see the art; it provides a great opportunity for the artists, who are very young and don’t really get the chance to see their work in situ, especially in a home.”

Highlights from YAP include a row of robin’s-egg-blue ceramics by Jago Poynter of The Chelsea Potter, lining the narrow ledge above the kitchen counter; Kate Viner’s Point of Hue, a sculpture of a foot en pointe, placed on a plinth at the bottom of the staircase; and a Melissa Matthews oil painting, River Scene, which has pride of place above the fireplace in the rear living space. The last of these is the perfect example of the interiors and art working in synergy: Matthews’ dream-like out-of-focus style contrasts with the tailored timber panelling that surrounds it, but the palette of dark green and black is picked up all around the room.

It’s sometimes possible for house purchasers to negotiate the price of all the fixtures and fittings when buying a development, but in this case one object won’t be for sale: Finkernagel fell so hard for Matthews’ painting, she bought it for herself.

Finkernagel Ross 
Images Will Scott
Words Emily Brooks
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