House Tour

IN PICS | This small home is packed with smart ideas for adding extra storage

Joinery has been used to great effect throughout this stylish home, which celebrates the beauty and honesty of raw materials

27 October 2019 - 00:00 By Nicky Guymer
The living room is where the family who live in this eclectic home spend all their time.
The living room is where the family who live in this eclectic home spend all their time.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux

It's the story of many a home buyer's journey. You're renting. You've got hipster coffee shops on your doorstep and you can't move for pop-up boutiques, craft ale breweries and great schools for your kids. But you have a dream and will trade in convenience for the chance to buy and renovate your own haven.

In a dusty corner of North West London, Mallika Chaudhuri, founder of conscious fashion brand Indoi, and her architect husband, Sean Ronnie Hill, have done just that and created a striking family home.

The area they chose, Harlesden, is diplomatically described by Sean as "edgy". But emboldened by friends who had already set up home there, amazing transport connections to all corners of London and regeneration imminent, it offered an opportunity to create the unique home they had been dreaming of.

The open-plan living area looks across the garden to the homeowner's fashion design studio.
The open-plan living area looks across the garden to the homeowner's fashion design studio.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
Laminated panels add depth to the floor-to-ceiling birch ply shelving unit in the living area.
Laminated panels add depth to the floor-to-ceiling birch ply shelving unit in the living area.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux

Sean's architectural practice, Rise, has been changing the guts of what a Victorian bay-fronted house can look like. Vast experience with the council planning department and a wealth of knowledge in juxtaposing different materials, meant he knew just how much he could get out of their two-bedroom, ground-floor apartment.

"When we were viewing this flat, there was a property for sale across the street which had the much-coveted south-facing garden, but it was half a metre narrower," explains Sean.

"Overall, that amounted to 10m2. That space is precious - the extra width makes all the difference to the possibilities you have for a place."

Mallika wasn't as convinced. "I was really dubious. I just wanted the south-facing garden. I would have bought the flat across the road. I went on and on about it so much that Sean made a 3D sun path diagram to show me where the light would be at every hour of the day, to prove to me that this flat would be light enough. And then he used virtual reality software to 'walk' me through the design and layout of the flat."

Sean says: "We got going without planning permission, which sounds terrifying. But because of my experience with the planning department and these types of buildings, I knew we'd get it."

Long armed, wall-mounted lights pivot to illuminate different 'zones' within the open-plan kitchen, dining and living area.
Long armed, wall-mounted lights pivot to illuminate different 'zones' within the open-plan kitchen, dining and living area.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
The bespoke kitchen is made from birch ply. The island is on lockable castors and can be moved into a nook under the oven to create extra floor space when needed.
The bespoke kitchen is made from birch ply. The island is on lockable castors and can be moved into a nook under the oven to create extra floor space when needed.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
The work surface looks like concrete but is actually made from porcelain and can tolerate a pan straight from the hob.
The work surface looks like concrete but is actually made from porcelain and can tolerate a pan straight from the hob.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
Handmade tiles laid in a herringbone pattern form a stylish backdrop to the birch ply kitchen.
Handmade tiles laid in a herringbone pattern form a stylish backdrop to the birch ply kitchen.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux

Moving to an area that is yet to see the full influx of gentrification also worked to their advantage.

"In fact, most people are just thankful for any improvement, especially if it involves rebuilding their garden walls," says Mallika.

Developing a property from its bare bones gave Mallika and Sean the chance to use the materials they love and, particularly from Sean's perspective, ones he has a profound respect for.

My architect husband is all about the honesty and beauty of raw materials, so things like painting walls were not an option; he likes things in their most natural state
Mallika Chaudhuri, homeowner

"Sean's all about the honesty and beauty of raw materials, so things like painting walls were not an option; he likes things in their most natural state," says Mallika. "So we did a materials board and plywood, tadelakt and clay were our must-haves."

These wall treatments did allow Mallika to introduce colour, however.

Sean says: "Left to me, the place would have been quite austere. Mallika has an incredible eye for colour and worked on a scheme that could flow through each room and the flat as a whole, while remaining true to the materials' innate qualities."

Mallika's lifelong love of Yves Klein Blue punctuates the flat, complemented by shades of pink and terracotta as a nod to their roof terrace in Barcelona, where they lived for 10 years before returning to London.

"Fifty shades of white" give depth to handmade tiles in the kitchen and laminated panels in the cabinetry, which would have otherwise remained barefaced ply.

The owners added a small extension to the side of the kitchen/dining area. It can be closed off with pocket doors when it's needed to double as a guest bedroom.
The owners added a small extension to the side of the kitchen/dining area. It can be closed off with pocket doors when it's needed to double as a guest bedroom.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
No space that could be used for extra storage has been wasted - including the area above the window in the guest bedroom.
No space that could be used for extra storage has been wasted - including the area above the window in the guest bedroom.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux

Five-and-a-half months after starting work, they moved in.

"We couldn't afford the joinery and lived with breeze block walls," says Sean. Despite being disruptive, running out of money did provide unexpected benefits, giving the family time to live in the space and to realise small additions that have made it work better for them: a bespoke spice shelf running the length of the cooking area; designing a unique wallpaper from Mallika's archives for the WC, and a dream bedroom for the kids, Freya and Indi. And, more practically, their physical capabilities for trotting up a set of stairs to bed.

The joinery itself has revolutionised every space, providing integrated floor-to-ceiling storage in bedrooms and the living room.

"When you live in a flat that has neither a basement nor a loft space, you need to think of ways to house your stuff that doesn't encroach on your living space, or dominate in its decorative design," says Sean.

"Planning storage in advance and having it made to our spec was the only way to go in getting the max out of every nook and cranny."

The window seat in the main bedroom is hollow to provide additional storage space. To avoid drilling holes into the bare plaster walls, a picture rail was added from which to hang art.
The window seat in the main bedroom is hollow to provide additional storage space. To avoid drilling holes into the bare plaster walls, a picture rail was added from which to hang art.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
A happy accident resulted when the joiner made the top bunk in the children's bedroom much higher than planned, but this has proved to work better as they have gotten older ... and taller.
A happy accident resulted when the joiner made the top bunk in the children's bedroom much higher than planned, but this has proved to work better as they have gotten older ... and taller.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
A courtyard was created outside the bathroom and provides a beautifully flat light which adds to the moodiness of the room.
A courtyard was created outside the bathroom and provides a beautifully flat light which adds to the moodiness of the room.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
'We all love the sea and wanted the bathroom to feel like we were diving into a deep ocean,' says the homeowner.
'We all love the sea and wanted the bathroom to feel like we were diving into a deep ocean,' says the homeowner.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux

By their own admission, Mallika and Sean would have clashed more had this been a home for them as a couple rather than for a family of four. As it is, the kids have softened the architect's aesthetic. For all its striking and unique angles, the space is family home first, design statement second; a playful home that doesn't take itself too seriously.

While Sean's design and use of materials are the calling card of this flat, it is Mallika's eye for interior decoration that softens the edges and creates a home of the space. The lucite and brass-framed sofa was bought in the early '80s by Mallika's parents at Harrods and is her most treasured item.

"We had a dispute with our storage company in Spain and literally everything we own remains in storage in Barcelona. When we arrived back in London, our families jumped at the chance to hand down everything they didn't want anymore. It's made us evaluate what 'stuff' means and what we actually need."

The porthole windows in the studio's doors mark the height of the couple and their children when the family moved in. 'We’ve had a pop at creating our own history.'
The porthole windows in the studio's doors mark the height of the couple and their children when the family moved in. 'We’ve had a pop at creating our own history.'
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux
While most of the garden is laid to brick, a corridor of pink and terracotta tiles - a nod to the owner's love of Barcelona - leads to the side extension.
While most of the garden is laid to brick, a corridor of pink and terracotta tiles - a nod to the owner's love of Barcelona - leads to the side extension.
Image: Elsa Young/Bureaux

As a result, the family have a more conscious attitude towards consumption, which in turn aligns with the way they like to live and the work they undertake; an architect who would rather maximise every inch of existing space than adding to it, and a fashion brand committed to timeless, seasonless clothing made as responsibly as possible.

In a world where this clarity of design is usually marketed as the playground of the wealthy, there's an intrinsic realness to Sean and Mallika's project. They are happy to divulge that Sean's experience of building and renovating, trade discounts and industry contacts made this project not only possible, but cost-effective. But the space is no poorer for it; the finish is immaculate, the overall effect stunning and the very thought that compromises were made is almost unfathomable.

"We love living here. I really notice it when we return from what has been marketed as a 'highly designed' hotel, having forked out loads of cash on a night's stay. I get home and think, that wasn't well-designed, this is well-designed," says Sean.

"The space isn't massive but we've made it work for us. In a world that is hopefully moving closer to reducing its consumption, there is something to be said for choosing to take only what you need."