"It was a passion project", architect James Davies says about his home in London. His practice Paper House Projects took on this completely rundown warehouse, tucked away in the backyard of a Stoke Newington estate, and completely transformed it. Today, it's a two bedroom house with a light-filled open-plan living space, decorated with a softened minimalism. When we stopped by on a sunny day, the 34-year-old talked us through the challenges in renovating a derelict space, explained how he chose specific materials and why being a purist isn't necessarily such a bad thing.
"When I saw the warehouse for the first time, it was just this hidden gem, a forgotten, derelict space", James recalls. The building was only accessible through the doctor’s surgery next door, it was water damaged and there was furniture that had been left behind by the previous owners piled high. The only openings to the outside were the two windows next to where the kitchen is today." But it was just this amazing space to walk into. I knew immediately we had to try and get it”.
"For me, it's all about volume [of space], height and natural light. I think the spaces that I remember growing up or got to know through architectural education had the biggest impact on me. And the other ones where you get a real sense of scale when you walk in: the Albert Docks when I was a kid or the Tate Modern in Liverpool, the Tate Modern in London…"
”There's definitely a material palette that runs through the rooms; the polished concrete floor, timber wall panelling and the metal frame windows. The latter two are matched by the Lomond dining table with its black framing and wooden surfaces. The architecture sets the tone for the types of items that I put into the rooms."
"The roof is completely new. The only things that we kept as they were originally, were the footprint - the envelope and the volume. I'm sure nine out of ten people would have tried to get an extra floor area in by putting in a mezzanine over the kitchen or making it two stories throughout. But my goal was to retain the space. We added these large south-facing windows and skylights to the south elevation to bring in lots of natural light. When it comes to materials, it's all about moments of contrast. That's why we brought in the wooden panels into this white box. They also sit very well with the concrete floor, as do the kitchen cabinets. Together they bring in these moments of texture and materiality."
"I'm not entirely sure why I like to lean pictures on the wall instead of hanging them. It might have something to do with the datums in this space that are defined by the kitchen cabinets, the shelving and the lights. Pictures can be difficult because you can put them up, and then you feel like "Well, what would it look like over here?". And this way you can figure out where you want things."
"I also added contrast to the interior by picking furniture made from materials with different textures. The frame of this round coffee table is made out of a metal which feels quite rough and contrasts the stained glass. The same is true for the large floor light in the living space, where the dark shade is offset by the metallic interior."
"Whenever I walk into this house I get this sense of calm. I feel like it's a really easy space to sit in and contemplate and relax. My personal taste is quite minimal in terms of possessions and interiors. Actually, I believe that this space is such a blank canvas – anyone with any kind of taste could come in, appropriate it and make it their own."
"I definitely value quality and from now on, for the rest of my life, I only want to buy something once. I want it to last. So how something is made is really important. I would pay as much as I could afford for something I know that I want and is going to last for a very long time."
"I think I'm going through this process now of carefully selecting bits and pieces that I want. I definitely have gotten rid of stuff over the past two years because I've moved around three or four times. Now everything I possess is here because I feel I need it."
"About ten years ago, there was this shift to big, open-plan living. And people continue to do live like that, but they also want more defined spaces: a family area or some niches and nooks where they sit on their own with their laptop. Despite the height and volume of this house you also want separate spaces for cooking, dining and living. And you need to create different atmospheres in these areas. We try to achieve this by bringing in sidelines – for example through timber panels or obscured glazing."
"As an architect the number one request is storage – every client asks for it, but it's very difficult to get it right and made to a high standard, because carpentry is the most volatile and unpredictable package on a fit out of a job. The quality of workmanship varies so massively, we were lucky that we got good contractors and carpenters in on this project. We have had absolute nightmares on other projects!"
"This house is definitely not for everyone. When people see photos of this project they say it comes across as being quite stark and a bit too minimal. But once they actually come here, people appreciate the volume, the light and they see that there is actually a bit of softness."
"We always try to incorporate circulation space, so corridors, hallways, landings. Usually, these take up a lot of the area in a property and if you can integrate them visually or turn them into spaces, you don’t mind spending time there as opposed to just passing through."
"We demolished the non-original single storey building in the courtyard. And then we put all of these new openings into the walls, so that all rooms on the ground floor have access to the courtyard."
"They call it pram valley. Apparently - this has to be verified - there are more young families with children condensed in a square mile area in Stoke Newington than anywhere else in Europe. I think families like to live here because of all the green and urban spaces. And it just on the outskirts of the buzz of Dalston – but it feels like there is a bit of a break."
Article written by: Marius Thies
Photography by: Anna Batchelor