A Cork House

Richard Andrews is a friend of Decor Punk Magazine, and we have previously featured his studio ‘The Light Shed’, which he designed and built for his architecture practice in his garden in East London. Here he tells us about the process of designing & refurbishing the house where he and his wife Kristina live……

A Cork House is phase one of a three phase overall development plan for the home my wife Kristina and I own. It is an 1890’s Victorian mid-terraced house which originally was a run down, poorly kept and overcrowded HMO in Forest Gate, Newham.

As newly arrived owners and creatives to the local area, which has struggled with its quality of housing for some time, I felt the house had to set a high standard for proceeding small scale residential developments within the London Borough of Newham. The design set out to start a conversation about the fact that high quality building design shouldn’t be constrained by budget.

Designed for now, with an eye on the horizon was my personal brief right from the start. This led us to sacrifice a bedroom to create an upstairs bathroom and unlock the constricted terrace house layout that is typical of narrow London homes. With this newfound space downstairs and to the rear of the house we approached the design focusing on our love of entertaining and hosting family gatherings. 

In order to achieve the project within such a tight budget the bulk of the labour was undertaken by my own hands without the aid of a contractor; from groundworks and steelwork to brickwork and roofing. This presented some challenging design and construction obstacles, the most notable being the fact that I was on site alone, making simple tasks such as lifting timber a logistical problem-solving exercise.

It was crucial for us to maintain a strong connection between the home and garden leading us to focus on spaces at the rear of the house. One such design solution was the addition of full height sliding pocket doors, that dock within a cork wall at the end of the kitchen space for unobstructed views of the garden.

There is a sense of craft and honest design that has been constructed to flow throughout these spaces. As our budget was restricted in places, we wanted to create a bespoke kitchen without the premium price tag associated with the word, ‘bespoke’.

We designed, treated, fabricated and assembled the entire kitchen ourselves using simple cutting lists supplied to local timber merchants and basic joinery skills learnt first-hand. 

Elsewhere, simple yet innovatively practical design solutions were adopted to match our joint vision for the project. These range from; Indian ink-washed birch plywood kitchen cupboard doors to dyed concrete fireplace hearths poured in situ.

Throughout the home, pale birch plywood shelves perched upon concealed aluminium angles offset ebony-stained original Victorian floorboards. 

Over the course of the project, it reaffirmed my belief that within the field of architecture, the void between design and construction detailing can be bridged by a more practical and pioneering synthesis between designer and maker.

The success of our methodology is a testament to the potential for self-builders to create stunning results in their own homes armed only with time, patience and a dedicated vision.

Photography by Chris Snook

Architecture & Design by Richard John Andrews Ltd

Structural Engineers: Structure Workshop Ltd

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