Charles Holland Architects playfully retrofits east London terraced house

The house was originally constructed in the 1880s and had been neglected for many years, suffering from damp and structural problems. Rather than demolish the existing rear extension, the architect has upgraded it with a new single-storey side-return adding extra ground-floor space.


The client wanted to avoid a glazed, single-room extension, so instead a series of connected interior and exterior ‘rooms’ – a small courtyard, study and dining room – designed to offer a variety of spatial experiences and all connected by circular windows.


Internally, the design plays with the language of Victorian domestic decorative detailing – including a skirting board which acts like a datum line and grows to over 600mm in height as the house steps down from front to back.


A small lightwell carved out between the front and rear sections of the house creates a visual vertical link between ground and first floors, the void lit by a stained-glass window with an Op-art decorative design.


The rear elevation of the house is externally finished in a contemporary ‘rough-cast’ render and shifts horizontally in colour from pale grey to bright white.

A second phase to upgrade the front elevation will be undertaken later this year, reinstating the lost features of a front bay and porch in cast terrazzo – inspired by Rachel Whiteread’s 1990s cast-concrete artwork House which once stood nearby.


Architect’s view

When Will and Hazel asked us to redesign the house they had bought in east London we jumped at the chance. We really like designing houses and are fascinated by the relationship between architecture and the spaces of domestic life. This can be at any scale and might involve lots of houses or apartments or even a bit of city, or, as in this case, a single house. The same things apply: achieving a balance between getting the simple things right, making a comfortable and practical home that can evolve and work over time, but also something that brings those aspects to life, gives them meaning as well as a sense of joy and delight.

I also knew Will and I was confident that he and Hazel would want to do something interesting and fun. Like all the best projects, the original design process happened quickly. It is gratifying how much of those early conversations with Will and Hazel is present in the final result.

The house explores lots of ideas that we have been thinking about for a long time too; ideas about the contemporary role of decoration and ornament, the relationship of architecture and history, tradition and modernity. Like much of the practice’s work, the result is something that is deliberately both new and old, contemporary and, if not exactly traditional, then certainly engaged with historic forms of architecture. Retaining most of the original structure and inserting new spaces and elements into that rather than bolting on something obviously contemporary was always important. The resulting spaces are more nuanced and details such as the mouldings and decorative elements reappear throughout, albeit in unexpected ways.

It has been a lovely project to work on and we are delighted that our friends and clients are so happy with it.
Charles Holland, principal, Charles Holland Architects


Client’s view

The house is an extremely typical small London terrace of the 1880s, and its rear extension needed partial rebuilding to stop it from falling down. What we wanted to avoid was the typical 21st-century London extension, with a maximum open plan, bifold doors, bar stools and the rest. Instead, we wanted something more in keeping with the scale and era of the rest of the house, with a variety of spaces, including a small home office.

We have known Charles for many years and, while he was at the top of our architectural wish list, we were concerned that the extreme constraints of site, programme and budget would leave him with little room for originality. We should have known better. His scheme has several delightful features: the lightwell and the stained-glass window, the axis of round windows, the vaulted ceiling, the clever use of mouldings and jib doors. But it is so much greater than the sum of its parts. It is a collection of very special compact spaces that work together as a whole – you couldn’t take away any of those touches without impacting the others.

Best of all, the spaces are highly functional – a pleasure to cook, eat and work in. And the scheme included several shrewd ways of keeping costs low, like the very economical kitchen, which is nevertheless hugely attractive. On top of that, the central lightwell and gallery feel such a luxury in a small plan, like something out of Sir John Soane’s Museum. There are so many London extensions, and many of them are ingenious and desirable, but Charles has succeeded in giving us something truly original and personal.
Will Wiles and Hazel Tsoi Wiles


Source:Charles Holland Architects

Project data

Start on site December 2021
Completion date November 2022
Gross internal floor area 115m2
Gross (internal + external) floor area 133m2
Form of contract or procurement route JCT Minor Works Building Contract with contractor’s design 2016 (JCT MWD 2016)
Construction cost Undisclosed
Architect Charles Holland Architects
Client Will Wiles and Hazel Tsoi Wiles
Structural engineer Morph Structures
Principal designer Charles Holland Architects
Approved building inspector Integral BCS
Main contractor A Builders Team
Windows supplier Surbiton Windows
External render supplier Sto Render
Marble supplier Diespecker
Reclaimed materials supplier Durat reclaimed materials
On-site energy generation 0%
Embodied / whole-life carbon KgCO2eq/m2Not calculated
Annual CO2 emissions KgCO2eq/m2 Not supplied
CAD software used Vectorworks


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