The clients met in and fell in love with Brighton and bought the flat as a place to come and live once their lives become less busy. They wanted to refurbish the property to a good modern standard but to retain or put back the historic features, respecting and reflecting its original layout and use as part of the servant’s quarters of the grand house above.
The property is the front part of the basement of a grade 1 listed terraced house built in the 1830s and is located in one of the most iconic groups of heritage buildings in the country. As with all large houses of the era, the basement was the ‘workhorse’ of the house.
The flat was habitable but was suffering from a 1980s makeover, which detracted from the historic aspect of the property.
Originally, a York stone passage ran from the front to back of the basement giving access to the; Housekeeper’s room, Butler’s pantry, numerous food & drink storage rooms, servant’s hall, kitchen, scullery, food storage and servant’s stairs up to the main house. Over time the house and basement have been divided and sub-divided and prior to these most recent works, the flat was a 1980s incarnation.
The living room at the front of the basement was the House keeper’s room and this is the only room in the property that retains its original plan form. The other key feature for which there is evidence is the front part of the York stone passage. Over time ceilings have been lowered, walls built and a kitchen installed in the passage. The plan form of the rest of the flat is a combination of the conversion of the house into flat in the 1920s and the work in the 1980s. The property is listed and any works needed both Listed Building consent and planning approval.
The proposal was to refurbish the flat whilst at the same time remove the modern features that detract from the historical interpretation of its original plan. If and where possible the client wished to reinstate the layout and details of the property, taking it back to how it was when first built or to a logic point in its history. This wish involved removing modern features, retaining the 1920s alterations that had become part of the historical development of the building (such as the cross-passage) and where evidence existed putting back some original features.
The design solution was to retain the principle layout of the flat but open up and delineate the York stone passage.
The York stone passage has been created by stripping out the kitchen, and the removal of walls, blockwork balustrades, and suspended ceilings. To delineate the passage a York stone floor was laid and the bathroom walls set back. A new kitchen now sits respectfully in the York stone passage.
In the Housekeepers room, all the features added in the 1980s were removed including; the plaster moulding and ceiling rose, the picture rail and skirting boards, the window with bulls-eye glazing, the six-panelled fire doors, the 20th-century fireplace and non-original doorways. In their place is an entrance door in the original location, plain plastered walls and ceiling, a period fireplace and a refurbished parquet floor found under the carpets. New timber window shutters matching original examples have been reinstated in the tracks existing in the box sash windows.
Throughout the flat, the modern and non-original features have been removed and replaced. This includes; new four panelled internal doors (match original doors in other basements in the square) with Regency style rim locks and keeps, a new four panelled timber front door, square-nosed skirting boards reflecting those found in other Regency basements, replacement of the blockwork around the steps to the subterranean cellar with a visually unobtrusive balustrade, contemporary doors to the under-the-pavement cellars and the removal of the ceramic tiles covering the York stone steps and patio at the front of the property.
Walking down the now exposed York stone steps at the front of the flat, worn by generations of servants and owners, the years of wear and the soft buff colour of the stone takes you back 180 years.
Inside the now removed stud walls, dropped ceilings and 1980s paraphernalia make way for what really feels like the original York stone passage. An Aga and minimal kitchen units sit quietly against one wall, almost like a serving table of days gone by. In the old Housekeepers room, the finishes are basic and your eyes are drawn to the cast-iron fireplace, to the renovated parquet floor and to the plain but elegant details and finishes. Period radiators, light switches and fittings and even the flexes give a simple but chic feel.
The recent renovation has created a modern flat in a heritage building of national importance. The refurbishment manages to provide the comforts required of today in a historic setting whilst portraying a little sense of how it was and how it might have felt when it was first inhabited.
“What do you do when you haven’t lived in Brighton for 20 years and you need an excellent architect to take care of a very sensitive Grade I listed apartment refurbishment? We were looking for a diligent, intelligent, creative and personable professional to guide this project through the labyrinthine application process and onwards.
Though he was by no means the first architect that we considered for this project, it is safe to say that we got lucky in holding out until we, at last, came across Martin McCurdy. Upon meeting him the decision was easy. The process smooth. The result a pleasure that will grow with time.
No one should undertake such a project lightly, but should you wish to restore what previous owners before you have repeatedly undermined and be able to live a modern life within it, then I would heartily recommend that you do so with an architect who is as personable as they are skilled. These projects are emotional. Enter into them with a good-hearted and sensitive partner. Thank you, Martin.”
J & W, Brighton