How do you use vintage furniture and accessories to create a contemporary aesthetic? Sounds impossible doesn’t it? With his customary flair, Rajiv Saini reconciles this contradiction in the remodelling of this 2,000 sq ft three-level home in London.
Imagine being able to gut a house entirely and retain only its shell – all the way through three floors. And then rebuild at will within its four walls. Sounds like the next best thing to building from scratch. This is precisely what Rajiv Saini has done in this three-storey home at Portobello Road, located in London’s bohemian Notting Hill area. All this was possible because there were only joists inside – no slabs, beams or columns.
A midnight blue façade with white windows and a red door gives an indication of what lies within. Rajiv says they were lucky that the property was not listed by the town planning authorities – except for the outside, which had to maintain the same character as the rest of the street, in the interest of symmetry. “In that, lay a lesson for us regarding building a city,” says Rajiv.
The client was a developer who intended to sell the property, so the exact requirements of a future buyer were unknown apart from the fact that it was more likely to be someone from the creative industry. Obviously, the key words in the brief were ‘multifunctional’ and ‘flexible.’ “We always try to bring in a maximum amount of light and the initial layout of the space bothered us,” says Rajiv.
There was a small 10ft x 10ft room at every half level which served no purpose and the location of the traditional staircase divided the spaces.
Extremely narrow and tight with turned wood balustrades, it was crucial to rebuild this staircase at the back of the house, to consolidate the spaces. And the new stairwell, with its ethereal glowing light not only fits into the entire scheme but also adds its own charm to the space.
These days, uber luxury seems to be going the dark wood way. The aesthetic here though, is more Scandinavian, with blonde timbers and a white and grey palette which includes brushed steel and anodised aluminium.
The Douglas fir floor boards are from the Danish company Dinesen, known for its passion for wood and respect for nature. “They document the forest and even the tree and from which the timber has come,” says Rajiv.
Unusually for London, a contemporary feel pervades the space. The ground floor has an open plan with living, dining and kitchen areas flowing into each other. A green wall at the far end spans two floors. In the living area, an old redwood sideboard and vintage chairs in dark upholstery set the mood.
Since the front windows can’t be kept open on weekends (the neighbourhood is taken over by a flea market, pedestrians and tourists), the glass roof at the back serves a very important function, being the only source of light.
A long slit window behind the kitchen goes up to the first floor, but stops short of the upper storey. “From there, it would have been visible from surrounding buildings and would have marred the conformity of the aesthetics in the neighbourhood,” says Rajiv.
The aforementioned staircase folds around a central void which is used for storage. It houses the meters, boiler, refrigerator and microwave. Unlike dog-legged staircases which turn back on themselves, this one has three flights of steps, before reaching the next level.
The spacious master bedroom on the first floor has a glass deck as a spill over area; the glass roof of which and the green wall beyond it are visible from the ground floor.
A multi-use side table by Corbusier sits on one side of the bed, while a chair on the other doubles as what should be the other side table. A glass and iron cupboard makes a style statement, with its studiedly casual contents on display.
The real storage, though, is provided by a bank of wardrobes which separate the bedroom from the ensuite three-point bath. The room on the upper floor has a terrace which is great for entertaining or lounging. In the attached bath, a quirky touch is provided by a ladder which functions as a towel rack.
Rajiv’s rather rigorous retrofit has transformed the space into a light-filled home, much of its sober elegance coming from the restraint of its restful colour palette. And in spite of being very much of our times, it has palpable echoes of tradition.
As in all good design, Rajiv intuitively as well as consciously understands that his work has to acknowledge the past, look the present unblinkingly in the face, and serve as a sound foundation for the future.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Courtesy Nick Gutteridge