You can imagine that a couple who had already spent 20 years living in their brick town house in South East London would have grown accustomed to their dark kitchen and its disconnected layout. Instead, after two decades in their town house, Simon, who works for a nonprofit, and Carolyn, a public sector worker, were ready for a change: They wanted to love spending time in their kitchen.
Enter Alexander Owen, a London-based architecture firm founded by Richard Alexander Bridges and James Owen Webster. After visiting the site and working with Simon and Carolyn, they determined that it would be possible to transform the kitchen and dining area by opening it up to the rear yard and revamping parts of the exterior space—all while staying within a tight footprint and budget.
The firm looked to Simon and Carolyn’s travels and love of art and design for inspiration for the project, pulling colors, forms, and playful aspects of their home’s furnishings and personalities for the redesign. They completely renovated the kitchen, removed an inefficient and dated lean-to, thoughtfully enlarged the square footage with a modest side extension for a new dining area, and redid the exterior of the rear façade in an adventurous palette. The resulting renovation is boldly colorful inside and out, and is “as unique as its owners,” Richard and James say over an email interview.
Location: An end-of-terrace house in the South London neighborhood of East Dulwich. “The house was originally built during the 1800s,” Richard says. It follows a standard typology for the area that is “built in London stock brickwork in a traditional L-shaped design that provided working-class accommodations during the Victorian period.”
The before: “The footprint of the kitchen followed the same footprint as it was built in the 1800s,” Richard notes. However, the kitchen had endured a series of renovations over the years that kept it dark and disconnected from the garden beyond.
On top of that, the property included a lean-to structure at the back that housed a historically authentic if impractical and, ahem, rustic outdoor toilet (“fairly standard for a Victorian building of its age,” Richard comments). The lean-to not only blocked the windows into the kitchen, it also ate up valuable square footage and created a funky circulation flow, since it was only accessible from the exterior.
The inspiration: British Pop art meets Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto’s classic bentwood designs. “We asked Simon and Carolyn to include in their design brief a list of their design inspirations, which covered a wide range of artists, architects, and furniture designers, all of whom had a colorful, playful aspect to their work,” say Richard and James. “If you merged the work of English artist Peter Blake and Alvar Aalto and turned it into a three-dimensional piece of functional architecture, you'd achieve Simon and Carolyn’s place.”
Square footage: 15 square meters, or about 160 square feet
Budget: £140,000 for exterior and interior scope (approximately $194,000)
Cabinets: Custom designed and fabricated by the contractor
Cabinet cladding & backsplash: Formica laminate
Kitchen floors: Rubber flooring roll from The Colour Flooring Co.
Kitchen wall & ceiling cladding: Birch plywood
Exterior furniture: EWI Pro Silicone Render & Paint
Exterior lighting: Custom designed and fabricated
Exterior stucco render: EWI Pro Silicone Render
Exterior flooring: Conica from Outdoor Wet Pour
Exterior floor paint: Johnstone’s Stormshield External masonry paint
Most insane splurge: The custom cabinetry in the kitchen. “This was designed from scratch and built by the contractor to be super functional in a small space. Every pot, pan, and spoon was accounted for and designed within the space,” Richard says.
Sneakiest save: Painting the ground at the rear yard area, which created a dynamic pattern that stylistically connected the garden to the extension and the interior of the kitchen. Richard describes it as “the most impactful intervention at the least cost.”
The best part: Working with clients who are willing to explore design opportunities and push boundaries. “Our best projects are working with clients that are part of the design team,” Richard acknowledges.
What I’d never do again: “Not hold back on design,” Richard says. It’s critical for the firm to fully understand their clients: the things they love, who they are as people, and what makes them unique.
Final bill: “The final bill was £125,000 (about $173,000) including all professional fees,” Richard says. Exterior work was about £12,000; the kitchen came in at about £26,000; windows and glazing was about £9,000; and electrical work was £10,000.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest