A dark London townhouse becomes a bright, fluid family home with multi-level playgrounds and a stripped-back material palette 

Architecture practice Unknown Works has transformed a dark London townhouse into a light-filled interconnected home within a stepped and terraced landscape.

The clients wanted to refocus their four-storey semi-detached terrace to include an open, fluid living space. Their vision was to create a multi-level playground for their two young children and open the ground floor to create a versatile space for larger gatherings.

The house sits on the slope of a steep hill in north London, where the ground previously came up at all sides to meet it, leading to dark and damp subterranean spaces that were in need of repair. The majority of the garden walls and rear of the house required underpinning to create a safe structure.

The team excavated the home out of the hillside to allow light into the lower levels and the sloped garden was re-terraced to allow for a new visual connection to a series of play spaces.

The work on the landscape inspired the idea of a retaining wall. Determined to create variations in tone, texture and form, the studio spent days on site with the contractors testing pigments and experimenting with formwork and casting methods.

“The creative use of a limited material palette allowed us to create a cohesive home that feels contemporary and characterful”

They arrived at a concrete retaining wall arrangement that encompasses wall, stairs, seating and outdoor kitchen and barbeque. The junction serves as a pivot point from the lower courtyard space to the play terraces above.

The material palette of the home is purposely limited and elemental. The client’s travels in Mexico provided inspiration for the use of pinks, reminiscent of Luiz Barragan’s iconic use of colour. The terraced concrete walls and floors were blended with pink pigments, alongside rendered wall panels on the exterior facade and pigmented clay plaster walls inside.

A majority of the changes were made on the ground floor, joining the kitchen and sitting room which were previously separated in a typical Victorian layout. The newly opened living and dining area spans the footprint of the home, with furniture articulating different spaces, including a lounge area nestled into the retained Victorian bay. The oak kitchen with sawn oak cabinetry was made by the clients’ family friends in Lewes, and extends along the rear western boundary.

The extended footprint of the home has lent itself to plenty of light through a glass roof extension supported by engineered glass beams, and sliding glass doors.

Ben Hayes, director at Unknown Works, said: “Playful landforming was essential to unlocking the potential of this home, reconnecting the interior spaces of the house to a challenging steep upward sloping garden. The creative use of a limited material palette allowed us to create a cohesive home that feels contemporary and characterful.”

Project details

Architect and interior designer Unknown Works
Structural engineer Bull & Bates
Approved building inspector Camden Building Control
Main contractor Grace & Wren Ltd
Kitchen Alistair Fleming
Joinery Joe Pipal
Furniture Twentytwentyone
CAD software used Rhino, Revit
Lighting Sabine Marcelis, Flos
Concrete flooring Lazenby
Sink Kast
Glass IQ Glass
Clay render Clayworks, Remi Roszyk
Polished plaster Tadelakt
Tiles Mosaic Factory