Eldridge London’s House in Coombe Park, Kingston, is located in a secluded enclave of inter-war suburban bungalows, and takes a markedly contrasting approach to the redevelopment of the site from the pastiche neoclassical neighbours being built nearby.
The client runs a business which creates temporary structures and spaces for sporting events, and has long had an interest in modernism and contemporary design. The opportunity to build his own house offered the potential to ally his enthusiasm for contemporary architecture with a structure of greater permanence and resonance.
Inspired by the sloping landscape and mature oak tree, the House in Coombe Park is a distinctive composition accessed through an open street level allowing the landscape to envelop the building, and maintaining views through to the garden.
The main accommodation is below the entrance rotunda at garden level, connected by a staircase to the first floor structure floating above. The surprising appearance of the building is generated from the specifics of its site and context, but allied to a fully functional plan with the owner committing to the architects imaginative contemporary design. Whilst unexpected in appearance, in their unanimous support of the scheme the Kingston Planning Design Review panel described the building as a “quintessentially ‘Coombe’ house.” “With its compact footprint in relation to its plot, its conformity to the established building line and heights of its neighbours, it retains a front lawn, a back garden with several layers, it provides a place to take tea, and even a garden shed”. They noted that Eldridge London “has created a beautiful house, uniquely responding to its setting and its landscape with the most elegant spatial ordering. It lends its landscape to the setting through the clear storey and the soft forms. It adds an architectural richness to the townscape around.” The design review panel gave the project “a unanimous green light” to proceed which was then supported by the Kingston upon Thames planning officers.
The project reaffirms the practice’s approach to find design inspiration in the specifics of a context to deliver a unique and memorable building rather than seeing contextual design as something which involves replication or imitation. In a setting where the built context was disparate and of limited quality we responded directly to the key landscape features to establish a strong conceptual framework for the plan and section of the building.
The lower garden level which houses the main living spaces is accessed via a suspended staircase in oak and brass which descends from the street level through a glazed double height entrance rotunda. A secondary stair spirals up within the central concrete core to allow occupants to move between the levels in privacy.
A sweeping south facing glazed elevation frames the garden and the existing oak tree with open plan living accommodation distributed along its length. This curve is then repeated in a 120 degree rotational symmetry to create a ‘trefoil’ form in plan. The structure of the building is exposed internally as fair-faced concrete, with a two storey cylindrical stair core supporting the 1st floor bedroom level. Finely crafted joinery and furniture is allied to high quality materials to offer a refined, tactile interior.
Large curved rooflights in the street level landscape allow generous daylighting into a gym and guest bedroom at the rear of the house, whilst service spaces are arranged radially across the rear retaining wall. The master suite occupies the entire first floor, hovering amongst the tree canopies with a full height glazed facade providing views over the gardens below.
Natural materials predominate throughout, with oak flooring, stairs and furniture providing a warm complement to the finely finished exposed concrete, and providing a material link to the focal oak tree. Polished brass and stainless steel elements, internal white marble and external grey limestone paving add a further level of refinement.
The rigorous planning of the house has been carried through into the detailed design, with the ‘trefoil’ shape of the building repeating through the scheme at different scales as a subtle architectural motif: from the shaped vertical aluminium cladding members on the first floor facades, to pull handles on doors.
The external landscaping scheme has also been designed by Eldridge London following the same geometries as the house to ensure an holistic composition with the existing oak tree again becoming the focal element. Hornbeam trees to the side and front boundaries screen the site from the street, whilst the garden lawn continues across the street level entrance roof. A stainless steel path set into the lawn merges into the street level roof edge coping which together define the outline of the trefoil plan form of the spaces below. A series of vertical cantilever balusters project from these curving alignments forming a shifting moiré- fringe effect as one approaches the building. A cantilevered external stone stair on one side of the building provides external access between the two garden levels, whilst a copse of silver birch trees adds texture and boundary screening to the other side. The landscaping also includes a natural swimming pond, utilising marginal aquatic planting to provide natural filtration and cleansing of the water.
The House in Coombe Park, Kingston, is a refined design response for a specific context and client, but is also demonstrative that high quality contemporary architecture within a suburban environment can be appropriate and respectful whilst also surprising and imaginative; contextual whilst also highly distinctive.