How does the ordinary become extraordinary? This is the question London-based creative studio Unknown Works asked when conceptualising CLT House in Leyton, East London, for a young creative family.
Unknown Works has bookended a semi-detached, brick infill terrace house with striking yellow extensions to the front and rear, uplifting both the banal suburban streetscape and existing ground floor layout.
Balancing a tight budget and brief, clients Annabel Bligh and Luke Leighfield tasked Unknown Works with adding space for their young family’s musical and creative pursuits, ensuring the layout could be adapted for hosting festive parties and intimate family gatherings. The cramped and dark ground floor required reconnection to the rest of the house, as did the large leafy rear garden.
Unknown Works chose to use cross-laminated timber (CLT) as a flexible, cost-effective, sustainable building technology. The creative studio designed a kit of prefabricated structural panels in Spruce CLT which were assembled onsite in just 4 days. The CLT panels have been insulated, coated in textural render, and painted a bold banana yellow to form a stepped rear extension and cubic front porch. The yellow additions are tempered by gently rounded edges to bring a softness to their overall form, and stainless steel rain chains – a traditional Japanese guttering option – negate any visual clutter caused by downpipes. The construction and exterior finishing exemplifies Unknown Works’ creative exploration of materials and how stretching their conventional uses can add life and dynamism to even the most pedestrian setting.
Inside, the CLT panels are left exposed, creating a warm interior complemented by stainless steel and white-tinted polished concrete. The rear extension is home to a new open plan, flexible kitchen and dining space with inbuilt CLT seating and reading nooks. Overhead, the structural CLT grid is left exposed, creating the opportunity for long recessed bespoke aluminium lighting tracks which fill the extension with ambient light, designed to enhance the natural texture of the internal timber.
The staggered form of the extension, a response to the site’s planning constraints, allowed the architects to design in a cook’s herb garden by the kitchen. Skylights are inset into the CLT structure, bringing focussed daylight from above, paired with large sliding doors which frame views of the garden and courtyard.
The rear extension links to the existing house through a new central courtyard of white pebbles. The front sitting and rear dining rooms both open onto the new lightwell-courtyard through large sliding glass doors, creating a fully connected ground floor plan when open, as well as natural cross-ventilation.
Intrigued by the idea of using one core material and stretching its applications, Unknown Works designed and hand crafted dimmer switches for their clients, cutting large discs from structural CLT remnants. The creative studio also designed an oversized custom pivot door in CLT which provides a playful sense of entry.
CLT House demonstrates Unknown Works’ ability to take a simple construction technology and make it extraordinary in any context or scale. By truly embracing the commonplace and exploring how it can be stretched and challenged, the creative studio has superseded this British stock terrace house with a bright and bold upgrade.