Underneath the arches

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This York townhouse has a stunning single-storey extension. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Simon Hulme and Mel Yates.

Architect Ben Allen has worked on some prestigious projects, including Harpa, the Icelandic National Concert Hall in Reykjavik, which won the Mies van der Rohe European Union architecture prize.

The twin arch extension inside with dining area leading to a courtyard and kitchen area, right

The twin arch extension inside with dining area leading to a courtyard and kitchen area, right

He also designed the gothic cathedral-style structure that has been lauded by visitors to this year’s Folkestone Triennial. The plaudits haven’t gone to his head, and proof that he takes an egalitarian approach to his work can be found in his design for Lilly Shahravesh’s mid-terraced home in York.

Lilly and her husband, Paul, wanted a single-storey rear extension but were keen to avoid the usual uninspired approach: a flat-topped box with a felt roof. They were also on a tight budget.

“We weren’t sure Ben would take on such a small project but he did and we were blown away by his design,” she says.

There was limited space for extending into the small back yard but Ben came up with an ingenious idea.

One of the most imaginative kitchen extensions in York - making the most of a backyard

One of the most imaginative kitchen extensions in York - making the most of a backyard

The extension he designed filled most of the yard and created a small glazed courtyard garden, which brings light deep into the house.

The most impressive element is the roof, which comprises two structural load-bearing barrel vaults built from handmade bricks. The two glazed vault ends provide a high level of natural light.

The newly enlarged ground floor creates one expansive space with the courtyard appearing as a room within a room.

The materials Ben specified are robust, utilitarian and designed to last, though creating the curved brick roofs was a major challenge for building contractor James Pike, who did a sterling job.

The dining area

The dining area

Praise has also been heaped on James Byrne, of Broadleaf, who did the joinery throughout the house. He made the kitchen cabinets, designed by Ben, from Multiply from tintab.com, made from sheets of layered oak.

They are topped with a seven-metre concrete counter supported on three concrete arches, which offer storage.

The brass kitchen door knobs were imported from American store schoolhouse.com and the Bakelite door handles are a 1950s classic from a Danish supplier, tibberuphoekeren.dk

A matching concrete floor was out of Paul and Lilly’s price range, so their architect came up with a cost-cutting alternative.

The kitchen with bike store at the rear

The kitchen with bike store at the rear

“We decided to experiment with leaving the screed on top of the underfloor heating exposed. We upgraded to a cement-based screed, which is not as hard as a proper concrete floor but is harder than standard screeds.

“The main issue was that the wax-based self-levelling agent that is sprayed on top left an uneven pattern, so we used a cleaning agent to scrub it off, then we sanded it before adding sealant.

“It took several days’ work but the result was great and it was still significantly cheaper than a concrete floor,” says Ben, who also designed in a bike store at the rear of the kitchen to comply with York City Council’s planning regulations, which insist that all houses must have bike and bin storage.

The total cost of the rear extension, was £70,000, excluding VAT and fees.

“It’s a wonderful space and it’s where I spend a lot of my time,” says Lilly, a former textile and fashion designer, who works from home running her popular online store lovemydog.co.uk, which specialises in designer dogwear, toys and bedding.

She and Paul, who relocated to York from London, also hired Ben to help improve other parts of the house, which needed complete renovation. They bought the Victorian mid-terrace in 2014 after falling for the idyllic location by the river, just a few minutes’ walk from the centre of the city.

The former dining room is now a sitting room with new French doors leading to the courtyard

The former dining room is now a sitting room with new French doors leading to the courtyard

The first-floor bathroom was in desperate need of a makeover and Ben came to the rescue with a thoughtful design that follows the utilitarian theme used in the kitchen and dining area.

To help save money, he specified chrome taps stripped back to their brass base.

“Brass taps cost a fortune but Ben told us that a lot of the imported chrome ones are brass underneath, so we bought those and got a company to strip them back. It saved us a lot of money,” says Lilly.

He also designed a set of inexpensive birch plywood stairs to the newly-converted loft room. Supply and installation cost just £1,320. They were made as a kit to save costs and for quick assembly on site.

Furnishing was also done on a shoestring. York car boot sale, eBay and antique shops in Pocklington proved the most fertile hunting grounds.

To add life and soul, most of the rooms feature work by artists and makers, including wood carvings from Wooden Boards in the Shambles in Malton, ceramics by Elizabeth Renton, Steve Harrison and Bernard Leach, plus paintings by Blaise Drummond, Caroline MacCarthy, Richard Wentworth and Dan Howden.

They were the final touches to a project that cost £100,000 in total for the single-storey extension, loft conversion and renovation.

“It has been well worth it,” says Lilly, who adds: “It took us a year to do it all but it was worth the wait. It’s amazing and I don’t think we’ll ever move.”

Useful Contacts

Architecture and design: Ben Allen and Oliver Williams from Studio Ben Allen, studiobenallen.com

Structural Engineer, Mason Clark Associates, masonclark.co.uk

Builder, James Pike, japike.co.uk

Joiner, James Byrne, broadleafjoinery.com

Lovemydog, Lovemydog.co.uk

The bathroom with on-trend brass taps

The bathroom with on-trend brass taps

Lilly and her dog, Rabbit, outside her terraced home in York

Lilly and her dog, Rabbit, outside her terraced home in York