Home Tour: A Minimalist House with Calming Clay Walls
Tucked away along an exclusive residential street in Chelsea, London, is a stretch of mid-19th century terraces that are grade II listed houses—houses recognised by the governments in England and Wales as structures of special architectural or historic interest.
For a family of four who lives with their two cats, London-based architecture and interior practice TR Studio took on the task of giving a contemporary refresh to one such townhouse. With conservation area restrictions limiting external changes, the design team turned inwards; they gave the four-storey abode a beautifully modern, minimalist interior in contrast to its historic facade.
Known as the TI House, the 2,800 sqft five-bedroom townhouse house had to exude comfort and cosiness within its traditional structure. “The brief was to modernise the house and to bring a sense of calm to the interiors for a growing family,” says Tom Rutt, director and founder of TR Studio. “After living in New York for eight years and discovering Shelter Island in the Hamptons, the family loved the thick forest and sandy beaches it had to offer. We were tasked with bringing an essence of the Hamptons back to London.”
We were tasked with bringing an essence of the Hamptons back to London— Tom Rutt, founder of TR Studio
Despite its alluring historic charm, the dated property needed thoughtful reconfiguration to create a flexible and functional layout with an airy and luxurious atmosphere. To realise their vision of a modern sanctuary that pays homage to its historic roots, the designers decided to strip back the home to its bare bones.
“A traditional frame can provide many benefits, such as tall ceilings and great proportions; however, this house had many of those proportions altered over the years and that has resulted in a hybrid of spaces, none of which worked with each other,” says Rutt. “The house had great bones and was in a good condition, but it was dated in terms of style. We approached the job by stripping the architectural elements back to see how we could rationalise those for a growing family and their modern life.”
TR Studio began the rebuild by reconfiguring the existing staircase structure to improve the vertical circulation throughout the entire interior. “The existing staircase was tired and didn’t connect the floors very well,” recalls Rutt. “It was disjointed and split over numerous landings, which interrupted the flow of the house. We proposed to take out the current structure and carefully re-designed the half-landings. The treads and risers were made more generous; this made for an easier transition throughout the house.”
Relocated and reconstructed, the new double-height main staircase maximised the use of space within the interiors. Creating a sense of symmetry that’s pleasing to the eye, the staircase opens up to the main kitchen, dining and living space on the raised ground floor level.
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Here, the studio removed several walls to create a spacious open-plan layout with a continuous flow between the connected spaces. “Open-plan living has become increasingly sought after and we kept that in mind for the lower floors, so that the family could be together and enjoy time spent with each other,” says Rutt. “This can be challenging, but it has the greatest impact once achieved.”
The design team worked closely with London-based interior design consultancy Riley Brooks Studio to dress the interiors. The sitting area features a dove grey bespoke sofa designed by Riley Brooks Studio, accompanied by the Nota Bene coffee table by Marlieke van Rossum and the iconic Frederica Spanish Chair by Danish designer Børge Mogensen.
The furnishings sit against a backdrop of textured clay walls, which add a unique edge to the home. Using natural clay from Clayworks Plaster, the wall finishes add depths of tone and texture whilst unifying the entire abode.
“Clay has numerous benefits; it’s breathable, naturally produced, and creates a soft texture with a tactile quality,” Rutt remarks. “It has the ability to calm a space and unify it as a bespoke backdrop. Our client, being half-Italian, could also appreciate how movement in the walls can create a sense of tranquility. We treated the whole house, including the staircases, with clay. This holistic approach is what ties the house together.”
The dining and kitchen area effortlessly highlights the abode’s atmosphere of understated luxury. A mixture of wood and marble accents layer the space, bringing a chic and modern charm to the areas. The dining space features a custom daybed designed by TR Studio; the cosy nook is an ideal spot for lounging during the day.
In the kitchen, sitting under a marble pendant light by Garnier et Linker is a four-metre long marble island. “Marble provides a natural veining that connects us to our surroundings,” says Rutt. “The overarching design aesthetic for TI House was a calm retreat, and in our opinion, a natural marble wrapping the island and kitchen just brings a sense of beauty. In such a dramatic space, with exposed joints and front-to-back open-plan living, the island becomes a monolithic element tying the room together.”
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The bespoke staircase leads down to an informal living room and playroom for the younger children of the family. A large sectional sofa from Timothy Oulton forms an inviting alternate communal space, accompanied by a vintage coffee table.
To ensure that every inch of the space is fully optimised, a home bar area is cleverly nestled into an alcove under the stairwell. “The spaces underneath staircases can often be neglected or difficult to work with. We utilised this space—which was generous in relative terms—to create a special nook for a contained yet practical drinks bar,” says Rutt. “Touches of brass and indirect lighting help to elevate the space.”
The upper floors of the abode house the master suite and four other bedrooms. These rooms are carefully crafted with neutral tones and brass accents to continue the serene theme of the home. Here, another bespoke touch was added by the design team. Wardrobes crafted from fluted timber with brass handles line the corridor to the master bathroom, adding texture and subtle colour and character to the space.
“The clay walls provided the backdrop but the cabinetry was largely designed in a cross sawn oak, evoking a driftwood feeling. Brass can elevate a material and add refinement, so we like to include it in small measures,” Rutt notes. “TI House was no different. The brass elevates the timber, especially in the pull handles where people come into contact with the cabinetry daily, adding to the bespoke nature of each piece and giving it life.”
Completed in the span of 18 months, the modern home housed within a historic shell is filled with serenity and tranquillity. Rutt attributes much of the success of the project to the happy working relationship with the owners.
“We loved working with this particular client as they could really see the benefit of having bespoke, fitted joinery alongside more decorative pieces. By designed items to fit the spaces exactly, you immediately maximise the useful area,” he notes. “We had, and continue to have, a great relationship with our client. Their engagement and willingness to trust the process and our understanding of how they worked as a family helped to ensure they ended up with a home they love. They have reacted with a sense of gratitude and relief of being able to settle back in the UK in a home that—in certain aspects—wouldn’t be too far removed from the Hamptons!”
- PhotographyKalina Krawczyk