Architect Andrea Bell and interior designer Karen Ngan Kee discuss how architecture and interior design can work to create a seamless whole.
When approaching a project, we don’t bring a ‘house style’. As an architect-interior designer team, each project is entirely unique. We absorb our client’s values, needs and wants. We examine the site and its wider location. Then we see how we can challenge expectations to fully realise the potential in the project.
There is no sense of separation between the interior and exterior. Our ideas, materials, textures and forms for the building outside impact directly on the interior. Our role is to integrate both into a flowing, functional whole.
In this particular case, the clients have a beautiful collection of 50s furniture, art and ceramics plus an appreciation for the architecture of that period. This became the starting point for design and influenced every level of work.
The exterior materials flow into the interior of the building, providing both continuity and a sense of defining form for the house. The cedar cladding that wraps from the entry into the stairwell demonstrates this as well as creating an attractive, warm texture for the entrance. The clients also had a fondness for bagged brick, so we combined this with a narrow vertical cedar board as contrast.
These defined a basis for choosing other interior materials such as the rich red jarrah timber floor of the entry and stair. Honey-coloured hoop pine cabinetry and ceiling lining provided another link back to architecture and furniture styles of the fifties.
The timber is then balanced by a honed concrete floor. This has both a functional and aesthetic purpose. Its efficient thermal mass means it absorbs solar heat during the day then releases this during the cooler night.
Using this pattern, we gradually build our materials palette, which we regularly refer back to and refine throughout the process.
All materials are considered for their appearance, durability, cost, serviceability, sustainability plus how they relate to adjacent materials and the overall concept. One thing we discovered along the way is that two relatively simple materials that appear ordinary by themselves, can combine together to create an incredibly rich and textured effect.
An example of this is the hanging screen of galvanised steel conveyor belt mesh that hangs between the open riser jarrah and steel stair.This ‘ordinary’ material comes into its own reinforcing the idea of layering and screening that begins on the front of the building.
Play of light
The play and modulation of natural light is an important aspect of integrating architecture with interior design. The cedar screen at the front of the building both provides an element of privacy and casts a series of shadows into the interior through the translucent glass. The form of these shadows changes through the day with the movement of the sun. At night, they create a sculptural light box.
Artificial light is also important. However neither of us are fans of a ceiling that is peppered with down lights. Such an arrangement smothers the space in even light, robbing it of any sense of shadow and illumination.
In this project, we had a beautiful plywood ceiling. We wanted to keep this looking as clean as possible so we applied artificial light in a way that enhanced the architecture. In addition, our clients had some original period light fittings that they asked be incorporated into the design. These were a pair of perforated, spun aluminium lights plus a set of original Louis Poulsen PH lights. They also acquired some new fittings such as the Bocci lights. We happily integrated them all into a lighting plan, complete with unobtrusive, wall-mounted uplights.
To complete the plan, ceiling-mounted spotlights were used along the hallway to highlight artwork from the client’s father, artist Barry Brown. We also specified some quirky Danish pendants in the bathroom and en suite as well as over the freestanding kitchen bench.
Two relatively simple materials that appear ordinary by themselves can combine to create an incredibly rich and textured effect.
Refreshingly, the clients in this project were not afraid to consider the use of strong colour. We wanted to create a highly personalised colour scheme with clear links to the client. To achieve this, we used a piece from their prized Poole ceramic collection as starting point for a colour palette and had Resene create a colour match.
Orange and chartreuse colours have been used judiciously on specific walls, doors and cabinetry. We worked alongside Resene to achieve the exact hue and tone and considered how each shade worked with adjacent materials and the whole scheme in general. each colour was field-tested on site to accurately gauge their effect under the specific conditions of light and shadow.
Our clients in this project had an extensive collection of ceramics and objets d’art. It was important therefore that we provided plenty of built-in shelving.
They loved plywood so we specified a hoop pine plywood which has a more refined grain than straight pine. The forms of the cabinetry were kept simple but enlivened with randomly placed vertical dividers, cupboards and open shelves. This theme extended across the bookshelves and laundry plus the bathroom and en suite cabinets.
We also echoed the ‘language’ of the exterior cedar screen, creating yet more synergy between inside and outside. To add colour to the kitchen, we used sliding painted glass panels in a shelving unit above the kitchen bench. Handles are simply holes drilled in the cupboard doors, once again evoking the fifties.
We selected a cost-effective tile finish for the bathroom, guest lavatory and en suite. The tiles we chose are available in bone white, silver grey and charcoal. But instead of picking just one colour, we decided to create a random placement of all three. This complements the hues in the honed concrete floor, adds texture and gives the appearance of a much more expensive finish.
For the bedrooms, Tussore carpet with its woven, felted yarn and random slub matches the unpredictable nature of the design perfectly. The home instantly made our clients’ eclectic collection of art and furniture feel at home.
To the windows, we added curtains fashioned in Hemptech fabric with a slightly uneven weave reminiscent of 1950s fabrics, in a combination of off-white and duck egg-blue yarns.
On completing this project, we knew that we had accomplished more than a fun, colourful and interesting home. Our clients had a prized and highly eclectic collection of art and furniture. The building instantly made these feel at home.
The combination of the objets d’art and the architectural language of the exterior and interior matched our clients’ personalities perfectly. So much so in fact that it appeared as if they had been living in the house for years and it fitted like a favourite piece of clothing!
Written by Andrea Bell and Karen Ngan Kee at Bossley Architects
Project – Townhouse, Auckland, New Zealand
Photos – Simon Devitt