My Modern House: architect Pernilla Ohrstedt on inner-city living at her flat in the Brunswick Centre
“I moved here when my now-husband and his brother bought the place in 2002, while we were still studying. Five of us moved in, which might seem like it would have been crowded, but to us, as students, inner-city living was such a luxury that we didn’t mind; we were so close to university.
“We used the entire flat like a studio space. There was always someone building an architectural model, and even the kitchen floor was taken over. We still find materials samples hanging around.
“It’s been mine and my husband’s base ever since, and now it’s us two, our six-month-old daughter and our cat. It’s a very compact plan with two bedrooms, a kitchen and living area, but it feels spacious because it’s so cleverly designed.
“There’s no wasted space, no dark corridors – everything is open and connected. The glazed greenhouse section lets a ton of light in, and then the balcony runs along the living room and onto the two bedrooms.
“It’s quite rare to have so much daylight in an apartment in central London, and I love that we can see so much sky. The design of the centre is such that we have this amazing mirror image of our own building across from us.
“But we think of it as a ship passing in the night because although you get to know the other side, there’s still a sense of distance, and it’s far away enough not to feel intrusive.
“In the early days we couldn’t afford to do much to it, but we have slowly refurbished things like the bathroom, the floor and heating. The previous owners made a lot of larger changes though, so we didn’t come to it with lots of original features to preserve.
“The Brunswick Centre is still largely social housing and for residents who require assisted living. There’s definitely a sense of community here and people feel very attached to the building, like our neighbour, who has lived here since it was built in 1972.
“The local population is largely made up of an interesting and diverse, yet transient, set of people: students, doctors and nurses, and tourists staying at the big hotels.
“It’s the perfect place for people to come and stay, though, and we get a lot of use out of the spare bedroom because of that. Friends and family can fly into Heathrow and be here in under an hour, then walk pretty much anywhere they would want to go: Soho, the West End, Covent Garden.
“Because we don’t get the sun on our balcony until about 11 am, it has become a tradition of ours to go over the road to Brunswick Square to have a breakfast picnic. It’s so beautiful in there, with incredible oak trees that are some of the oldest in the city.
“One of the benefits of inner-city living is that we can walk everywhere at the weekend, and we especially like walking to the Tate on the Southbank via the Inns of Court, because it’s an area that feels like it’s caught in another time, and there are some great pubs hidden in the side streets.
“There are some really beautiful studio spaces in the Brunswick Centre that I have been trying to get my hands on for a while but I haven’t succeeded yet, so my office is on Shacklewell Lane in Dalston, which is an area I really like. I do the slightly strange thing of commuting outward, but I like the contrast in atmosphere and energy; it’s fun.
“Living here suits us incredibly well and we don’t have an immediate need to move on or find anything bigger. We have what might be quite a typical dream to keep this place in the city, and then find a place closer to nature for some contrast. No matter what happens, though, I hope we can hold onto this; I love it here.”
If you were to move, what would be the first thing you’d take with you?
“The bi-folded mirror screen my husband bought me in a flea market in France.”
Pernilla Ohrstedt Studio designed the recently opened ‘Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt‘ at the Victoria and Albert Museum.