Open House: designers Eleanor and Peter Pritchard on moving to east London and converting a former Victorian flour store
Our ‘Open House’ series takes us for a nose around the homes of owners who are selling their spaces via The Modern House. Here, we talk to textile designer Eleanor Pritchard and her husband, lighting designer Peter Pritchard, about moving to east London from Hammersmith, working with burgeoning architects Al-Jawad Pike and their dreams for a flat in the Barbican.
Peter: “Before moving to east London we were living in a 1930s apartment block in Hammersmith. I own my own lighting design company and chased the rent eastwards 13 or so years ago, so it made sense to move over here too.”
Eleanor: “The flat in Hammersmith was lovely, with parquet floors and nice period details. It was quite prescriptive though and I think we just wanted a bit more scope to be able to leave our own mark.”
Peter: “I remember when I first looked at this place. It was a filthy wet day, and I was in a bad mood, grumbling about how I didn’t want to move too far out east. I came into the courtyard and it was magical, like entering a different world. I called Eleanor and said, ‘yep, this is the one.’
“The building used to be a flour store for a bakery that was next door. I don’t think there would have been an internal staircase, and it has no original fireplaces or mouldings.”
Eleanor: “But because it wasn’t a house and had no details you’d feel bad about getting rid of, it meant we could sort of do what we wanted.
“We did some repair work when we moved, but it wasn’t until almost 10 years later that we really gutted it, redid the back part and reconfigured the whole downstairs.”
Peter: “We had two architect friends – Jessam Al Jawad and Dean Pike – who were just leaving Chipperfield after 10 years. We grabbed them just before they were launching out!
“We thought that to get the best out of them we would let them present all their crazy ideas; we didn’t want to be restrictive.
“Architects are spatial experts, that’s what they’re there for – choosing door handles comes further down the line. What was great about Jessam and Dean, more than anything else, was the way they could see what could be done spatially.
“There are a lot of details they thought up that make it a real pleasure to live in, like the hatch that opens up the kitchen and gives views through to the living room.”
Eleanor: “And then they introduced us to materials we wouldn’t have known anything about. Like the flooring downstairs, which is asphalt with granite chips.”
Peter: “I think they used it at Chipperfield for the Turner Contemporary galleries. It’s an impermeable surface, though not as thick as concrete. It looks like terrazzo; it’s amazing. I’m really glad we didn’t go for poured concrete in the end.”
Eleanor: “It runs through the whole ground floor, which creates a real sense of openness. I really like that there isn’t a sense of segregation, and although it isn’t a big space, it has a feeling of volume and height.”
Peter: “Yes, it’s funny how so many contemporary flats feel like boxes. People are constantly trying to define themselves as not being in a box.
“We’re all in the cell of ourselves! Spaces should be about saying ‘don’t worry, there’s a way out’. That’s what good architects give you; that sense that there’s a route out.”
Eleanor: “They’re existentialists.”
Peter: “Yes, exactly!”
Eleanor: “The way the space was designed means that we do most of our living at the back of the house. We don’t have grand dinner parties, but we do have lots of people over for lunches and suppers. It’s a lovely space to cook and eat.”
Peter: “We were initially worried about it being too loud. But on Sundays, when Columbia Road flower market is on, you can be in the back listening to Radio 3, pottering about, and not notice it at all. Well, except for the parade of plants that bobs past the window!”
Eleanor: “But it’s a lively area. What’s nice is that when we want to join in, everything is on our doorstep, and then when we’re done we can retire to this insulated little haven.
“We’ve been really happy here. It just feels like trying a different way of living somewhere else would be a good thing to do after 12 years.”
Peter: “We were originally going to move into the Barbican before we bought this. We decided against it, but now we’re ready for a bit of Brutalism in our lives!”
Eleanor: “It’s part of a plan we’ve been dreaming about for a long time. We want a small, modest dwelling outside London – we’re talking more of a shed than a house – that would pair up with a little foothold in the city. We like the idea of two extremes.”
Peter: “I think the people who buy this place will instinctively love it and enjoy it. But it would be a bit poncey to say that I’d like them to appreciate the finishes. We quite like the idea that they’d do something to leave their own stamp on it – it was important to us.
“Our flat in Hammersmith was fine, but it’s amazing how moving to a new space in a new area can really help you define yourself.
“We’re really grateful for the energy this house gave us in our thirties. We were already doing stuff, but it put us in a really happy context, and contributed to who we are now.”