My Modern House: architect Henning Stummel invites us into the Tin House in Shepherd's Bush


Henning Stummel: “My wife, Alice, and I moved here about two years ago. The site came up at an auction and it had incredible potential to carve out a little world of your own. It was positioned among the neighbouring houses with permission to build a small bungalow, but we reconfigured it to create a secluded piazza and developed the building around an inner space.

“We used to live in a loft-like live/work warehouse in Camden which we sold through The Modern House a few years ago. I used to have the architectural studio based in the main house, but we have the practice in an adjacent building here so there’s a greater degree of separation.

“With so many things competing for your attention in the city, I have a real desire for secluded, tranquil spaces. It’s something I look to create in all my work. When I come home, I want a space that helps me come to my own senses and be alone with my thoughts. I always wonder why more people don’t express the desire for that.

“Tin House is based on six top-lit pyramidal forms and each pavilion shelters a separate room. It has a sustainable timber frame, but it’s wrapped in a Swedish colour-coated steel that maximises the internal space and enhances the sharpness of each volume. The red oxide colour complemented the brick of the surrounding houses and had a lovely warmth and strength about it.

“I find it fascinating that architecture can carry stories and messages that it transmits as you walk through a space. We wanted to set the tone for what people experience as they come into this house and move around it. It’s lovely to think of architecture on those terms.

“The exterior set the scene for the interior and the burnt-toffee colouring of the Valchromat. It’s a type of MDF that is dyed through and through, which we used in the kitchen and joinery throughout the house. We made a stool in the entrance hall out of the same Valchromat and designed a lot of the furniture ourselves.

“I have become quite obsessed with designing furniture, but it takes forever and it costs a fortune! It’s made me think differently about materials and process though. Most recently I designed a sofa where all of the components can be cut from one sheet of ply and slotted together by hand. I studied the Robin Day sofa endlessly to get the proportions right! An upholsterer in the Cotswolds has developed a way to upholster it from a single cow hide. The prototype is sitting in our living room but I need to work out what to do with it next.

“We made the dining table from American walnut with a stainless-steel ribbon that runs across the surface. The coffee table is a slab of fossilised stone which Alice brought back from her travels and has a similar detail.

“The kitchen tiles are from Portugal. My colleague Eliana is Portuguese and it was the perfect opportunity to commission some of the ceramicists who keep that craft alive. She could speak to them in their native tongue so we could tailor it specifically to the space.

“We used more of the Valchromat in the bedrooms to create long desks and joinery to help define the spaces. We wanted everyone to have a place of their own where they could sit to look out and read, so they’re almost modelled on the idea of monastic cells.

“I’m very intrigued by the idea that certain ideas and desires can transcend a particular period and create links from one age to the next.

“Alice and I each have a teenage daughter from a previous relationship and we wanted to give them some personal space of their own. The composition of separate pavilions works well for us now that the girls are older. It gives them more privacy and independence.

“In a way the house helps our lives work together. Alice is a British feature film producer and sometimes her projects are like a vortex and I hardly see her for a couple of months! My work is so close that I can easily be more domestic when that happens. It means I can be on hand at home when I need to. It also works as a means of inspiring trust in my clients. Concepts are far more tangible when you have an example of your work on your door step!”

Henning, what are your thoughts on modern living?
“Perhaps my effort to create calm spaces is part of a response to modern living, but I like to think that if I had lived 200 years ago I would have wanted to create something quite similar. Maybe it’s a little more latent now, but perhaps it’s what’s needed.”

If you were to leave, what would you miss most about the space?
“Alice and I have been together for eight or nine years and we’ve moved about six times. We’re completely restless. But when we moved here I think we really felt it was enough. I think part of that decision was because it would be really hard to replicate something as special as this anywhere else.”

Are there any properties on The Modern House that have caught your eye over the years?
“I’ve always liked the Rogers House that Richard Rogers built for his parents in Wimbledon. It amazed me that it came up for sale on the open market. Of course, everything must do eventually. The Ahm House in by Jorn Utzon in Harpenden is another great example.”

Henning Stummel’s latest project, a freehold on Royal College Street in Camden, is for sale with The Modern House.

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