Open House: Austin Austin co-founder Bessie Austin on finding the perfect architect for her first home in Islington
Our ‘Open House’ series takes us into the homes of owners who are selling via The Modern House for a look at what life is like in the space. Here, Bessie Austin of organic beauty company Austin Austin talks to us about what finding the perfect architect meant for the design of her first home in Islington.
“When I first saw the place, there weren’t any lights in the upstairs rooms. I could only view them in the dark!
“I think the original layout put a lot of people off. It was really confusing and there wasn’t an obvious, logical way to divide it up.
“The only bathroom for the whole house was up a set of stairs that were so perilous, so unbelievably steep, it was crazy.
“Still, I just fell in love with it. I love the position of it. The front of the house faces down a street, rather than towards another house, so the views from the windows create a sense of space. It’s a small thing, but it makes you feel safe and elevated.
“But even when I bought it I still didn’t know what the answer was to the question of how best to configure the space.
“Because it always felt like it was half a house that hadn’t been thought through as a single living space, I was determined to get the thinking behind the refurbishment absolutely right.
“I had never gone through the process of working with an architect before. We spent about three years planning this project. I absolutely loved doing it.
“I worked with OMMX architects. They’re amazing; just bright, interested people. It became a bit of a passion project for all of us.
“We started with a painting by the artist Martin Creed. It had this tiered structure that I really liked. It’s been translated into a house that feels open and light in the living area, and then more intimate as you go upstairs.
“The whole thing has been about exposing the original features, such as the fireplaces, which were covered up, while also making sure that the added elements simultaneously celebrated the existing structure and offered something new.
“So, we created bespoke carpentry by repurposing the old teak staircase into door handles. The architects packed the place with those little details, such as the exposed slats, which are behind the glass splashback in the kitchen.
“They also did a lot of gentle advising! I love Rachel Whiteread and wanted to have the beams, stairs and arches at the different levels to be installation-like.
“They very gently persuaded me that if they weren’t just art pieces, they can have storage space and be more practical for living with. They proved to be very right about that. As much as I would love to live with a Rachel Whiteread running through my house, actually it’s probably best that I’m not!
“I think it worked out well that I lived here for a bit before I rethought the space. There are so many decisions I would have made differently had I done it from a distance and never lived here.
“I studied interior design for a year at Chelsea College of Art after my BA. Apparently, if you’re into architecture or enjoy doing up houses, five years is the norm for staying in one place. That’s rung true for me!
“My boyfriend, Will, and I are moving not too far away. It will be different because you naturally adapt to the space that you’re in.
“We’ve done what was right for this house. I like architecture that responds to a specific problem, so whatever we do next will be sensitive to the space we’re in.
“I absolutely loved the process; it was such good fun. Everyone says it’s a really calm space. The only reason I can think of for that is that everything has been really carefully thought through. It brings a sense of peace and order, which we hope will be enjoyed by the new owners.”