Think of your school science lessons, and the redolent, sharp smells of chemicals will no doubt come flooding back into your senses.
Today, after many experiments – this time with space and light – a 1930s-built former science lab in Forest Gate, east London, has been transformed into a light and art-filled home, with the only trace of sulphur found in the name of the bold yellow paint colour (Dulux Trade’s Sulphur Springs 4) that covers a staircase’s wooden treads.
Its transmutation is down to architectural designer Carlo Viscione and his wife, Florence, a project manager in construction, who instantly knew they and the building would make for great chemistry.
With a renovation budget of around £1,500 per sqm, the pair have reworked the industrial-style building on Trumpington Road – once an adjunct to a now-demolished Victorian school building, and which has also served as an art department, canteen and then two flats – into a 200sq metre-home with the potential for four bedrooms.
Open, flowing spaces, swathes of natural light and the clever juxtaposition of details – both historic and hip – plus the creation of a wildflower green roof and private roof terrace, are its hallmarks.
‘We had been living in a late Victorian flat in a converted tenement building in Hackney, which we loved, so didn’t want to move just for the sake of it,’ says Carlo, whose firm Made With Volume specialises in renovating, reconfiguring and extending residential and industrial properties.
‘We viewed about 40 places, most of them traditional period flats, but then this place came up with a local estate agent,’ he says.
‘Once I saw the huge windows and the amount of light that flooded in, high ceilings and original solid-pine parquet floors, the potential was immediately clear.’
Lovely brick detailing on the building’s façade, a concrete stairwell and metal balustrade were other features that design-mad Carlo fell for, with access to the Elizabeth Line, and the open spaces of Wanstead Flats and Epping Forest also a huge draw.
Having bought the property, which neighbours the old school caretaker’s house, as a pair of flats in February 2015, Carlo and Florence set about obtaining planning consent for uniting them into one single home.
They then lived in the property for about a year, getting to know every nook and cranny.
‘We went through about 21 different revisions before we settled on the final layout,’ Florence says. ‘The property had endless corridors and room divisions – it was a real rabbit warren – so we wanted to really open things up.
‘After much discussion, we decided to put the main open-plan living space upstairs, as there is so much light, and you are surrounded by the canopies of trees.’
For the downstairs, Carlo drew up a grid-based plan for the rooms, with as few inner spaces as possible, to max out the flow of natural light.
A lovely wide entrance hall, to create the sense of real welcome, would lead on to three airy bedrooms – ceiling height reaches three metres – two bathrooms and a useful utility room.
To make the whole scheme hang together, two key undertakings would be required. As the original 1935 windows had been replaced in more recent years with ugly white UPVC frames, the couple commissioned 21 new windows from steel-framed specialists Fabco Sanctuary.
Four large sections of glazing now define the ground-floor elevation, with five running across the length of the first floor, to front and rear.
‘They gave the whole place a huge lift,’ Carlo says.
They also wanted to find a new, way to unite both storeys. Although there was already the original 1930s concrete staircase the couple designed a second set of stairs, leading directly from the hallway up into the heart of the living space, which they painted in a vivid yellow.
‘My grandmother always had a yellow kitchen, and we did the same in our old flat,’ Florence says. ‘It is a colour that wakes you up.’
The pair moved out for six months while work was carried out by a contractor, returning home in early 2017 with their chocolate lab, Fryn, and cat, Snooker.
The couple say they aren’t materialistic, adding a simple kitchen area to the 10.33m x 7.91m open-plan first floor: sleek dark grey units have stainless-steel work surfaces and white tile splashbacks, with original quarry tiling preserved underfoot.
From here, a dining room and living area flow, showcasing their collection of classic mid-century furniture: Ercol pieces from criterionauctioneers.com, Eames dining chairs pressed in fibreglass, from SCP-Upholstery and a Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System holding their extensive record and book collection. Carlo, a talented pianist, has given his glossy black Yamaha upright pride of place by a window. ‘I love to play in the golden evening sunlight,’ he says.
Downstairs, the look is airily simple: the three bedrooms all have built-in wardrobes and white-painted cast-iron radiators, and the bathrooms finished with white tiles and hints of Carrara marble.
You’ll find no design clichés here. Talking points are found in prints, textiles typographic art and an eclectic assortment of objets d’art, including a Victorian print of fossils, vintage maps, Bauhaus furniture posters and former shop cabinets, filled with antique toys and shells from Vietnam and Cuba, and a magnifying glass with built in torch.
‘Individually, they may not be remarkable,’ Carlo says, ‘but as a collection, they mean a lot.’
Although there’s a neat front garden, the wooden-decked roof terrace has also been an important project for the couple.
‘We wanted to be as sustainable as possible,’ Florence says, ‘and grow strawberries and lettuces as well as roses and clematis.’
Unsurprisingly, Carlo – who works from the first-floor study, believed to have once been a teacher’s office – says he has used the project as a showcase, illustrating how you can introduce bold new concepts into a period, or industrial, home.
He is currently transforming two self-contained flats into a single home in Grade II-listed Bruno Court, a 1930s wing of a former psychiatric hospital in Hackney.
With a yearning for a more rural home and some proper acreage, Carlo and Florence have put the pad on the market, for £1.425million.
‘There’s still so much scope for someone to put their own stamp on the place,’ Carlo says. ‘All the spaces can easily be reconfigured to suit any lifestyle.’
He says their friends’ children are positively encouraged to run up and down the flights of stairs. How things have changed, then, since the science teacher ruled the lab.
On sale for £1.425m via The Modern House
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