The home of architects Deborah Saunt and David Hills of DSDHA, Set out to design their family home as a testbed for their ideas on sustainability. Their experiments, carried out under restrictive Conservation Area planning conditions, resulted in an unorthodox, semi-underground house that challenges what it means to design a contemporary domestic space close to the city centre.
The Covert House might lie hidden from view in Clapham Old Town, in the heart of a Conservation Area, just two miles from Parliament Square and London’s West End, but its interiors and architecture is definitely worth a study. Set in a pastoral landscape of mature trees and gardens.
“It’s set behind a terrace-lined residential block in Clapham Old Town, in a backland site within a Conservation Area that can only be accessed via a narrow passageway that cuts through one of the houses on the main road.”
The two-storey house is a simple composition of two interlocked white cubes, which is entirely shielded from street view. The planners limited to a single-storey height so DSDHA had to half bury the house. The exterior presents itself as a low-rise, lightweight architectural piece of architecture, clad in white render, with chamfered mirror reveals.
“The house follows some very strict rules in terms of not encroaching on the quality of existing gardens. It has a stepped roof line, so it is lower close to garden boundaries, and it never goes above the height limits established in conversation with the planning department (2.5 to 3.5m, broadly the same height as existing domestic sheds and summerhouses in the local gardens).”
“With the interior, the effort has not been so much that of ‘softening’ the feel of the concrete, but rather to ‘visually edit’ its elements – mid-century modern furniture and pieces we have designed, bespoke concealed lighting or artworks – to avoid anything that might clutter the space and overshadow the home’s relationship with nature and the light within it.” – Deborah Saunt and David Hills
This is an exquisitely crafted home, with every detail and material carefully thought through; a beautiful space that is immediately calming and exciting. The exposed in-situ concrete interior gives the project a unique identity; whilst evidently structural it is also delicate, beautifully detailed and finely executed. The mirror façade softens the edges of the building and allows it to sit playfully within the surrounding garden context.
The Covert House How can architectural agency ease London’s housing shortage while engaging with craft and specificity, at a time when standardisation and off-site construction seem to be the only solutions at hand?
The Covert House lies hidden from view in Clapham Old Town, in the heart of a Conservation Area, just two miles from Parliament Square and London’s West End. Set in a pastoral landscape of mature trees and gardens, the house acts a case study for testing several hypotheses. They span from interrogating the idea of the ‘domestic’ at the beginning of the twenty-first century, through to asking how social and technological sustainability as well as wellbeing might be integrated into high quality design, without compromise.
At a strategic urban scale, by reclaiming an overgrown site between two rear gardens, the design postulates on how a global city like London might be able to provide urgently needed new housing within its historic centres, amongst its fiercely defended low-density backlands.
As a discreet family home set partially into the ground and hidden behind new tree planting, Covert House is designed with a few simple rules: to deliver sustainable design within a carefully curated and minimal palette, to creating a sense of domesticity within a language of concrete, and to do so without disturbing its sensitive setting and the 23 neighbouring properties adjoining the site.
Concrete is the main material – either cast on site, left raw and unfinished, or precise and highly articulated. It is always read against ‘whiteness’, be it in the form of natural light, controlled and carefully calibrated to bring animation and delight deep into the plan, or represented though the use of white finishes for all the remaining surfaces beside concrete. The resultant architecture is precise and sculpted; calming and welcoming as a place to live.
Sunken courtyards flood every room with natural light, always providing occupants with a direct visual connection to the garden and sky above. An elegant white concrete stair effortlessly mediates the spatial experience between levels within a double height space.
Heat recovery systems, rainwater harvesting and solar panels allow an environmental performance that exceeds Code 4, in line with Passivhaus standards.
Project name: Covert House
Location: Broadhinton Road, London SW4 0LT, United Kingdom
Coordinates: 51.466335, -0.144946
- Type By Characteristic: Architects House, Green & Sustainable House
- Type By Site: City / Town House
- Type By Size: Small House – (51 sqm – 200 sqm)
- Type By Materials: Plaster / Mortar / Masonry House
Project Area: 135 sqm
Completion Date/Year: 2015
Client / Owner / Developer: Deborah Saunt and David Hills
Architects: DSDHA – 357 Kennington Lane, London SE11 5QY, United Kingdom
Collaborators: Emma Canning (DSDHA Alumnus)
Project Team: Deborah Saunt, David Hills, Matt Lambert, Emma Canning
Structural Engineer: Price & Myers
Services/Sustainability Engineer: Max Fordham
Enabling Architect (Construction): Knox Bhavan
Planning Consultant: Bennett Urban Planning
Text Description: © Courtesy of DSDHA, RIBA
Images: © DSDHA, Christoffer Rudquist, Helene Binet