Most of us have stylistic disagreements when we move in with our partners, so imagine what it must be like for two architects.
Torquil and Jessie McIntosh met 14 years ago, when they were both working for the now defunct but influential practice Future Systems. But they have “not worked together since this project”. There are intimations that, if not exactly conflicts, then certainly stylistic tussles were a regular feature of the gutting and redesign of the couple’s London townhouse in Brackenbury Village in Hammersmith, which when they bought it five years ago “was held together just by the wallpaper”.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the homely one, but my aesthetic is softer than Torquil’s,” explains Jessie. “I’m more into varied and unusual colour and textural combinations and layers. Whereas his great love is form.”
Jessie – who designs bespoke rugs such as the one in her living room, as well as working on domestic architectural projects – describes her key influences as the Eameses, Barbara Hepworth, Josep Royo (for his tapestries), Matisse, Tim Walker, Shona Heath. She likes smallscale manufacturers who focus on natural materials. For Torquil, who is currently masterminding the largest department store in the world (SKP, Shin Kong Place in Beijing) with his architectural practice Sybarite, key influences include “Ken Adams, who designed sets for Stanley Kubrick films and the early James Bonds”.
Yet despite the disparate tastes and preferences, their resulting family home is slick and homely, futuristic, organic and colourful, and makes the most of every inch of space. They both wanted, says Jessie, to preserve “the Victorian proportions of rooms in the house rather than reproportion everything and lose any character it had. I always think that’s rather sad.”
Although they ended up stripping the house back to its shaky foundations, they kept the original staircase for its patina of age and history. “We wouldn’t have been able to put in anything better anyway, but we like the contrast with the modern rooms,” says Torquil.
Equally impressive is the amount of storage. These narrow townhouses have very little, particularly given that the loft space was enlarged to house the main bedroom and ensuite. When you have three growing and lively children, every inch is crucial. She pushes open almost invisible cupboards in practically every wall.
The project was not as straightforward and ordered as it looks today. A complete gutting took place, and 21 new ultra-slim steel supports were put in place across the four floors (plus wine cellar in the basement). The steel’s extreme slimness also allowed the couple to keep precious inches of height on each of its four levels, particularly as they weren’t allowed to raise the height at street level.
Other architectural secrets include double plasterboards on the ceilings to allow for subtle shadow gaps at the top of rooms so that there are no need for mouldings, as well as inset skirting boards, which neaten the whole look, although, adds Torquil, “the builders hate them because they are so difficult to do.” Plus, there are large magnetic panels on many of the walls in the kitchen, hallway and children’s rooms that allow the couple to use magnetic shelving units that are easily moved or pushed around. This system was a design innovation he used in the shops he designed for Alberta Ferretti.
There are other signs of his retail specialism. The side tables in the living room were initially designed for his iconic curvy Marni shops. Furniture throughout the house is almost entirely bespoke, from the coffee table and dining table, both of which have been made from glass-reinforced plastic, to the lights, which are mostly Sybarite designs. The super-happy yellow kitchen was brought in from the company’s regular suppliers in Italy, and the perforated fireguards which sit above the fireplaces as design pieces when not in use are also his designs.
Eight months later and the family finally moved in. The only thing the house lacks now, says Jessie, is a decent outdoor space. And so at the time of our visit, the couple had just bought a place in Dorset near Jessie’s parents, where they intend to let the children run wild in the fields. There, promises Torquil, the house will be the opposite of their London space: “The kids will be able to paint on the walls if they want to, we’re going to put in a reclaimed-wood kitchen from timber we find down there, and we won’t care where we sleep.”
Still, you get the sense that the architects in them both won’t be able to resist taking the building to task.