Transforming an abandoned Shoreditch factory into a stylish urban apartment
Concentrate your gaze for long enough on the skeleton of this urban family apartment and you can still detect the ghost of the printing workshop that stood on this plot on the edge of Shoreditch, east London.
Owner Scott Kyson, a chartered architectural technologist, was initially overseeing the conversion of the entire five-storey building for a client.
“I retained the original single-storey concrete frame of the print building and added a new lightweight steel-framed structure following the same grid for the additional floors,” he explains.
Scott was then given the opportunity to take the first two floors for himself and — with both his family and his business expanding — it felt like a fortuitous offer. His wife, Thuy-Van, is now pregnant with their third child, a younger sibling to Isabelle, four, and Oskar, two.
“We were living in a house in Hackney at the time, which I also designed, but I built it for a client. As part of the deal we got to live there for two years and the two years were nearly up, so we were looking for a new base. And, I was also looking to move my practice from our offices in Hackney, which we were outgrowing,” he says.
“I was daunted by the offer at first, as it was just a shell space, a concrete floor and four walls, but it offered the perfect opportunity to live ‘above the shop’.”
Thuy-Van also worried that Shoreditch wasn’t a great place to raise a family but they decided to give it a go on the basis that whatever happened it would be a good investment and they could sell up and move on if it didn’t feel right.
While the ground-floor space was pretty easy to transform into an open-plan office, turning the floor above into a functional and inviting family home was more of a challenge for Scott.
“Thuy-Van and I thought a lot about where to put the partitions and place the services within the space,” he says. “We decided to put the bedrooms at the back, away from the noisy service road that we face on to, and to opt for a larger family bathroom instead of an additional en-suite.
“If I was designing this place for a client I would have put in an en-suite, but we knew it was more important to have a larger amount of space for the kids to play in and having one bathroom isn’t exactly a sacrifice.”
Though Thuy-Van left most of the interior’s design to Scott, she did specify that the main living area must be a free-flowing space.
“She is a keen cook and she wanted an open-plan kitchen that overlooked the main living space so she could keep an eye on the children while preparing food,” says Scott.
Sticking to his design philosophy of always building with natural materials wherever possible, Scott used a mixture of white-soaped French oak and Welsh slate to provide the backdrop to this free-flowing apartment.
A combination of bespoke integrated furniture, designed by Scott, and simple free-standing pieces add up to create a functional family living space that spills out on to an outdoor entertaining area and playroom, overlooking London’s financial district. The roof terrace evolved as the apartment came together, says Scott. He created a door out to the terrace from what is effectively a third bedroom, which they currently use as a reading room.
“Once we’d lived here a while we discovered that there is actually a lot of stuff going on for families in the Shoreditch area. They are just hidden away and you don’t know about them until you live here and start talking to other families living nearby.
“This made us realise that this is actually a great area in which to bring up children and we made the decision to stay here for a while at least, and that’s when I decided to go ahead and develop the outdoor space.”
Using dark-stained decking Scott concealed the concrete base and made deep raised flowerbeds for the vegetable patch. An all-weather sofa and a trellis-covered dining area ensures that the exterior feels like a natural extension of the interior.
It’s everyone’s dream to design their own home, but in some ways designing for yourself is harder than designing for a client, says Scott with a chuckle.
“What’s great is you have 100 per cent control over what you are doing as you are not working to someone else’s brief. But, you are also working to your own budget, which is often a lot less than it would be if it were your client footing the bills. So in some ways you’re more restricted,” he says.
“We’re pretty pleased with the end result though. I’m really home proud. I get embarrassed at the time, but I’m secretly delighted when people come over here and praise how the place looks and feels. And I love it when we have a party here and the whole house becomes an entertaining space flowing out to the terrace. It really is a family apartment in the City, which offers me the shortest possible commute to work.”
Styling by Anna Tobin
Photographs by Andreas von Einsiedel