Mews houses, by their very nature, tend to be on the small and rather dark side, so why take up precious space and light with two kitchens, two staircases and two bathrooms — all separated from each other by walls and corridors? That was the question posed by Robert Hall when he bought his three-storey mews house in Knightsbridge a few years ago.
"I think the previous owner intended to rent out the bottom floor so everything was doubled up," says Robert, 34. "But all those boxed-off rooms and wasted space — it was a crazy design."
Robert and his girlfriend, who are both architects, bought the Edwardian mews for around £1million and spent £215,000 and six months updating it. In fact, his girlfriend is Elisa Pardini, founder of Elips Design, the company which designed and carried out the project.
A pivotal part of their rebuild was the construction of a multifunctional staircase. It took up £25,000 of the budget but proved to be priceless in terms of how it instantly transformed the house.
"It was amazing what a difference the staircase made straight away," says Robert. "We did lots of work to the house, such as installing a new kitchen and bathroom and laying new flooring and changing the electrics, but that was the one thing which brought the house alive."
The idea of the staircase was to bring light and space into the two-bedroom house — and to be a feature in its own right. So while the staircase serves its purpose of taking you from floor to floor, it adds something unique on each level.
Don't restrict chairs to just one job
On the ground floor, it acts as a room divide between the sitting room area by the front door and the study at the rear, which doubles up as a spare bedroom.
A sliding door connects to one side of the staircase unit so that the study can be closed off completely from the front of the house when the couple have guests. A hidden door in the wall of bookshelves at the back of the study leads into a bathroom and storage area, while under the stairs themselves, which have a solid glass balustrade to maximise light, is additional storage space and the controls for the mews' underground heating system.
Up on the first floor is an open-plan kitchen/dining room and, on the other side of the staircase, the main sitting room with French windows and a small balcony overlooking the mews.
With little natural light getting to the kitchen and dining room at the back, it was important not to block the French windows with the stairs.
"This changed during the design process," says Robert. "Originally we were going to have solid bookshelves, but Elisa came up with the idea of having open shelves which would give us room to put things like vases and knick-knacks on, but would allow light to flow through to the kitchen and dining room."
Up on the next floor, where there are two bedrooms and a bathroom, the staircase again serves as a storage unit and light funnel. High above the stairwell, Elisa installed a new skylight in the roof to allow natural light to flood down the staircase and out on to each floor. This clever trick works so successfully that it feels as if there are windows at the back of the house.
It lit up our life
In addition, Elisa put lights on the stair treads and more recessed lighting into the walls around the stairs.
Meanwhile, the stairs themselves, as well as all the walls, are painted white — apart from one wall in the main bedroom which is papered in red — further increasing the feeling of light and space.
They may have no garden but as the mews is a cul-de-sac, Robert and Elisa, like their neighbours, have a table and chairs on the cobbled space outside their front door. "We all spill out on to the mews. We have plants and the table and chairs and sit out there all the time," says Robert. "The house — like so many places in London — used to be so dark but now the staircase has transformed it into a lovely, light place to live. The installation of the staircase increased the overall floor area by approximately 100sq ft — which by Knightsbridge standards is pretty big."
Photographs: Simon Maxwell