Turning Shoreditch into Sydney beach: making new living space out of thin air

Craving light and space for entertaining, two Australians had an ambitious plan for their east London warehouse.
Take the Overground from Shoreditch and Hoxton and what do you see? Penthouses. Lots of them. London has magic behind its parapets. In this part of town, the classic London skyline of higgledy-piggledy slate roofs is mingled with flat-topped warehouses constructed of concrete and brick, which makes them ideal to build on.
 
Two Adelaide-born Australians, Matt Brown, 37, and Luke Fredberg, 38, moved here in their mid-twenties, and fell in love with east London.

Six months after arriving, they bought a little worker’s cottage in Bethnal Green, E2, when it was still edgy — “our British friends thought we were crazy,” they explain.
 
Next was a small Georgian house on the same street. But those houses are dark, and the couple were on the prowl for that elusive thing: masses of light and enough space to entertain all their friends, as well as their visiting families who come in summer.
 
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Step out: the most important room in the penthouse is the one outside, offering a “Mary Poppins” view of the ever-changing city, from a large terrace.
 
“What a Mary Poppins skyline,” Matt says fondly, gazing towards the distant City skyscrapers from the terrace of the Shoreditch duplex he and Luke now live in. In this once-industrial swathe of east London, abandoned warehouses bordering canals, railways and roads became ideal candidates for an extra floor, making new living space out of thin air.

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It was just such a Victorian brick warehouse that the couple spotted online in late summer 2013, and decided to check it out. A shell with no roof and almost no floors, the derelict wreck was being developed by David Button of Chapman Button, with Chris Dyson as architect.
 
Having just finished renovating a farmhouse in Norfolk, Matt and Luke liked the sound of directing and allowing other people to do the work for a change.
 
So they went for a recce with their young puggles, Tara and Tziki (short for Taramasalata and Tzatziki). They loved Shoreditch, which is changing all the time, with exciting new shops and bars springing up every month, yet it’s very near the City, where they both work; Matt as a lawyer, and husband, Luke, is in communications.
 
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Closer to the sun: so much natural light reaches the kitchen-diner, it often feels like being in an Australian beach house
 
Luke says astutely: “The area has energy and a mix of all sorts of people, and you see fashions here first.”
 
What they also saw, apart from an unnervingly clear view of the sky through the scaffolding and floor joists, were fine old red bricks, solid proportions, and Crittall windows being lovingly replicated.
 
And they both felt an instant rapport. For, despite being a brick doily, the neglected building still had tons of character.
 
They also liked the fact that the developer was only making three flats, rather than shoehorning in as many as possible; and that the designer was Australian. So they looked round all three still-skeletal homes, gingerly moving from joist to joist, and decided to go for what would — in time — be the two-storey penthouse.
   
Quite an act of faith and trust, but Matt and Luke, as three-time renovators, had the ideal mindset for this project. Not everyone would be happy with the risk of the unknown to such a degree.
 
“With renovations,” Matt explains, “you have to accept that things can go wrong. But normally you can fix them; and sometimes when things go wrong they end up even better.”
 
The pair studied the plans and decided to change nothing except the idea of lining the raw-brick hallway with bookshelves, which they rejected.
 
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More space: cleaned-up Victorian bricks in the wide hallway (left) and bathroom (right) look beautiful and are a reminder of the building’s history
 
They moved in last summer. The lower floor has three large bedrooms, all with clean-lined en suite bathrooms in a hi-spec palette of pale grey metro tiles, grey slate floors and walk-in rainwater showers. These rooms can accommodate both sets of parents, which obviously gives the couple great pleasure — and there’s even an extra bathroom off the hall.
 
 
On the other side of the apartment, the master bedroom has a masculine colour scheme of mid-grey carpets and curtains, highlighted with strong mustard yellow. But the apartment’s whole look is softened by quirks, such as a boxed taxidermy kestrel in the master bedroom’s fireplace and, outside in the hall, an enormous Victorian mirror with a frame swathed in plush crimson velvet, next to a chaise longue upholstered in the same lush fabric. And the towels are John Lewis.
 
“We shop in John Lewis just as much as a Parisian flea-market,” Luke says. These touches add a balance of style and comfort to the smartness of the rest.
 
This floor’s final room is a gym, which the couple call their ‘folly’. It’s full of serious kit, softened by a wooden Victorian gym bench, with pigeonholes for plimsolls, from a time when you left your watch in your shoes and it was still there when you got back.
 
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Reflected glory: a red swathed mirror outside the walk-in dressing room
 
But it’s the top floor that amazes. As you go up the warehouse’s original concrete stairs, nothing prepares you for the dazzling light. As well as views north and south through huge triple-glazed sliding windows — leading out to two balconies edged with herbs, trees and bamboo — a big skylight over the kitchen area pours even more light into this great entertaining space. Time was taken with crucial details such as door handles, which make all the difference.
 
They were also fastidious about the exact placement of the kitchen island, so their friends could gather round it.
 
The kitchen units are bespoke, all the appliances are from Miele, and with the room’s doors open on two sides, both sun and air stream through, turning Shoreditch into a Sydney beach.
 
This fantastic living space is a magazine shoot, but it’s also very much for real people to enjoy and entertain in — and for Tara and Tziki to loll in a sun-splashed daze of pleasure, far from the madding crowd.
 
GET THE LOOK
  • Developer and interior designer David Button at www.chapmanbutton.com
  • Architect Chris Dyson at www.chrisdyson.co.uk
  • Sliding triple-glazed doors from www.schueco.com/web/uk
  • Light grey metro tiles in bathrooms from www.towerceramics.co.uk
  • Burlington grey slate tiles in bathroom from www.rrstone.co.uk
  • Grillage chair in living space by Ligne Roset at www.ligneroset.co.uk
  • Plume sofas in living space from B&B Italia at www.bebitalia.com
  • Mustard leather Rift chair in master suite by Moroso at www.moroso.it
  • Confluence grey interlocking chaise in master suite by Ligne Roset, at www.ligneroset.co.uk
  • Grey curtains from House of Hackney at www.houseofhackney.com
  • Old bench in gym from Retrouvius Reclamation at www.retrouvius.com
  • Heavy Pendant concrete lamps in kitchen from www.decode.london
  • Towels from www.johnlewis.com
  • Stuffed bird from Spitalfields Antiques Market, E1
  • Other antiques from TW Gaze Auctions in Diss, Norfolk at www.twgaze.co.uk
  • Puggles: a pug-beagle cross, there are several breeders online
 Photographs: David Butler

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