Inside west London's extraordinary Tin House:contaminated plot bought for £450k transformed into bright orange modernist masterpiece

On a former Shepherd’s Bush breakers yard site stands the amazing Tin House. It’s up for RIBA house of the year.

Looking like something between a cluster of orange origami water bombs and a group of African huts, the most extraordinary “house” has landed in a former breakers yard in Shepherd’s Bush.

Reached by an arched gateway and clad in burnt orange-coloured, polyurethane-coated, steel-based alloy — tin, to you and me — with attractive standing seams, this is the Tin House, the new home of architect Henning Stummel, 50, his wife  Alice Dawson and their daughters, Justine Stummel, 16, Ayesha Dawson, 14, plus Audrey the family’s black cat.

Once through a small door set in the gateway, with Henning’s office above, at first this doesn’t look like a house. You enter a large courtyard paved with granite setts that features a pool just deep enough to swim in. Around this oasis, the connected “huts” cluster in a horseshoe.

Each single-room volume has a steeply pitched roof with an angled skylight at the top. There are horizontal windows, too. Inside, all the spaces flow together. Loos and stairs are concealed within the roomy double walls of the links between the huts, which keeps the main spaces uncluttered. At one end of the compound, a double-height section has two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a shower room. This part can be closed off and accessed separately to make a guest maisonette.

At the grouping’s heart, a tall chimney, which vents the wood-burning stove in the living room, adds a touch of grandeur. The warm, inviting orange continues inside on some walls, on the bespoke kitchen island with its cut-out lug handles, and on doors.

The under-heated floors throughout are made of durable polished concrete, which has beautiful swirls and a warm tone, while walls and ceilings are natural plaster done with meticulous attention to detail on corners and shadow gaps around the bespoke doors.

Fabulous flow: the rooms connect and echo the orange theme (Charles Hosea)

Intelligent details abound. Walk behind the master bedroom’s headboard to find bookcases and a bath. Lie in the tub and look up at trees or stars. A study room has a long, cantilevered orange desk looking out on to the pool and courtyard. What teenager wouldn’t love that?

The two main rooms — kitchen-diner and sitting room — join by means of a wide opening. Clad in the same orange, but in Portuguese self-coloured MDF, it’s an elegant yet homely space with lots of storage. There’s even a walk-in pantry, which was Alice’s dream.

Luck brought the couple together. Henning, who is German but has spent most of his life in the UK, had set up his own practice in Marylebone after working for prestigious companies Foster + Partners, and David Chipperfield. That same year, Alice, a busy producer of films such as The Look of Love, needed a nanny for her baby, and got one via Henning’s toddler. The pair got together in 2008.

Exceptional finishing: the kitchen features a bespoke island in orange MDF (Charles Hosea)

Soon after they bought an auction plot in Camden, an old shopfitter’s workshop on which they built a modern workshop-inspired home. Award-winning, featured on Grand Designs, they sold it to renowned artist Rachel Whiteread.

“Henning is a master at finding plots,” Alice says. The couple wanted to go west for schools. In 2011 they spotted, in an auction catalogue, a site in Shepherd’s Bush. Concealed behind high gates, the breakers yard was three feet deep in car bits and discarded chemicals, all firmly embedded in the ground. This contaminated horror didn’t bother Henning. But when they got it for the asking price of £450,000 they asked each other: “What have we done?”

After a cleanup that cost £50,000, they got cracking on the build. Because the plot was hemmed in, Henning created an inward-looking design. Having cleared the site back to normal level, the mainly single-storey house sits low. Construction of house itself cost £800,000, making a total spend of £1.3million, but it is now estimated to be worth £3.1million.

The couple love the naturalness of top lighting, so skylights would be a major design feature. They had just been to Stockholm, and seen the traditional reds used in the area. All put together, the striking design evolved.

But planners turned it down flat, because locals objected. The undaunted couple went round and met everyone. That helped. One person wanted a little bit nipped off the site for a garden — that helped, too; another wanted Henning to build him a house — which Henning did. A second application sailed through.

Building began in 2013. As a curious aside, during the works, the family rented the house Henning had built for their neighbour, which goes to show the value of communication.

Then this amazing house went up. The walls were easy. But there are almost no right angles, so the roofs created major headaches for the builders. One roof had to come down and be started again but Lukasz, the master carpenter, was determined to get it right. The rooflights were complicated, and one had to be re-done. A build and fit that the couple hoped would take 15 months took three years.

That is a long time, but look at the result, justly in the running for the Royal Institute of British Architects house of the year title. This innovative 2,420sq ft home combines uniqueness with serene beauty. All the finishes are exceptional.

Looking up into the high ceiling spaces is amazing — the soaring voids, ending in geometrically framed sky, are quite something. Rippling light from the pool splashes on to the walls inside in ever-changing patterns, while dappled shadow from the surrounding trees splashes over the metal cladding.

With the conservatism of teenagers, their two girls were at first resistant to orange, but once they saw it, loved it — as do their friends. Henning, who initially planned to clad the house in Parisian zinc grey, attributes the difference to Alice: “My life has got more colourful since I met her,” he says.

Architect: Henning Stummel
Contractor: Art‘n’Design, via Artur (07841 84431)
Prelaq Nova QLX metal cladding: from
Burnt orange MDF: Valchromat
Polished concrete and plastering: by the contractor, as above
Handmade Danish bricks in arch: from Wienerberger 
Rooflights: The Rooflight Company
Nickel-plated lug handles on doors: from SDS
Nickel-plated socket plates: from FocusSB
Motorised rooflight blinds: by Associated Blinds

The plot: £450,000
Cleanup: £50,000
Build: £800,000
Value of house now: (estimate) £3.1 million

Tin House has won a RIBA London award, making it a contender for the House Of The Year award, the longlist for which will be announced on June 23.


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