The house is an early nineteenth century mews house, built at the same time as Doughty Street as a gated residential enclave in the fields between the City and Westminster. Number 6 was was largely rebuilt some time in the early twentieth century, possibly after wartime bomb damage. When we bought it in 1982 it had two storeys with a flat roof over. The ground floor was a printer’s workshop, and the upper floor was a series of storerooms. There was no kitchen or bathroom. We designed and rebuilt the house ourselves, adding an extra floor and a roof garden.
We have used the house as a test bed for design ideas, and its history over the last twenty eight years reflects the changing uses and demands we have made of it. Some rooms are used for more than one purpose, or have been used over the years for quite different things. All the time we have fighting against lack of space, and we have used a variety of strategies to overcome this including miniaturisation and spatial illusion.
Kitchen, this is the hub of the house, and the room where we spend most time. At its heart is an Aga cooker, a big fridge and a round table. Food is stored on open shelves, crockery on a large rack above the enamelled cast iron sink. Cupboards are clad in zinc, one concealing a dishwasher. Note the diagonal view opened up through into the bathroom.
Tree Room, behind the kitchen, currently this is a spare bedroom and general overflow room. Previously it has been a bedroom, our architectural office and our children’s playroom. Two doors give extra flexibility in the way it can be used and create a circular route of the kind beloved by children.
Bathroom, also a laundry room, with a mirrored ceiling.
WC, three steps lead up to the toilet, with more zinc cupboards, under whose floor is a large storage space accessed by a trap door.
The staircase leads up to the second floor. You are now standing on what was the flat roof over the original two storey house.
Fireplace Room, this has been through a number of uses: living room, studio, office, playroom and, currently, our bedroom. The beams which hold up the roof double as bookshelves. The glass drawing table acts as a balustrade to the staircase. Over it, the water tanks are contained in a large box. In the summer the fig trees in the next door garden give privacy without curtains except when, as this year, they have been heavily pruned.
Small front bedroom, where Jo, seventeen, sleeps in a bed over the stairs. Note the wisteria trained up outside the window which provides in summer a green screen in an otherwise bleak view.
Large front bedroom, this is where Dora, eighteen, sleeps.
Roof bedroom, a narrow, tapering staircase (with very limited headroom!) leads up past a pivoted zinc door to a rooftop sleeping den for our eldest daughter Lily when she is at home. Note the fold-down table, the ventilation slots and the door out to the roof.
Roof Garden, from the main room a spiral staircase leads up to the roof garden, at its best in July, and currently looking rather ragged. The table is an old door, zinc clad. The chimney incorporates a barbecue.
From the front of the roof you can look down the mews to the south and see at the end of the opposite side of the road a new house we designed, 29 Doughty Mews, completed in 1996.
On the way out note, just next to the front door, a new door, inspired by Chinese prototypes, which gives access to the garage.