What do you do when you live in a one-level, ground-floor apartment in North London, but your daughters request a staircase to rival the ones in their friends’ houses? If you’re Sean Ronnie Hill, founder of the award-winning architecture practice Rise Design Studio, you build a sculptural birch plywood installation in the girls’ bedroom that helps give new meaning to the term loft bed.
“It mimics the shape of a whale, because when we got the keys, our eldest child was obsessed with the sea,” explains Hill of his novel approach, a traditional flight of steps that leads to a mezzanine with an undulating open railing for his 9-year-old daughter, Freya. Her 6-year-old sister, India, sleeps on the raised platform beneath the staircase, where built-in drawers provide storage for the girls’ stash of dress-up stuff, as well as spare mattresses for sleepovers. Mom Mallika Chaudhuri, a fashion designer with her own label, Indoi, bought them a projector “so they can lie in there watching a movie on their cupboard walls,” adds Hill. A perforated moon, painted indigo blue to evoke the ocean, adorns the bed’s side.
It turns out everyone in the family has a soft spot for the sea; the theme is manifested throughout the apartment. In the petite but hardworking bathroom (yes, that’s a clothes-drying rack above the bath), the timber-slatted ceiling recalls the giant water mammal’s ribs. Ocean blue tadelakt gives the walls a textured finish and was color-matched rather than painted.
The use of clay and exposed plaster throughout was inspired by the buildings in Barcelona’s medieval districts, where the family has spent time. “We wanted to use as many natural materials as we could,” adds Chaudhuri. “Sean is a real believer in the beauty of their rawness.”
So as not to distract from the organic surfaces with spotlights and artwork, Hill came up with two smart solutions. The first was to suspend bulbs from pivoting black brackets that allow the lighting to shine in different spots. The second was to install coordinating slim bars near the ceiling to act as picture rails. “The idea is that you can clip frames on and off rather than piercing the walls,” explains Chaudhuri.
In the open-plan kitchen and living room, Hill considered the family’s storage needs so meticulously that the expanse of cabinetry is always a talking point with visitors. There are cupboards galore and drawers within drawers; the kitchen island is on wheels for easy maneuvering. “We have so much kitchen stuff, and I have a lot of clothes, and it all fits really neatly,” says Chaudhuri. “I don’t feel claustrophobic here at all.” Hill even carved an extra bedroom-slash-playroom out of a side extension; large sliding doors create an immediate partition for when guests come to stay. Inside, there is a daybed and a desk, where the girls often sit to do homework while meals are prepared.
The splashes of color in the home are courtesy of Chaudhuri’s natural affection for textiles; almost all the rugs and furnishings are inherited or thrifted. But her studio, unmissable at the end of the garden with its bright Yves Klein Blue doors, features the only lick of paint within the property—a happy antidote to the neutral palette on view throughout the rest of the home. “To me it’s symbolic of my fashion brand and such an ethereal and happy hue,” she notes. Realized or not, it also brings the home’s aquatic references outside.
On weekends—and when the unpredictable British weather allows—the family throws open the doors to the studio, where there is a small sofa on which to sit and look back at the house. “Having coffee outside, pruning my plants, watering them…I love that,” says Chaudhuri. A whale of a time, if you will.
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