The greatest compliment to an architect must surely be when their work is revered and retained, particularly in a residential environment. This particular project on Notting Hill's Ladbroke Road is an example of this, designed by architect Gunnar Orefelt [of Gunnar Orefelt Associates] lmost twenty years ago and currently on the market with Domus Nova, just as it was designed.
The conversion of a former fire station, Ladbroke Road is a perfect one-bedroom flat of over 1,000sq ft. Orefelt’s client originally owned the entire building and had thought he would make it into one single residence. However, having bought a property in Sweden in tandem with the purchase in London, he later decided to relocate there. So a London pied-à-terre was created on the ground floor and the upper floors sold.
As a single man looking for a fun and creative environment, the architecture of Ladbroke Road was designed to be cheeky and provocative, with vantage points punched through the walls and an open-plan bedroom and bathroom. Internalising the environment around a light-filled, double-height reception room that is almost womb like, detailing such as the position of the windows protect the privacy of the resident and provide a haven from the outside world. This was a flat that was designed for a bachelor; a man about town who wanted to impress. It never occurred to the owner or his architect, that it could be a girl’s flat.
So, it was a great surprise when it was sold on in 1998, to art dealer Libby Sellers of Gallery Libby Sellers. Viewing the property through the eyes of someone used to the fluid lines and open spaces of a gallery, for Sellers the architecture was an art form in itself. In an Elle Decoration interview at the time, Sellers announced that she had found her perfect flat and that before the furniture had arrived, had enjoyed spending time lying back in the empty space and admiring the architecture.
Fast forward fifteen years and the space is still a serene and calm environment – the perfect foil for Sellers' contemporary artworks and important pieces of furniture. Still devoid of clutter, the voice of the architecture can be heard loud and clear. For Orefelt, this is a testament to the original language of the design which has shown itself to be adaptable.
This is a working model that is as close as you can come to describing the ‘house style’ made possible by Gunnar Orefelt who has been responsible for Portobello Studios, a small collection of five houses built on a hidden site just off Portobello Road and Pember Road, a stunning family home built on a former industrial site in Kensal Rise. The latter sold by Domus Nova. Transferring the same approach to the commercial sector, Orefelt also cites 1 Lombard Street as a project to be proud of - a 250 seat restaurant where the environment created the perfect backdrop for diners to relax and focus on the food.
If there is a common thread behind Orefelt’s design, it’s the precise and meticulous use of simple materials, be they economical or expensive, to create a superlative finish, the like of which can only be achieved by using an experienced architect. This approach echoes the ethos of Scandinavians in general, who are renowned for applying beautiful design to the simplest of materials. Arne Jacobsen is a case in point and more than six decades after his most iconic designs were launched, they are still amongst the most sought after in the world. It’s an education that long-term expats like Orefelt have impressed upon subsequent generations of architects training and working in the UK.
So, with a heritage to be proud of, what made Orefelt settle in the UK? “Simple,” he tells me, “When I left the Architectural Association I got a girlfriend. The great orchestrator behind the downfall of most great plans.”
“I also entered a competition for the practice I was working with and I won. This meant that I got offered a full-time job. I then decided to go it alone in 1991 and my 25th anniversary is coming up next year.”
A long-term west London resident, Orefelt is now based in Kensal Rise and cites its diversity as an inspiration for his work. Having gone from being the head of a large company to the lead architect of a much more tailored team, has enabled Orefelt to return to the basic principles of architecture, doing what he loves most, designing interesting and enduring buildings.
With the TV and print media making a ‘have a go’ architect of everyone, where does Orefelt see the future of architects? “There is a huge lack of understanding as to what an architect does,” says Orefelt. “Architecture is not about the aesthetics, it’s a science that involves reading the language of a building, knowing about its structure and the reasons why it was built the way it was.”
“Only by clearly understanding the perimeters of what a building can be, can you achieve an end result that is enduring. “
Although Orefelt wants his architecture to be respected, he has no burning desire to create a legacy project. Instead he feels his career is defined by the challenges that continue to present themselves through new clients and explains, “One of the projects we are currently working on is a house for a disabled woman and her husband in north London. It will be a very interesting property that is being created in the back garden of their existing home. It’s been a difficult process, convincing local planners, but we’ve overcome it and have permission to build. This will enable the couple to stay in the area that they know and love. That is legacy enough for me.”
View Ladbroke Road currently for sale through Domus Nova
View Pember Road, sold by Domus Nova and on the Domus Nova Back Catalogue
View Orefelt Associates on the Domus Nova Architect Guide
Orefelt Associates, 1 Imperial Close, London NW1; orefeltarchitects.co.uk