Life At Brutalist Inspired Concrete Plinth House
Actress Rebecca Layoo and her partner, banker Roman Meyer, share a special affinity for brutalism. His love of the architectural style was influenced by his upbringing in Switzerland, where he was surrounded by monolithic buildings; his frequent trips to exhibitions and concerts in the Barbican. So when the couple’s first home, a semi-detached Victorian terrace in London Fields, east London, was to be renovated, it made sense that they chose a palette of materials guided by concrete.
Their first assignment at the dgn Studio Design Bureau was to transform a dark kitchen with oppressively low ceilings into a bright room suitable for enjoyment. The project, which developed into renovations of the entire house, took 18 months, and by 2020 the applicable concrete base House was completed. Here, the couple, who are expecting their first child, discuss their carefully thought-out kitchen expansion, the harmony of oak and concrete and how they plan to adapt the space to family life.
Roman: “we both love brutalist architecture. I was exposed to it at a very young age, and at that time I did not appreciate it for its artistic value, I thought it was quite an economical way to build. But, as I grew older, it began to please me from an aesthetic point of view. Concrete as a material is cool because you can shape it the way you want. And so we thought it would be why not our nod to brutality.
“We bought the house four years ago and lived here for about two years before going to work. We only came back eight or nine months ago.”
Rebecca: “we weren’t specific about what we wanted and were looking for in both South East and East London. We had actually missed a loft in Clerkenwell that we had made an offer on. Then this house appeared, completely unexpectedly. He just had a lot of potential. The road is super green and it is next to London Fields, which also attracted a lot of people.”
Roman: “he was a bit in a state when we found him, so we knew it was going to be a big project – probably a little bigger than we had planned. At first we just repainted the wallpaper and laid new carpets to make it habitable.”
Rebecca: “there was a 1970s style, smoke-stained wallpaper and carpet. Unfortunately, most of the original features were gone, but the shutters and some cornices in the hallways were intact, so we kept them. However, there was no Central title, and so we lived for two years.”
Roman: “the kitchen was very dark. It had very low ceilings and was not very welcoming. We hardly spent any time there.
“We were looking for an architect to help us with the renovation and design. We met two or three of them before meeting Daniel Goodacre and Géraldine Ng of DGN Studio. We discussed what we wanted to achieve with them, namely to expand the kitchen and make it a lighter space.”
Rebecca: “they came up with a concrete piece of data that would go into the garden – and we really loved the idea. They added an oak structure to the kitchen, which created lightness, lowered the floor and exposed the beams of the kitchen, which created a ceiling height, and added roof lighting and modern Windows. It really relates well to the rest of the house – we have oak floors in the living room as well.”
Roman: “they managed to open the top floor, remove the ceiling and expose the roof. And then they introduced us to different material palettes-it was very collaborative and it was a great learning experience. The materials are really harmonious.”
Rebecca: “we really like the hardness of concrete with the warmth of wood. We also have exposed aggregates, so it’s a tough finish, which we like. There are so many details in the materials – the knots in the Oak, the cracks in the concrete – they have so much character.
“Since the renovation, we have used all the rooms more. Previously, we almost never went to the kitchen; now this is where I spend most of the day – it’s very serene. In the morning, the light hits the micro-cement and plays on it, then it moves along the beams.”
Roman: “it’s a great place to host. We are talking about sofas along the length of the kitchen, which have become spaces where people naturally gather.”
Rebecca: “the first thing people usually comment on is the light or the height of the Rays. You don’t really expect it when you walk down the typical Victorian narrow corridor. When you walk into the kitchen, you get that feeling of scale that is totally unexpected.”
Roman: “so far we don’t have a lot of furniture and objects in the House. Our plan is to build this up gradually as we travel and meet things we like. We still have a lot of work to do. There are some works of art that we recently bought from Bosse & Baum.”
Rebecca: “Mary Stephenson is the artist’s name. We have another piece from a friend, Gommie, that has been preserved for four years and we have finally been able to hang it up.
“We also have a very nice room similar to a library, comfortable. There is a projector screen built into the ceiling and a shelf. We spend a lot of time there in the evening.”
Roman: “our favorite room changes over time. The other day I was walking in the evening and suddenly I saw the full moon above me in the kitchen by the light of the roof. These are the moments when you discover new things.”
Rebecca: “we have a great connection with the garden, which was designed with our friend and garden designer Sarah Alun-Jones. There are wide flower beds, beautiful wavy grasses and meadow-like flowers.
“We have created a separate part in the back that is protected by multi-stemmed silver birches-this is the only shaded part of the garden, and there are forest-like plants, such as ferns. We definitely got into gardening – it’s really meditative, watching the bees crawl in a thimble; the birds and the squirrels.
“I think we will be here for a long time. We love the house and the surroundings. We are also expecting a baby… we will have to adjust the house-especially the extension, because currently there is not much softness.”