Victorian villa transformed into energy-efficient eco-home

A couple of weeks ago I shot a real feel-good project: local, environmentally-aware and beautiful. Chris Newman lives a couple of streets away from me, and over the last six years he has been transforming a typically cold and leaky Victorian house into a high-performance, warm, energy efficient family home.

Chris documented his retrofit - for which he did most of the hard work himself - on his blog. It's a treasure trove for geeks like me, full of technical details of the measures he took and the results in terms of drastically reduced energy use and heating bills. As well as his personal enthusiasm, he has a professional interest: he works for Parity Projects who specialise in improving the energy efficiency of buildings, in a research-based, data-driven way. He's chosen to do things that are cost effective, not just 'for the sake of it'. If only every refurbishment and extension taking place in London (and there's a lot of them right now...) put even a fraction of this thought into energy efficiency.

Chris has created a really amazing home for his family that wears its eco-credentials lightly. I shot a set of photos that demonstrate - I hope - that it is first and foremost a beautiful and comfortable house to live in, with subtle signs here and there of the under-the-hood transformation into an eco-home.

 

Hope Villa: the infill to the side passage insulates the long side wall from extremes of temperate

 
 

The covered side passage is not heated but provides a sheltered space that buffers the house from winter cold. It also acts as spacious porch, storage space, and has allowed Chris to build a small ensuite bathroom out from the master bedroom. 

 
 
 
 

The sitting room wall to the left here is protected externally by the side passage infill, so the internal insulation doesn't need to run the full length of the wall. Only insulating where necessary preserves the internal floor space as much as possible. 

 
 

Chris kept the original sash windows in this bay but replaced the single glazing with super-thin double glazing, and the walls below have internal insulation added to them. It all adds up to a cozy, draught-free place to read a book...

 
 

Spot the difference: the left-hand alcove is exposed on the exterior side of the wall, so it has internal insulation making the alcove shallower (perfect for those classic paperbacks). The right hand alcove is insulated by the neighbouring property, so that's the place for bigger picture books. 

 
 

Triple-glazed rooflights and patio doors keep the rear extension super-insulated

 
 

The ground floor rear extension is a new element added by Chris. The blue part of the house was, in the upper storey, an extension added onto the rear outrigger of the house in the 1990s resulting in a mish-mash of finishes. Chris insulated this portion with external wall insulation - there was no nice Victorian brickwork to preserve, and insulating externally doesn't impinge on the internal floor area.

 
 
 
 

The upper portion of this wall sits above the roofline of the side-passage infill, exposed to the elements. So it insulated internally, while the lower portion is protected by the infill.

 
 
 
 

The master bedroom has internal wall insulation - this brings the walls in about 120mm, which presents an issue of how to return back out to meet the sash windows. This chamfer to the insulation maximises both warmth and light, and has a nice 'mediaeval church' feel to it...

 
 

A slim ensuite bathroom that projects out into the side passageway.

 
 

One of the kids' bedrooms: fireplaces and chimneys are a common cause of heat-loss, as they need to remain ventilated and dry. Chris has diverted the ventilation of the chimneys so it runs from loft space to the sub-floor, allowing the fireplaces to be sealed off and insulated in the bedrooms.

 
 

Installing a whole new heating system - which was needed anyway - allowed Chris to divide the house into multiple heating zones. So only areas that need to be heated can be heated, and only to the level required. Hence the thermostat - and slim radiator - in this bedroom.

 
 

A new family bathroom in the 1990s extension

 

New pavilion at Herne Hill Velodrome

 
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I'm lucky enough to live a short bike ride from Herne Hill Velodrome, which has been home to track cycling in south-east London for over 125 years. After falling into disrepair, an effort led by local riders through the Herne Hill Velodrome Trust secured the funding to repair the track and then to rebuild the pavilion, providing facilities for events, changing rooms, and seating for spectators.

Hopkins Architects - who designed the London Olympic velodrome - have created a beautiful curved timber building that reincorporates the Victorian columns from the original pavilion. The Trust crowd-funded a whopping £89,000 to complete the internal fit out. I took a set of photos for the Trust to document this fit-out and the pavilion and track in use on a sun-drenched Track League evening. Good work everyone...

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Sunrise at Box Tunnel on Brunel's birthday

A pretty special assignment - taking photos of the rising sun from within Box Tunnel on the London-Bristol mainline. The tunnel was designed by Brunel, completed in 1841, and legend has it that the sun shines all the way through the 1.83 mile tunnel on his birthday (April 9th). I joined an expedition organised by GWR to see first hand if that is true.

Results were inconclusive,: the sun certainly aligns with the tunnel, and if it wasn't for the light mist it may have shone all the way through. Some of these photos appeared in the Telegraph and The Guardian the next day. 

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The Time Warp House: shooting before the strip-out

I was asked recently by Turner Architects to shoot a full-house renovation project in North London for them, but in this case to shoot it before the builders moved in. The house had been lived in for decades by the previous owner, who had not only left the decor unaltered for half a century, but had modified, customised and hacked the house to suit his needs. So a downstairs living room had been a workshop, a bedroom had been a darkroom complete with home-made timer clocks and infra-red lamps, and the loft rooms - I guess unoccupied most of the time - were sealed off behind a 'spaceship door' on the stairs to keep the heat in the lower part of the house.

It was a fascinating house to shoot: a testament to how our living standards have transformed in the last 50 years, and the traces of an unconventional life. Turner Architects' plans are to turn it into a modern and comfortable family home, while still preserving some of the Victorian elements. I'm really glad we were able to capture this slice of history before it is updated into the twenty-first century. 

They don't make wallpaper like they used to

They don't make wallpaper like they used to

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Ground floor workshop

Ground floor workshop

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That's a loo roll holder with integrated radio

That's a loo roll holder with integrated radio

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The darkroom

The darkroom

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The spaceship door to the loft rooms

The spaceship door to the loft rooms

A loft-room ceiling held up by the wiring

A loft-room ceiling held up by the wiring

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Three locations in one day for Clayworks

I recently spent a day traversing London on a commission for Clayworks. They make clay plaster wall coverings with beautiful depth, texture, and colour, and they asked me to capture their products on location in three very different environments.

First up was a trade stand at the huge Decorex interiors show in west London. The Clayworks plaster was providing the backdrop for Benchmark Furniture's products. We got the shoot done before the public were allowed into the show - it's in a giant tent so the major challenge was how much the floor wobbled as people walked nearby.

 
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Next stop was in East London, at AMQ's Spitalfields fashion store, where the clay plaster had been used to replicate (very convincingly) the look of shuttered concrete.

 
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The last stop was Japanese restaurant Sosharu in Clerkenwell, where all the walls were covered in a grey plaster with a gorgeous hand-finished texture.

 
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The day was an exercise in travelling light and working fast while also taking care with lighting and colour management to show the products in their best light. It even involved some rapid Photoshop work on the Central Line as the client wanted to publish some of the photos while the trade show was still open!

New work for Turner Architects

Since the beginning of the year I've been helping Turner Architects (www.turnerarchitects.co.uk) record a large number of their finished projects.

They're based near me in south-east London and specialise in residential work. They've had a very busy and successful first few years of practice, so had a lot of completed work to showcase. Working together over several months allowed us to keep a sense of continuity across the shoots, and also to work efficiently, often shooting two projects in a day.

Their new website is live, and I'm proud to be able to point to a site where almost every photo is one of mine, including the team portraits!

Here's a few of my favourite photos of their work:

A Kitchen on Wheels, North London - creating an adaptable ground floor in a small cottage: www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work#/n22

A Kitchen on Wheels, North London - creating an adaptable ground floor in a small cottage: www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work#/n22

A penthouse apartment above London Fields - the ultimate party flat? www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work#/beacon

A penthouse apartment above London Fields - the ultimate party flat? www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work#/beacon

Clever joinery to elegantly squeeze a lot into a small kitchen-diner www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work#/sw17

Clever joinery to elegantly squeeze a lot into a small kitchen-diner www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work#/sw17

An understated 2-storey extension: www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work#/e11

An understated 2-storey extension: www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work#/e11

A transformative house renovation in South London: www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/work/#/sw18

The Turner Architects team: www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/about

The Turner Architects team: www.turnerarchitects.co.uk/about

How to find an architectural photographer and have a successful shoot

As an architect or designer, you've spent months on your latest project, battling with clients, planners and builders to get a result that you're proud to put to your name to. And now you may only have one chance to capture brilliant photos that will show your hard work to the world.

Here's my top ten tips on how to find an architectural photographer and have a really successful shoot:

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