All photographs Marcus Peel
By Tabitha Teuma
If you’re a fan of Modern buildings then, like me, you will not be able to resist ogling the luxurious 1960s bungalows designed by Austin Vernon & Partners and built by Wates on the Dulwich Estate in south-east London. Having featured properties on the Estate in the past, I was amazed to discover yet another ‘variant’ on the local architectural language, and one that certainly deserved a closer look. Home to Francesca Forcolini, founder of fashion label and boutique ‘Labour of Love’, her husband, Barry, who works in the design industry, and their two young children Anouk and Ray, this four-bedroom bungalow recently underwent an extensive renovation.
The Dulwich Estate: A house of two halves
It is a house of two halves. Doors lead from the entrance hall into the large living room and kitchen-diner, as well as to a separate corridor on the other side, in which the bedrooms and family bathroom are situated. There’s an air of tranquility about the place. The spacious living room looks onto the south-facing garden at the back by way of new stunning floor-to-ceiling aluminium-framed sliding glass doors.
So, how did the family come to live here? Francesca tells me, “We’d been looking for a project for a couple of years and, although we knew this area (she’d grown up nearby), we hadn’t intended to move back here. Barry said to me, ‘I think I’ve found the house, it’s got an amazing space and there’s a lot we can do’ – he showed me the photographs and I thought ‘Not those houses!’. One of my school friends lived in the house across the street when we were growing up and I remember thinking how ugly it was!”. The house was in poor shape, but Barry managed to convince Francesca that it was worth a visit. Having lived in a three-storey Victorian maisonette for the previous eleven years, this new aesthetic might indeed have taken some adjusting to. The couple moved into the bungalow in March 2013, following a 15-month renovation.
The Dulwich Estate: clean lines and crisp mitres
Barry did most of the work himself. The living room was extended at the rear and he carefully matched the warm hues of the original African mahogany sloping ceiling with cedar in the extension. He admits that the budget wouldn’t stretch to the cost of mahogany, but that cedar produces a good colour match. The ceiling in one half of the room had previously been dropped – Barry surmises that this had been done to visually divide the big room into two separate sitting and dining areas – and the couple decided to open it up again, discovering the original timber slats still intact above.
The pair extended the galley kitchen to create a new dining area at the front of the house, on what was originally a paved courtyard. A new floor-to-ceiling sliding door connects the extension to the front garden, echoing the indoor-outdoor connection at the back of the house. The handmade timber kitchen units were constructed from stained oak and coupled with a stainless steel worktop with integrated sink, and a transparent glass splash back behind the hob. There is an attention to detail here that is, I have come to realise, signature to Barry – the crisp mitres at the end of the worktop, the deliberate shadow gap beneath, and the wall-mounted units that make the entire kitchen appear to float gracefully above the ground. The ceiling spotlights are fitted into recesses within the ceiling structure, so that they don’t interfere with the pared down aesthetic, and even the extractor unit above the hob has been seamlessly set within the wall, so as not to disturb the clean lines.
A poured concrete floor unifies the entrance hall, living room, and kitchen-diner. Francesca tells me that they chose concrete for its honest, industrial feel and its non-uniform texture, “The patterning and cracking that has since developed is a bonus”. Aesthetically, the concrete gives the space a contemporary edge, contrasting beautifully with the timber-clad ceiling in the living room, the wooden kitchen units and the couple’s furniture. There are no skirting boards here, another symptom of Barry’s pared down design ethos, and this works well with the concrete flooring. The concrete extends to the outside too, by way of a ‘terrace’ at the back and a path at the front, creating the illusion that the flooring is somehow spilling out into the landscape.
The bedroom ‘wing’ has seen less change, though Barry fitted a stunning parquet floor of Afromosia throughout, giving these rooms a softer, more domestic feel and helping to visually distinguish the two halves of the house. Barry tells me, “I like honest detail that’s not contrived. There’s no fuss here, everything’s square. I believe that a house, like a gallery space, should allow you to appreciate the objects inside. It’s the objects that should form the decorative elements, rather than the architecture.”
The Dulwich Estate: Minimalist meets Maximalist
And so to the furniture. There’s an early Eames lounge chair and ottoman that belonged to Francesca’s great-grandfather, which has been passed down three generations now. “My mum left it outside in the rain a few years back and we rescued it – the covering was wrecked, so we had it reupholstered”. Vivid yellow fibreglass Eames DSW chairs with unusual La Fonda bases are another family heirloom. Francesca says, “I’ve grown up with these since the late ’70s. It’s nice to get a sense of history and time in a home through objects that have memory attached to them.”
Francesca shows me some more recent acquisitions: two African beaded fertility statues and an African beaded stool, each dating from the 1950s. “I think they’re quite amazing, the patterns and colours reflect what was going on at the time in the USA”, she says, nodding to a collection of Eames wooden figurines that are displayed nearby. Francesca’s father, Carlo Forcolini, worked as a designer for Artemide in the 1980s. The sleek chrome Hydra Terra floor lamp in the living room is one of his.
The success of this interior is perhaps in large part down to the contrasting personalities of its creators. Barry is a self-confessed Minimalist and Francesca describes herself as a ‘Maximalist’. She tells me, “We don’t have interior design, we just have stuff!”. And I really can’t imagine a better space in which to present it.
Read the full article and see additional photographs in MidCentury issue 07
Read our article The Dulwich Estate: A hillside haven in south-east London
Take the tour of another 1960s Dulwich Eatate property in A hand-me-down from 1958
Check out the Labour of Love store