Knead a new-look house?

Not content with redesigning their favourite bakers shop, Azman Owens Architects ripped out the innards of a dilapidated Georgian house for cake king Gerhard Jenne. Marcus Field visited the serene home created on London's South Bank serene home in the shadow of Waterloo station
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The Independent Culture
It seems only natural that the home of celebrated London baker Gerhard Jenne should be just as original and scrumptious as one of his famous fancy cakes. Designed by Azman Owens Architects, the interior of his modest Georgian house juxtaposes perfectly restored period features with sharp contemporary details and a couple of idiosyncratic touches that make it so peculiarly his.

Jenne, 37, is the proprietor of Konditor & Cook, the bespoke bakery and confectioner which he started in 1993. Mouthwatering savouries and delicately decorated pastries line the windows of his shop, a small period building which sits in an enclave of preserved early 19th-century London on the south bank of the Thames.

During his first year in business Jenne met American-born architect Joyce Owens, a customer who lived in the same street. A standing joke developed between them when she challenged the authenticity of his recipe for pecan pie. He in turn laid down a challenge to Owens and her business partner Ferhan Azman to design him the perfect store. Together they set to work. They cleared out the twee tea-shop fittings, reordered the space and added details such as glass shelves to create a more sophisticated backdrop to the goods on sale. The success has been phenomenal and around 600 customers now come through the door each day.

After the completion of the bakery, Jenne asked the architects to redesign the bathroom in his Brixton flat. They thought he needed more than just a new bathroom and so showed him a house that they had recently gutted and remodelled in Islington, north London. The project made such an impression on the baker that he decided to ditch the bathroom and look for a whole house to transform instead.

Jenne's continental attitude towards homemaking meant he was not intimidated by the prospect of taking on a complex building project. "It's quite a German thing to build your own house," he says. Instead he was more concerned about the scale of the Georgian building that would form the shell. "I looked at two which were like dolls' houses," he says, but finally he settled on a slightly run-down terraced house in Roupell Street, just a couple of doors down from the bakery, an ideal location because of his early morning starts.

What made this particular house ripe for intervention, says Owens, is that it was already "spoilt". Years of alterations, additions and accumulated layers of decor left little inside worth saving. Most importantly, the originally poky ground-floor rooms which would have been protected by the house's Grade II listed status had already been knocked together to make a large, bright living space.

Initially Jenne detailed his requirements to Azman and Owens and he then left them to develop their ideas for the house. "I know that when I do a cake commission," he explains, "the worst customers are the ones who tell you exactly what they want. They are the ones who would really rather bake it themselves." His trust in the creativity of his designers has paid off.

The architects' approach has been to remove the layers of accretions such as mock period fireplaces, varnished veneered partitions and flock wallpaper to reveal the house's pleasing simplicity. Luckily the original floorboards and staircases were intact and these have been stripped and polished. A small portion of the original panelled partition between the hall and sitting-room has also been restored. To contrast with these Georgian relics, Azman and Owens have inserted a series of striking modern details including a plate-glass balustrade to the staircase and a polished maple bench in the sitting-room. Rather than fit a period fireplace, a simple opening has been left where Jenne can now light a fire without it looking too retro or old-fashioned.

Beyond the sitting-room a series of cramped spaces has been knocked together and rebuilt to form a dining-room and light, airy kitchen. Here, finishes are simple and functional, with a tiled floor and limestone work surfaces. Glistening stainless-steel shelves are set off against a cobalt-blue wall, crockery and kitchen appliances are meticulously arranged. "I asked the architects to make me a tidier person," says Jenne. "And now I am. I enjoy moving the pots around." In the lobby off the dining-room the designers placed yellow wall-mounted letter trays, a tongue-in-cheek reference to German post-boxes.

In response to Jenne's wish to be in contact with the elements, Azman and Owens have glazed the entire rear wall and pitched roof of the kitchen so that it joins seamlessly with the outside (Jenne claims he once slept here so that he could gaze up at the stars). Beyond this they have continued the kitchen-floor tiles into the garden which is conceived as a further room to the house. A boon to Jenne's summer parties will be the discreet and carefully restored outside privy.

Jenne asked of the two female architects that this should be "a man's house" and upstairs a urinal has been fitted in the bathroom (apart from the novel appeal in Britain of having a urinal at home this has the added cachet of being ecologically friendlier as it requires less water to flush) and the entire wall behind the basin is mirrored to make shaving easier. In contrast to the rather hard and cool finishes elsewhere, there is also a hint of humour here in the form of a purple rubber floor.

Outside the bathroom the landing which links the two bedrooms is flooded with sunshine from a new skylight over the staircase. Combined with the sound of classical music which wafts around the house via a high-tech sound system, the overall effect is so serene and calming that it is easy to forget that the hustle and bustle of central London is just streets away.

And Jenne, how does he feel now that he has settled in to his bespoke new home? "I love it" says the contented baker. "When I come home it makes me feel regenerated and happy."

Marcus Field is the deputy editor of `Blueprint'

! Konditor & Cook, 22 Cornwall Road, London SE1 8TW, 0171 261 0456. Azman Owens Architects, 0171 739 8404

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