Bauhaus to their house

HOUSE STYLE Turn a Thirties-something shack into an elegant art deco space The house had been unhappily extended in the 1960s. But it still had lots of potential.
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Eleanor and Desmond Mitchell have spent most of their lives in Victorian or Edwardian houses: "I began to be irritated by the niggly bits and the fiddly detail," says Eleanor, who wanted to move towards a more contemporary style of interior but felt constrained by the architecture. Yet, with a growing family, they didn't want anything too hard-edged and modern. Thirties style, designed for the needs of family life in the suburbs, seemed the answer, and - although 1930s houses are increasing in popularity - they are still under-priced compared to their Victorian and Edwardian counterparts.

Eleanor found the boxy, flat-roofed Bauhaus-style house in a street full of more traditional 1930s Tudorbethan homes. It had been unhappily extended in the 1960s, rather missing the point in design terms as it looked like a square brick garage with rooms on top. But it still had period detail inside, a good garden and lots of potential, so Eleanor, who is an interior designer, enlisted the help of Cantos Architects to transform it from something that resembled a shack into a six-bedroom family home.

"It was an L-shape, so we added an extension to fill the L into a square, plus a penthouse floor to the roof," says Kate Grose of Cantos. "As this meant the building required more light we also included a light well - a long thin window down the staircase to the top two floors - as well as two extra bedrooms and a bathroom on the flat roof, slightly set back to leave the original parapet line intact."

Because the Bauhaus style hadn't really worked, they decided to make the additions distinctively art deco - the other strong 1930s look - which would go with the proportions of the rest of the house, as well as with the period metal Crittal windows. All the parts that were extended have typical art deco curved walls as a repeating theme, inset with curved windows from Crittal. They give the new house the look of an ocean-going liner - and a great deal more period character than the original box. "We rendered the new parts, and painted them white. To get this standard of finish on curved walls, you do need an excellent building contractor. We had Neville Designs, who were prepared to take trouble with detail. This is not a style you can cut corners with," warns Kate.

The Thirties, with its great expansion in suburban living, laid many of the foundations for the way we live today, at least as far as interiors are concerned. Rooms were designed for the first generation of families without servants - with kitchens conveniently close to living areas and facing out onto gardens rather than concealed in basements. It was also the dawn of the age of fitted kitchens, bathrooms and wardrobes, and the beginning of the hi-tech idea of the house as a machine for living in. Eleanor and Kate were unable to salvage any of the original 1930s details from the kitchen and bathrooms that remained, because they were in very poor condition, but the interior has been designed to work with both the period architecture and contemporary furnishings without being a pastiche or a historical re-construction.

The starting point for the interior was an art deco fireplace Eleanor picked up in an antique shop, and a pretty Biedermaier ladies' desk, with typical pale wood and dark inlays from Rupert Cavendish Antiques. They are, so far, the only two 1930s pieces in the house, but their colours and shapes are repeated in architectural details throughout the house.

"We replicated the detail on the fireplace for all the skirting boards and architraves, although they're only made of MDF (medium density fibreboard)," says Eleanor. The honey-coloured Biedermaier desk was the starting point for the fitted cupboards, echoed in pale birch wood with ebonized detail in the kitchen units and a similar shade for upstairs.

Dark, polished parquet flooring was typical of the period, so they found reclaimed muhuhu wood blocks, had them stripped, re-stained and laid in a herringbone style, adding a Kangri Tibetan rug in the living-room. Its colours, however, are echoed in the stained glass blocks that surround the glass double doors between the living room and the dining room: "We wanted to connect the living room and dining room, and the use of pastel stained glass was common at the time. The rug looked good in the room, so we echoed its colours," explains Kate.

All fittings are chrome and come from Leggatt, who, until recently (they have just gone into receivership), still made original 1930s door furniture and ironmongery.

Taps, tiles and light fittings are also in keeping, while looking contemporary. "I bought rectangular white tiles from Texas Homecare," says Eleanor "but laid them in a Thirties way in a brick pattern. Dark blue or black geometric chequerboard borders were also common, so I adapted those with bevel-edged tiles from World's End Tiles. Wall mirrors in bathrooms usually had tiled surrounds, so that's the way we did the bathroom mirror, to add to the feel. They're all perfectly ordinary modern tiles - its just the way they're laid that makes them work with the architecture of the house."

Eleanor also found two typical lights to inset on either side of the bathroom mirror from John Lewis, plus some chrome fitted lights for the ceiling in the bedroom from Mr Resistor in the King's Road.

The rest of the furnishing is contemporary, with cream calico curtains and P-arm sofas which are to be covered in cream covers: "The P-arm shape was designed around the turn of the century, so you would have seen it in Thirties homes," says Eleanor.

"The Arts & Crafts movement began to turn away from the clutter and fussy over-furnishing of the Victorian age, but art deco moved it on considerably and reflects a much more modern way of living," comments Kate. Given that we are in an age which is still emerging from the over-stuffed Victorianised interiors of the 1970s and 1980s, the style of the Thirties is a good bridge for those who want their house style to be more contemporary but still value period detail

Cantos Architects 0171-388 7337; Terokta Interior Design 0181-871 9312; Neville Designs Building Contractors 0181-879 7841; circular stone staircase from Blanc de Vierges 0171-288 6217; Crittal Windows 01376 324106; reclaimed flooring from the Natural Wood Floor Company, 0181-871 9771; original Biedermaier from Rupert Cavendish Antiques 0171-731 7041, reproduction Biedermaier from Bevan Funnell Furniture 01273 513762; Mr Resistor Lighting 0171-736 7521

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