From the outside, the place where Andrew Mortada lives and works looks like an ordinary turn-of-the-century terraced house. But it isn't a house - or at least it wasn't. The residential facade is a genteel sham: these were not workers' homes, but workshops.
It isn't ordinary, either. Mortada is a furniture designer and maker, and when he bought the property it was a wreck - which gave him the opportunity to build a modern interior. Now the raw, sandblasted red-brick walls make a textured shell that frames a composition of boldly coloured planes, the walls and suspended walkways within making it look rather like one of those games where you shake up shapes and watch them settle in geometric patterns.
Most of the workshops were originally occupied by cabinet-makers and French-polishers in the reproduction furniture industry which was gathered around Bethnal Green Road, in London's East End. Mortada designed and converted the building himself, making a furniture workshop on the ground floor and basement, and a living space on the two floors above.
This is a building without views: to the front a council estate, to the back a non-conformist burial ground (until the London Necropolis Company came and cleared away the bones to make way for a post-modern block). Mortada's solution was to turn the focus of the house inwards, by designing it around a central, double-height space. Galleried, and open to the rooflights, it is rather like an internal courtyard. In an office block or shopping mall it might be called an atrium; Mortada talks about it as "almost a public area, like sitting outside at a cafe. I just wanted to come up the stairs into a big space".
To design the house, Mortada steeped himself in the work of Le Corbusier, a hero of his since adolescence. A particular reference point was the Maison La Roche, just outside Paris, built for an art collector, where the duplex living space is framed by a dynamic, almost cubist composition of gallery and curving staircase.
Mortada arranged the rooms around his central void. A curved yellow plaster wall both shields a more private living room at the front and defines a route through the house, spiralling up to the bedroom and bathroom and winding through the gallery to a small steel terrace beyond.
However well grounded you are in Modernism, embarking on a house without an architectural training is a major undertaking. Mortada relates the process of designing the house to making furniture. "In a building, you're dealing with space and the organisation of space.The same is true of furniture, you make a table to occupy space, to be seen as you move around it."
Most of the furniture was made specifically for the house, in the workshop downstairs. The dining table is a sculptural, textured oval, reminiscent of the shapes of the African sculptures and pots scattered around the house.
The area surrounding the house is one of contrasts: it is a patchwork of small industries and housing estates, very unlike the preciously conserved, 18th-century Spitalfields nearby. And the interior is full of contrasts, too: the industrial and the domestic, the existing and the new, the rough and the smooth. And this is what gives the house its unexpectedly robust characterReuse content