A Transformation in Princelet St
In 1996, when Architect Chris Dyson bought the last house at the end of Princelet St where it meets Brick Lane, the shabby twentieth century edifice looked like the poor relation amongst the fine eighteenth century terraces. Having collapsed in the nineteen thirties and been rebuilt successively, very little was left of this former seventeen twenties structure, yet the adjoining house – built as its twin – stood as a reminder of how it might have been. With a restoration no longer viable, instead Chris staged a transformation – using the house next door as his template, he brought a new order to the structure, allowing it to hold its own amongst its fellows once more.
“Living in this area and working on houses in Spitalfields for twenty years has taught me how me to handle the detailing, and the correct moves to make,” explained Chris, as we stood in the street and compared the facades of the neighbouring frontages. On the first and second floor, he has reinstated the windows to match those next door. Using second hand purple reds, bricklayer Keith Beckwith matched the brickwork closely and recreated the rubbed brick detailing above the windows. At street level, it was necessary to conceal a girder which had been installed in the front wall when the building was converted to a shop, so Chris chose to construct a Georgian shopfront, employing Ian Harper to paint oak grain on the facade and a contrasting burr walnut upon the door.
Within, joiner Matt Whittle has installed new panelling throughout the reception rooms in line with other Spitalfields houses of this period, while Chris has judiciously embellished the work with salvage finds to bring idiosyncrasy and detail to his design. In the hallway, a pair of fluted wooden columns from 1725 have been cleverly duplicated by carpenter Dave Thompson to frame the lobby. Similarly, in the first room, he has copied an original eighteenth niche cupboard which sits to the left of the fireplace, still flaunting its patina of two centuries, while its new counterpart sits demurely unsullied upon the right.
At the rear, Chris chose to install a large glass screen admitting the Southern light and opening onto the spectacular fern garden at basement level by Luis Buitrago. Stairs lead down to the kitchen lined with a collection of rich blue china and up to the panelled first floor drawing room, leading beyond to bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor, and arriving at a wonderful loft space at the top that serves as master bedroom with spectacular views across the rooftops of Spitalfields towards Christchurch.
As we ascended through the narrow structure, the pair of cats that serve as the presiding spirits of the house wove their paths around us, pursuing each other playfully and competing to win our affections. Constantly, Chris drew my attention to the endless cunning details he has built into his house, secret cupboards and scavenged eighteenth century plasterwork, market finds of antiques arranged in niches that his children secretly rearrange, old fireguards from Chatsworth and elaborate beading from a Nash house in Regent’s Park.
So little remains of the original house that it is not a listed building, which gave Chris ample licence, yet he has gone to great lengths to restore the soul of the place. And today, the clutter of a busy family life and Chris’ charismatic collections countermand the elegant austerity of these finely tuned architectural spaces, confirming that this old house is alive once more – once more a home.
In the nineteen seventies
An eighteenth century niche cupboard retains two centuries of patina.
The terracotta urn was destined for the garden.
The view from the loft towards Christchurch, Spitalfields.
Archive image from the London Metropolitan Archive
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