London – St. John’s Orchard is a four-unit residential building in Grove Park, finished in 2014. In a previous life, it was a Victorian convent and orchard, with a small chapel in the rear. The convent and the orchard made it through the renovation, undertaken by local firm Craftworks – formerly John Smart Architects. The nearly hidden house of worship, though, lay in ruins.
That is, until two of St. John’s Orchard new residents saw its potential. Looking beyond the shambles – it was never officially consecrated and, after being used as refuge during the war years, fell into neglect – the couple realized it could serve as a perfect London base for family and friends who came to visit. They purchased it and decided to renovate it. And who knew the site better than Craftworks?
‘The biggest challenge was that the new family home needed to carefully fit within this external shell, whilst allowing creative freedom internally,’ explained Matthew Wood, the architect in charge of the project. Craftworks’ proposal was influenced by the interplay between the story of the original chapel and how it informed and created a unique form of geometry – particularly, in the ceiling.
The team created a pearly shell indoors that gave an impression of solidity, of being carved from one piece. But this effect was cleverly achieved with some rather lean materials: first a lightweight metal subframe, which was plaster-boarded and plastered with a natural lime basecoat; then a very thin Regency lime topcoat polished with punic wax to give a subtle sheen that gently reflects the sunshine from the skylights.