Chelsea Apartment by Neil Davies Architects

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Published in Architectural Record, January 2018

The one-wall kitchen typical of small urban spaces is elevated in this London garden apartment to a richly clad, Zen-inflected, space-saving area by Neil Davies Architects. When firm principal Neil Davies took on the project, the two-bedroom unit was dark and broken up by interior walls, and the only sources of light were conventional punched windows. But the apartment was wrapped by an L-shaped garden, and Davies saw an opportunity to bring in more light.

To make use of the outdoor space as well, his team needed to reconfigure the apartment’s layout. The old 60-square-foot kitchen—previously wrapped by the walls of the bedrooms and those blocking the garden side—changed the most. The architects knocked down interior walls to open garden views and merged the kitchen area with the old living room. They then replaced exterior walls with glass doors, transforming the newly combined space into an indoor-outdoor oasis. One three-panel, sliding glass-door system measures 12 feet wide; a second two-panel system spanning 14 feet pockets into one wall. The revamped master bedroom now also has access to the garden via a 6¼-by-8-foot glass pivot door where a wall with a small window once stood.

To further integrate the outdoors with the apartment’s main kitchen/living area, the Davies team relocated the kitchen along the former living room’s back wall—a step which required them to move the gas and plumbing lines 17 feet. They minimized the profiles of appliances by installing gas and microwave ovens, a drawer-style dishwasher, and a full-size refrigerator on the same wall, integrated behind panels matching the cabinet fronts, while the cooktop’s exhaust fan can be retracted into the counter. The resulting 20-foot-long kitchen features a blackened stainless-steel backsplash, a countertop of white-veined gray marble, and black-laminate cabinet doors with push-to-open mechanisms hidden inside for hands-free operation, all of which contribute to the sleek, pared-down aesthetic the client requested. “The owner worked and lived throughout the far east and has a love of the clean lines of contemporary Japanese architecture,” Davies says.

This affinity is prominently addressed overhead too, in a custom-built system of oak slats built to control sound as well as add to an Asian-inspired aesthetic. The slats conceal an acoustic quilt that lines the nearly 8-foot-high ceiling and provides a layer of privacy from the apartment above.

Outside, the Zen influence is apparent in the stone-inlaid patio’s integrated concrete planter, which holds black bamboo, and in a tranquil rock garden that surrounds a young maple tree. At one end, a granite countertop conceals a refrigerator and grill, covered in the same cabinet fronts used indoors, to create an outdoor kitchen.

Now, with new floor-to-ceiling views of the bamboo garden and access to it from several parts of the apartment, one can almost forget that the space sits below grade in a 28-unit building.