KATRINA BURROUGHS visits a Norwegian at her Victorian conversion project in Highgate, celebrating the brighter side of life…
Architects aren’t known for being comfortable with colour, but Siri Zanelli’s home displays a deep love of intensely pigmented interiors. The Norwegian architect admits that “people are a bit intimidated” by anything too far from the beige-grey range, so she chose to challenge expectation and celebrate colour in her home. “I want to use this house to show clients how it can be done,” she says. Drawn to north London, Zanelli and her Australian husband, Adrian, were attracted by the grievous state of the Victorian property. “All the ones estate agents say are ‘delightfully refurbished’, you think, ‘It’s refurbished, but it’s not delightful.’ ” Their four-storey terrace was no ordinary doer-upper. The party walls between the houses needed work to make sure that they were structurally sound, which meant the mortgage valuation came back at zero. It took almost a year from offer to completion in September 2017, during which time emergency structural work was carried out.
Zanelli, who has worked for Foster + Partners and Richard Rogers, and is now a co-partner at Collective Works, then embarked on a conversion project, adding two extensions to transform the three-bedroom, one-bathroom house into a five-bedroom, two-bathroom family home. The finishing touches were not put in place until December. The house is in the Highgate conservation area, so the façade could not be visibly changed (there is a light well at the front that’s invisible from the street), and Zanelli wanted to retain period features including floorboards and chimneypieces, as well as reinstating plasterwork, with the result that the makeover feels like a gentle transformation. The extensions, in the loft and kitchen, serve to open up the narrow, dark building, letting in natural light that enhances the rich colour palette. The loft conversion accommodates a bedroom, bathroom and walk-in wardrobe for the grown-ups: a quiet retreat under the eaves. On the first floor, where we find the boys’ bedrooms and the guest rooms, Zanelli added in a clerestory window above a door, to share daylight with the dark hallway. The ceiling of Storm’s room was extended up into the pitch of the roof, and a roof light was added. In Odin’s room the same alteration made room for a swing.
Rather than opting for the ubiquitous open-plan reception room that most of her London clients would probably have chosen, on the ground floor Zanelli kept the original Victorian layout of small interconnected rooms to make a study and TV room. The formerly dark basement was extended as far as the party wall, encompassing the kitchen and making a cosy garden room at the back. “Instead of going full-width on the rear extension, I wanted it to be a small box off the kitchen, where you can sit in the window seat and look out in three directions,” she says. “It’s eight square metres, really enclosed and comfortable. Everyone is drawn to that little room.” The configuration is ingenious, as is the bespoke joinery — concealed drawers in the oak window seat, for printer paper and laptop cables, are an inspired touch.
It’s the palette that makes the project stand out. Zanelli met her colour expert, Dagny Thurmann-Moe, the creative director of KOI Colour Studio, on social media. “We followed each other’s projects and chatted about work on Instagram. I contacted her to see if she was up for a collaboration.” A fellow Norwegian, living outside Oslo, Thurmann-Moe suggested using clay-based paints by the Dutch brand Pure & Original: intense hues made using natural pigments. “She was fascinated by the fact that Victorian buildings often had very bold colour combinations, but the ones we see now are all white.” Zanelli says: “When you open the colour pots and look down into the pink and purple you think, ‘Is that supposed to be my living room? Am I crazy?’ But when you live with them, the depth of the colours makes it calm somehow.” Unexpected combinations include the ground-floor palette, which embraces Old Ocre, Soft Greek (a pale purple) Soft Flamingo and Green Room in a Marrakech (tadelakt-style) finish. Has she a favourite hue? “The ochre changes magnificently throughout the day, from early morning to late afternoon. It goes from honey to caramel. It’s fantastic.”
KATRINA BURROUGHS is The Times‘ Interiors Editor.
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This article has also been published in The Times.