WORDS – DOMINIC BRADBURY
PHOTOGRAPHS – RICHARD POWERS
At the heart of Ban Shubber's London home is a vertical beach. That's how she describes her sandy textured walls, which have some of the rich and earthy flavours that you find in the winding streets and alleyways of North African souks. It's also a big hit with her dog, Bimbo, who likes to dig into them every now and then and take an occasional lick.
'I didn't want to create a white box,' says Ban Shubber, an architect who grew up in Iraq before moving to London in her teens to study. 'I wanted warmth and texture rather than pure white surfaces. But at the same time I didn't want a large palette of materials so there is a sense of restraint. The sandstone on the floors on the ground floor is repeated – on the kitchen worktop, for the dining table. The sandy walls also came from the idea that I wanted this spine running right through the centre of the house, holding all the services and the staircase.'
To one side of this sandy spine sits a vast and dramatic living room with a soaring, triple height roof line topped with a large skylight. To the other there is a long, open kitchen and dining area running from front to back topped by the bedrooms on the two storeys above. All of this is hidden away behind the original Victorian frontage of a former post office in West Kensington.
The Shubbers had lived in a period house just around the corner from the former post office for years but had long been curious about it. The building was last used by a printing company but then one day the Shubbers saw a for sale sign go up. They lost out first time around but then six months later it was back on the market again and this time Ban, together with her husband Hadi, pulled out all the stops to make sure that they would be its new owners.
'I was really lucky to be able to take away almost everything behind the front walls and build anew,' says Ban, who has her own architectural practice, with clients including composer Michael Nyman. 'It's very rare to have a plot of land in London that you can do something really exciting with. Hadi became my client and he is very particular, so he was very specific about certain things, like no creaking floorboards. He was quite demanding, but in a nice way.'
The old postal sorting spaces at the back of the building – which is surrounded by terraced houses - were torn down to be replaced by the three storey home. The design was partly shaped by the need to introduce sunlight into the building, given the limited number of windows to front and back. Hadi, meanwhile, wanted an office for his own architectural practice at the front of the building and to keep their master bedroom as private as possible and well separated from the two bedrooms for their daughters – Faye, 21, and Nasem, 19 - which were positioned on the top floor.
'Bringing in light was a priority but the site itself also gave me lots of clues and ideas that helped in the design,' Ban says. The long, fluid open plan kitchen and dining room follow the line of the old carriage route that once carried post and parcels right through the building.
A television room and a private study for Ban on the second floor add to the three bedrooms, plus roof terraces. But having had a long sequence of visitors and lodgers at their old seven-bedroomed house, the Shubbers were glad to avoid having any guest bedrooms, preferring to enjoy the fresh sense of open space.
'The old house was just like a hostel and people used to come and stay two years, three years. It didn't feel like our house with so many visitors coming and going with their suitcases. Here, with just three bedrooms, there is no room for anyone to come and stay. It's much calmer.'
The only problem for Ban was how to furnish the living room, with its vast proportions, which have suited themselves to occasional exhibitions.
'Because the lines of the house are quite straight and hard, for the furniture I wanted something that could flow and change,' says Ban. 'We were without sofas for three years looking for something suitable. I thought I would have to design my own and then I came across these by Pearson Lloyd. They are perfect and very flexible. For three years we also had nothing on the walls, which broke my mother's heart, as she is a painter. Now we have two of her paintings on the walls – and somewhere to sit.'