Tuesday 07 Aug 2012


One Fine Stay invited World Interiors News to take a look at the Violin Factory - the latest addition to their carefully curated collection of homes available for guests while the owners are out of town.

I hadn't seen the episode when the house was Featured on Grand Design TV series on Channel 4, but my friend Jane Lawrence from Conran + Partners had seen it, and yet she was still surprised to see how differently it looked ‘in the flesh'.

From the exterior - an unprepossessing urban Waterloo street - there is scarce evidence of its existence, yet alone any indication of the expansive, unusual home contained, tardis-like within.

The Violin Factory is the much-loved home of Milko Ostendorf and his wife, Louise, as well as a showcase for Louise's design practice, MCD. The building was originally, as its name suggests a factory that made violins. Shoehorned in amongst terraced housing and a medley of other industrial buildings, the space - Victorian in origin and composed of Fletton and London red stock brick, with six meter king post trusses spanning the main hall - was derelict and unused when the couple discovered it on Christmas Eve in 2000.

Notwithstanding its sorry state, and lack of roof, windows, light and views, for the couple (or Louise at any rate) it was the Holy Grail of urban buildings; the ‘Unspoilt Space' that Louise had spent seven years searching for after a spell living in New York in one of Robert De Niro's TriBeCa lofts.

Every obstacle imaginable was put in Louise's way, from purchasing the plot, conceiving its design, gaining planning permission, addressing the nine party wall agreements and combating the belated discovery that the building was resting on reclaimed marshland - and required support from four dozen 25 metre piles - it was a titanic challenge.

Having entered through anonymous metal garage doors, visitors step through into the house via a miniature pedestrian door part of the original, immense, wooden violin workshop doors, popping out, Alice-in-Wonderland style, into the bright light and roomy expanse of a double height winter garden; the first of a series of unexpected manipulations of volume, light and shadow.

One of the key characteristics of the design is that the original building is still very much in evidence; it has not been over-dressed: "As a practice MCD doesn't have a signature style, our design is always a response to the site and how the clients live, work or use the spaces. Here the design was dictated by the lack of natural daylight and the design in regards to light and aspect were the main responses to this beautiful utilitarian Victorian building. We wanted to keep the integrity of what was originally a very practical, utilitarian workspace. And because it is in effect "inside-out" architecture - it is a hidden building with no external views excepting the sky - the space and materials used inside have to define the building; which is why we ended up with an 12 metre high dining area and just three bedrooms, rather than say six the traditional number in a home this size".

The potentially ‘hard' elements of the utilitarian industrial architecture are softened by the intimate spaces like the subtly lit bedrooms and Milko's snug study, which is lined with American Black Walnut, veneered paneling. I don't think we've gone overboard," Louise says. "We've added mainly plasterboard, stone finishes and accents like the glass, which was a response to a building that doesn't have a lot of windows. And I deliberately didn't use frameless glazing to the bedroom suites; I chose Crittall windows as a link between the 21st century and the Victorian era - a melding of the two vernaculars."

Milko's passions are cooking and film, so Louise installed a huge professional bespoke Charvet stainless-steel range - which took seven men and a crane to install - plus a temperature-controlled, glazed wine cellar and a private cinema room.

When MCD were pitching against stiff opposition in a RIBA competition for a high-end project in London and the clients came to the house and saw how the design practice had dealt with issues of light and space and regeneration and sustainability, they gave MCD the job on the spot.