‘Upside-Down House’ Studio

Some of you may be familiar with the work of renowned Scottish modernists Morris and Steedman. We were contacted by the new owners of their 1959 Sillitto House in Charterhall Road, Edinburgh, dubbed the ‘Upside-Down House’ because the bedrooms were placed on the ground floor and the living accommodation on the first floor to take advantage of the views and avoid the risk of being overshadowed by the hill behind. They asked us to build an office, library and guest suite.

We tried various ways of extending the existing house in both a bold, modernist style at the front of the house and a more sensitive, discreet way at the back of the house. Neither was acceptable to the planners.

We then suggested building a separate building right at the back of the steeply sloping and wooded garden that appealed to the client as he liked the idea of being from the mayhem of life with three teenage daughters.

It was still a struggle to get the design of the ‘Studio’ approved by the planners but we finally managed it with a pared down and significantly reduced version of the original proposal.

The client wanted the building to be sustainable so we decided to build it to passive house standards as a test case and monitor its energy consumption over the next two years. Unfortunately it cannot meet the exacting standards of ‘Passivhaus’  (a German standard for energy efficiency in building that results in buildings that require very little energy to heat or cool) as the building is North facing – a matter in which we had no choice due to the planners, although it is built to the standards in every other respect. It uses sheep’s wool insulation, a heat recovery unit that takes the heat from the bathroom extraction and recirculates it back into the Studio and a very high specification of draught-proofing.

Studio 1The original ‘Upside-Down House’ is a simple rectangular “box” divided into regular glazing bays on a monolithic plinth (harled concrete block). The new studio has similar clean, modern lines. It is built entirely of wood and sits on steel legs so that it has minimal impact on the ground. The garden is extremely steep and full of the roots of mature larch trees. A conventional foundation would have involved a massive amount of tampering with existing levels and probably killed the surrounding trees.

A lot of economy of space was required with the reduced floor plan. The corridor doubles up as a library with a large square oak window seat overlooking the original house and hills beyond. The office is separated from the corridor by folding red doors so that the two spaces can be united.

The Studio will be featuring in Homes & Interiors Scotland soon. The ground was covered in snow in the photos I sent them, taken in March! So unless I send some more ‘Spring’ like shots you may not see it until next Winter!

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