Online | Interiors

Urban Mining

London, UK

How the creative director of MWAI architects renovated her Edwardian flat with off-cuts and reclaimed materials sourced from around London

For the architect, Alessia Mosci, the term “renovation” doesn’t apply to the project she and her partner completed just before the first lockdown of Spring 2020. Instead, Mosci prefers to use the term “creative adaptation” as it more accurately describes their approach to making their first home together.

“After living in a small rented flat in Hampstead for a few years, we felt it was time to trade location for space, and to challenge our own notions of reuse and upcycling,” explains Mosci. An exhaustive hunt across north London ensued, with the estate agent showing the couple increasingly gloomy properties. “We were looking for a sizable flat with architectural details, extension potential and within walking distance of one of more parks,” Mosci recalls.

They found it in Bowes Park, in an Edwardian house built in 1903 and badly converted in the 1970s. The flat – “eerie and dated and in desperate need of attention” – occupied the first and second floors of the house with an unexplored loft space.

We agreed our approach would be highly sustainable and that we would push the boundaries of our knowledge and experience

“We agreed our approach would be highly sustainable and that we would push the boundaries of our knowledge and experience,” says Mosci, who, as Creative Director and co-owner of the architecture practice, MWAI, is well-versed in conceiving and delivering highly-crafted residential projects. Five years later, the flat is spacious, light-filled and flowing. More than that, it is literally held together by their joint determination to creatively adapt their home for modern living “without discarding its past.”

Their first task was to insulate the space and install new services, which meant lifting the original floorboards. “We stored them on site and then cleaned and reused them throughout,” says Mosci, who spent three weeks countersinking holes for screws and then painstakingly filling them with timber plugs before fixing them to the new ply substrate. “Where the boards were too damaged, we replaced them with similar reclaimed floorboards from Encore Reclamation in nearby east London.”

It is the first of many examples of what Mosci calls “urban mining”. Elsewhere, the couple used reclaimed Edwardian pine doors throughout; the carrara marble kitchen worksurface and splashback were “off-cuts” from a project Mosci was working on at the time; the heavy canvas curtain that screens the study area is made from reclaimed stage scenery from Flints theatre supply store.

Up-skilling was also an integral part of the process. The couple spent their weekends at Blackhorse Workshop learning how to cut, join and work with wood. (“Apart from the kitchen and some loose furniture, every item of joinery in the house has been self-built over many weekends using off-cuts or waste produced by the local timber merchant in Crouch End.”)

Mosci’s proudest creative adaptation is the marine-ply moveable sink in the second bathroom. “Although it is a simple idea, it meant changing the setting of the taps in relation to the bath, and we had to have a bespoke spout made to suit the concept,” says Mosci. “The result is unconventional but works for us.”

The couples’ commitment to sustainability and experimentation has inevitably resulted in a few “quirks”. For Mosci, these are “very mundane problems” such as imperfect finishes on some of the joinery or fading colours on the kitchen units. “Plus our loft is still full of off-cuts,” she reveals. “And our desk is really only an off-cut of plywood on trestle legs …” But as their own clients, they are reconciled to living with such minor imperfections. “ Working on this, slowly, has made us appreciate a different dimension,” Mosci reflects. “A slow life – where you concentrate on the spaces and objects that have purpose for you and search for a meaning in making them.”