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Bold Minimalism in a High Victorian Townhouse Reinvented By McLaren Excell

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Bold Minimalism in a High Victorian Townhouse Reinvented By McLaren Excell

February 26, 2024

Luke McLaren and Rob Excell have been friends since childhood. They both went on to become architects and to found the award-winning London firm McLaren Excell, members of the Remodelista Architect and Designer Directory. The two are bold minimalists: they describe the look they’re after as “a robust simplicity.” But their team of 14 are also specialists in classic craftsmanship and sensitive historic renovations.

Updating this Grade II-listed High Victorian villa in Henley-on-Thames, famous for its annual rowing regatta, required them to put their full skill set to work.  The biggest challenge was replacing an existing rear extension that was extensively glazed, double pitched, and, in their words, “clashed with the style and period of the house.” Join us for a look at the house’s new guise.

Photography by Rory Gardiner, courtesy of McLaren Excell.

the three story structure was built in \1890 and now belongs to an entrepreneur 17
Above: The three-story structure was built in 1890 and now belongs to an entrepreneur and a surgeon, who are both philanthropists, contemporary design aficionados, and champion rowers (hence wanting to be in Henley). The restored façade has doors and window frames painted a gray-green to draw out the dark brick detailing.

Invisibles, such as the re-insulated walls and roof space, the architects say, “ensure the ongoing sustainability of this outstanding family home.”

the double peaked rear extension houses the kitchen and dining area. mclaren ex 18
Above: The double-peaked rear extension houses the kitchen and dining area. McLaren Excell sourced reddish-pink bricks made by 200-year-old Danish brand Petersen Tegl for their similarity to the brickwork of the main house. “Lime-based Sussex Red mortar from Limetec,” they note, “lends the new structure a sense of presence and permanence while keeping it subservient to the host building.”
&#8\2\20;brick soffits were used to form deep reveals above the large, glas 19
Above: “Brick soffits were used to form deep reveals above the large, glass sliding door, while vertical elements taper back to create strong horizontal lines, providing a sense of openness from the interior’s outlook,” write the architects. Of their streamlined approach, they say: “We rely on the context of the site for form and materiality, even if it’s a minimalist interpretation.”
vast windows overlook a water feature designed to &#8\2\20;evoke the sight  20
Above: Vast windows overlook a water feature designed to “evoke the sight and sound of the Thames honoring our clients love of rowing.” Sean Walter from The Plant Specialist oversaw the landscaping. vast windows overlook a water feature designed to &#8\2\20;evoke the sight  21Above: The focal point of the open kitchen is an immense custom-designed island clad in Italian titanium travertine: its vertical elements are sandblasted and the top is polished to make it more hardwearing. Walls and floor of oiled oak create an elegantly quiet backdrop for the stonework.
&#8\2\20;skylights were cornered precisely in the large vaulted space to br 22
Above: “Skylights were cornered precisely in the large vaulted space to bring natural light into the entrance of the room,” write the architects. “At the entrance to the extension, a coffered ceiling using exposed joists adds depth and texture to the space.”

Opposite the sink, there’s a cooktop and two wall ovens. The white paint throughout is Shirting 129 from Little Green..

the dining area has a view of a japanese inspired courtyard. the leather seats  23
Above: The dining area has a view of a Japanese-inspired courtyard. The leather seats are Cassina’s LC7 Swivel Chair.
in the downstairs living rooms off the extension, divided spaces were opened up 24
Above: In the downstairs living rooms off the extension, divided spaces were opened up, carpet and plywood was replaced by oiled oak flooring, and original moldings were preserved. The wooden chest is by American craft furniture maker David Ebner. Scroll to the end to see the floor plans.
occupying the entire second floor, the main bedroom suite is a cocoon of oiled  25
Above: Occupying the entire second floor, the main bedroom suite is a cocoon of oiled oak paneling and cabinetry.
each of the three upstairs bathrooms is memorable, especially this one: &#8 26
Above: Each of the three upstairs bathrooms is memorable, especially this one: “Running through the dressing room and the ensuite bath is a large, beautiful black-and-white Arabescato Corchia marble worktop from Italy, which forms cuboid sinks in front of the sash windows,” write the architects. “Walls and doors to the bathroom and WC are clad in the same material.”
an arabescato corchia marble clad sink. note that in lieu of a window covering, 27
Above: An Arabescato Corchia marble-clad sink. Note that in lieu of a window covering, the designers opted for frosted privacy glass.
the ceiling on the top floor was exposed to increase the sense of space. a wall 28
Above: The ceiling on the top floor was exposed to increase the sense of space. A wall of oiled oak cabinets, the architects specify, “run below the picture rail, to help express and retain the original cornicing.”
another grandly serene bathroom with a travertine sink, floor, and tub surround 29
Above: Another grandly serene bathroom with a travertine sink, floor, and tub surround. The wall rails are Vola’s T39ELUS modular towel warmer.
a guest room has bedside roy wall lamps from italian brand viabizzuno and  30
Above: A guest room has bedside Roy Wall Lamps from Italian brand Viabizzuno and Ferm Living’s stained ash Inside Side Tables.
a window side marble basin. 31
Above: A window-side marble basin.

The Plans

a schematic of the back extension and courtyard. 32
Above: A schematic of the back extension and courtyard.
the upstairs floors were fully redesigned by the architects. the main bedroom,  33
Above: The upstairs floors were fully redesigned by the architects. The main bedroom, dressing room, and bath now occupy the second floor. the upstairs floors were fully redesigned by the architects. the main bedroom,  34

Above: There are two bedrooms and baths on the top floor.

Another favorite McLaren Excell project: Lessons in Reinvention: A Victorian Girls’ School Reborn

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Frequently asked questions

Who are Luke McLaren and Rob Excell?

Luke McLaren and Rob Excell are childhood friends who both became architects and founded the London firm McLaren Excell, known for their award-winning projects.

What is the design philosophy of McLaren Excell?

McLaren Excell describes the look they're after as 'a robust simplicity' and are known for being specialists in classic craftsmanship and sensitive historic renovations.

What was the biggest challenge in updating the Grade II-listed High Victorian villa in Henley-on-Thames?

The biggest challenge was replacing an existing rear extension that clashed with the style and period of the house.

What material was used for the brickwork of the main house in Henley-on-Thames?

McLaren Excell sourced reddish-pink bricks made by 200-year-old Danish brand Petersen Tegl for their similarity to the brickwork of the main house.

What is the color of the paint used throughout the house?

The white paint used throughout the house is 'Shirting 129' from Little Green.

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