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A Rustic Townhouse Remodel by London’s Masters of Salvage

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A Rustic Townhouse Remodel by London’s Masters of Salvage

March 16, 2020

“Reuse is not a design trend; it’s an attitude, a mindset, and a behavioral approach that isn’t just relevant today— it’s vital,” says Maria Speake. Back in the early 1990s in Glasgow, she and fellow architecture student Adam Hills watched historic buildings being demolished. “The madness of this process wasn’t just about unnecessary waste, it disregarded the common sense that used to underpin construction: valuing materials and craft.”

In response, the couple founded Retrouvius, their now 26-year-old London-based salvage company, that all this time has been leading by example. “In the simplest terms, we rescue materials, furniture, lighting and fixtures, and continue their life,” they write. “Increasingly, we understand our mission as something more fundamental: to enable and inspire reuse, not just as a design preference but as a way of life.”

Adam oversees the reclamation side of the business, and Maria runs the in-house design studio, applying rescued components to inventive remodels  (House & Garden UK named her designer of the year in 2019). A recent project that caught our eye is this Georgian townhouse in Notting Hill. It belongs to a successful costume designer with a love of patinated surfaces, old wood, and peace and quiet. Maria and team transformed her quarters into “a country home in the city.”

Photography by Tom Fallon courtesy of Retrouvius.

retrouvius design london country home in the city tom fallon photo 1
Above: Formerly a series of “boxy dark rooms,” the garden floor was opened up by relocating the stair to the back of the lounge, shown here. Other key moves: exposing (and repairing) the original beams and introducing a rescued 17th century stone fireplace.

“It was originally from Somerset,” says Maria of the mantel. “When we first got it—from a wonderful architectural salvage dealer called Marcus Olliff—I tried to put it in a house in Somerset, but our clients thought it was too raw, which is, of course, what we love about it.”

retrouvius design london country home in the city tom fallon photo 3
Above: The house is located near Portobello Road—the costume designer bought her velvet-upholstered armchair on Goldborne Road, at the far end of the Portobello Market.
retrouvius design london country home in the city tom fallon photo 2
Above: The costumier loves living with old textiles, of course, but has an aversion to painted walls: as Maria puts it, “she feels a deep sense of gloom about flat emulsion.” To give the surfaces depth and nuance, the rooms are limewashed (learn about the finish in Remodeling 101: Everything You Need to Know About Limewash Paint).
the paneled door in the back of the lounge leads to a tiny guest bath. &#8\ 12
Above: The paneled door in the back of the lounge leads to a tiny guest bath. “To distract from the scale, the walls here are covered in an old wallpaper, we think it’s 1920’s but it’s possibly 1940’s—it’s outrageously glamorous,” says Maria. “The door is clad in oxidized copper sheets with amazing color variations and texture. Adam salvaged these from a building in Soho.”
the lounge opens to the dining area and kitchen, which references the costumier 13
Above: The lounge opens to the dining area and kitchen, which references the costumier’s grandmother’s kitchen in Italy. Reuse, Maria points out, starts at home: the dining table, and Wishbone chairs were already part of the place, as was the Falcon range (which originally stood where the stone fireplace is now).
the cabinets are faced with \18th century marquetry floorboards that came out o 14
Above: The cabinets are faced with 18th century marquetry floorboards that came out of a building in Vienna. The backsplash is made of slices of onyx that Adam bought from a fireplace and sculpture restorer who was retiring.
this end of the kitchen overlooks a new sunroom. the marquetry cabinet fronts h 15
Above: This end of the kitchen overlooks a new sunroom. The marquetry cabinet fronts have a light limewash finish “to keep them pale” and the rafters are treated with a fire retardant paint.
a tall refrigerator and two fridge drawers are built into the new back stair pa 16
Above: A tall refrigerator and two fridge drawers are built into the new back stair partition. The flooring throughout is a mix of the original pine boards—”lifted for insulation and leveling purposes”—and reclaimed wood: “you’d be hard-pressed to work out which is which,” says Maria.
&#8\2\20;the old stair had that vibe of cramped servant&#8\2\17;s stair 17
Above: “The old stair had that vibe of cramped servant’s stair,” says Maria. “The hierarchy of arrival and ease had to change.”

The interior window, she notes, is framed in copper and probably dates to the 1910s: “copper lights are a little more refined and urban than lead lights.”

the laundry, with it cupboards of reclaimed maple, is a &#8\2\20;wee temple 18
Above: The laundry, with it cupboards of reclaimed maple, is a “wee temple to wood.”
the cupboards are inset with a band of sculptural antique dutch cigar molds and 19
Above: The cupboards are inset with a band of sculptural antique Dutch cigar molds and custom vents. “One of the delights—and frustrations—of salvage is that we have a finite quantity of everything, so we always have to change and adapt, but it helps make projects unique” says Maria.
in one of the guest rooms, the bed is set in a nook paneled in reclaimed pine c 20
Above: In one of the guest rooms, the bed is set in a nook paneled in reclaimed pine cheese boards (a longstanding Retrouvius speciality, these were used for maturing cheeses, hence the faint circular patterns, but, Maria assures, are odor free). The cutouts are small glass windows.
the room has a built in dresser and, just out of the photo, a compact sink from 21
Above: The room has a built-in dresser and, just out of the photo, a compact sink from an old train car.
there&#8\2\17;s a steam shower with cedar fittings and moroccan style tadel 22
Above: There’s a steam shower with cedar fittings and Moroccan-style tadelakt walls. Read about tadelelakt in Remodeling 101.
the basin is made from an old wood bread trough. the copper fixtures are from w 23
Above: The basin is made from an old wood bread trough. The copper fixtures are from Waterworks.
the master bedroom has limewashed walls and original moldings. the rug is swedi 24
Above: The master bedroom has limewashed walls and original moldings. The rug is Swedish. Note the 1930’s glass door:  Maria says you can find designs like it on UK salvage website Salvo.
the room pairs two longstanding remodelista favorites: the moroccan pom pom bla 25
Above: The room pairs two longstanding Remodelista favorites: the Moroccan Pom Pom Blanket and Ercol Stacking Chair (see also Updated Classics from Ercol).
centuries and styles mix in the master bath. the tub was in the house, &#8\ 26
Above: Centuries and styles mix in the master bath. The tub was in the house, “so whoopie, perfect to be reused, albeit in a new location,” says Maria.
an antique english sideboard serves as a washstand. (&#8\2\20;a great place 27
Above: An antique English sideboard serves as a washstand. (“A great place to look for English furniture is the Decorative Collective website, says Maria.) The vintage enameled sink came out of the Retrouvius warehouse: “We were using it to clean teacups and old light fittings,” says Maria. “Our client used it to explain what she envisioned and we realized the basin had found its new owner.”an antique english sideboard serves as a washstand. (&#8\2\20;a great place 28

Above: The zelliges tiles are from the Mosaic Factory : “they’re cut in a way that gives them a subtle geometric pattern.” To see more of Maria’s designs, go to Retrouvius; the company shop and showroom is in Kensal Green, London.

Some more projects that make artful use of vintage and found materials:

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