Subtle, moody and bespoke from head to toe, Walmer Yard is uncompromisingly original.
Luxury isn’t what it used to be. Walmer Yard, a cluster of four new houses tucked into a West London neighbourhood, shows just how much it’s changing. The project is the result of a collaboration between architect Peter Salter and the distinctive developer Crispin Kelly.
In a city of profit-hungry development consortiums churning out uninspired apartment blocks, Kelly stands out by putting high quality architecture first. Originally trained as an architect, he carries with him a deep love for the art of building. Equally important, however, is that he understands there is a special type of consumer in London’s fierce real estate market – the well-financed design connoisseur. These buyers are willing to spend a premium to live in fully realized architectural visions.
So with that firmly in mind, Kelly and Salter spent an excruciating 13 years crafting these residences. Bespoke, ornate and uncompromisingly original, they’re collectively up for grabs for anyone with £22 million to spare.
With Walmer Yard, Salter eschews the tropes of luxury accommodation and offers up a total work of design. “Total” meaning that everything here, from the table legs to the mail slot, has been devised by Salter and a close group of collaborators. Salter is little known outside of the United Kingdom, making a living mostly from teaching rather than running a big office. But the meteoric success of his students – including Peter St John of Caruso St John and Louisa Hutton of Sauerbruch Hutton – speaks to his skills and influence.
Given his long-standing academic career, Salter has poured a lifetime of architectural study into these four buildings. To hear Salter speak is to listen to a litany of past experiences and encounters, and to understand how these find new interpretation in these buildings.
The oak blocks lining the courtyard floor are a reference to their use in old London intersections. He recounts staying at the Hilltop Hotel in Tokyo and noticing the air-purifying machines. So for Walmer Yard he installed tufa blocks – a porous limestone – on the facade as a way to passively usher in a fresh breeze. There are references to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco council chambers and to Alberti pilasters too, and above all a fascination with the weather. All of this to say, the building is drenched with metaphors and allusions unlike any other.
But before those references could be applied, the architect had to meet the first challenge of any London building brief: fitting it all in. Because these four apartments are squeezed onto a 450-square-metre lot, the project required an awful lot of architectural jujitsu – turning every spatial constraint into an opportunity – in order to make it work.
The flats are organized around a small central courtyard, with the southern unit dropped down in order to bring more daylight to the other flats. The development also had to accommodate a four-car garage underneath, so it was fitted with a turntable to compensate for the lack of circulation space. Louvres were also installed in the courtyard-facing windows to allow more privacy in such tight quarters. And inside each flat is a complex origami of floor heights, landings and podiums, all applied to yield a maximum sense of space. To literally top it all off, the upper floors have been fitted with yurt-like structures, cozy dens-in-the-sky, intended to be the social core of each unit.
The real poetry of Walmer Yard, however, lies in its dazzling array and use of materials. The kitchens have no fewer than three types of flooring: cork, encaustic tile and custom terrazzo. The staircase handrails are topped with a chunky rope wrapped and stitched in brown leather. Undulating wardrobes are finished in a dark indigo lacquer. Chopped straw mixed with dark clay lines many of the walls. Curtains made of woven copper wire frame the windows upstairs, while the basement cinema rooms use Fortuny drapes to dampen the sound and give extra flair.
Above all, Salter is attuned to the subtleties of concrete, and great care has gone into the types used, the formwork, and the in situ pouring, each technique resulting in a surface that absorbs and reflects light in different ways. Such attention to detail, along with the encyclopedic quantity of references employed, ensures that Walmer Yard will remain a singular vision. Whether that vision can find a buyer is the gamble Crispin Kelly is hoping will pay off.