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The RIBA London Award-winning home of Tikari Works has ideas for anyone looking for innovative ways to make the most of a small space

Elle Decoration UK logo Elle Decoration UK 06/04/2020 Clare Sartin
a person sitting on a bench in front of a building: Tucked into a tiny footprint and nicknamed Pocket House, it’s a study in innovative uses of space © Claudia Leisinger Tucked into a tiny footprint and nicknamed Pocket House, it’s a study in innovative uses of space

When Ty and Nicola Tikari, founders of Bermondsey-based architecture practice Tikari Works, first set eyes on the plot of land that now holds their home – which scooped the RIBA London Award – it was occupied by a dilapidated garage. On that first visit, the couple were not planning their future. The garage belonged to the owners of a terraced house at the other end of the garden, who had tasked the firm with redeveloping it. Plans were drawn up for a home office or a small house. When the clients eventually decided not to progress and instead asked Ty and Nicola if they would like to buy the tiny slice of land the garage stood on, it was an opportunity too good to overlook.

Here was a chance for the pair to turn their ideas into reality, with themselves as the clients. ‘Sitting outside of the traditional patron-led approach has given us the chance to be very intentional with the projects we take on, developing them slowly and intensively,’ says Nicola of the benefits of this approach. ‘It’s building, but in a more holistic way.’ The result is at once elegant and restrained, joint qualities that attracted the RIBA London judges.

a close up of a sink: RIBA London Award winning home of architecture firm Tikari Works © Edmund Sumner RIBA London Award winning home of architecture firm Tikari Works

A large part of what makes this house so successful is the smart, innovative ways it has answered the challenges of space (the buildable footprint at ground level was just 36 square metres) and height restrictions (it was important not to overshadow the original owners’ home). Nicola and Ty’s property has been dubbed Pocket House for a reason: 50 per cent of it is tucked underground. The property’s two basement-level bedrooms and family bathroom surround a courtyard that sits beneath an extensive lightwell, preventing the space from feeling too subterranean. The ground floor contains an open-plan kitchen and dining room, while the top level is reserved for a bright and airy living space.

The same constraints that inspired Pocket House’s architecture have had a similarly large impact inside. ‘We always treated the building as a whole, not as a shell with an interior,’ says Nicola. Indeed, the palette of simple materials – brick, concrete and timber – that form the home’s structure are exposed and celebrated indoors. ‘Sandblasted or polished concrete is set into subtle compositions with spruce walls or exposed ceiling joists. There’s a constant interplay between the lightness of the timber and the massiveness of the masonry,’ explains Nicola.

a living room filled with furniture and a fireplace: RIBA London Award winning home of architecture firm Tikari Works © Edmund Sumner RIBA London Award winning home of architecture firm Tikari Works

To maintain a clean look that emphasises the handcrafted quality of the home’s finish, clutter had to be kept to a minimum. ‘Practically, the house had to function like a boat,’ says Nicola. ‘Living in a small space encourages you to be quite intentional with your possessions,’ she adds. To that end, most of the storage here is built-in, with each room containing just one key piece of furniture. The decorative elements may be sparse, but, says Nicola, ‘When the sun shines through the timber screen in the living room and throws patterns of light across the walls and floors, there’s no better place to relax.’

Today, Tikari Works is in the process of creating two new apartment blocks in south London, scaling up many of the ideas they first tested on Pocket House. Again, Nicola and Ty are the clients, the architects and the main contractors on the project. It’s the kind of control that they thrive on. ‘It means there’s nowhere to hide,’ says Nicola. ‘Or anyone else to blame!’ tikari.co.uk

For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration November 2019

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