Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When My Boat Came In

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When My Boat Came In

Article excerpt


With a magical leap of the imagination, architect Chris Dyson turned an East End Georgian silk shop, set in a Christmas-card streetscape, into a happy family home.

LIKE most architects' homes, Chris Dyson's family house in east London is a work in progress. He has just put the finishing touches to an oak cupboard in the kitchen "to hide away the freezer and washing machine ... along with all those things you don't want to look at", he says.

Salvaged timber floorboards have been newly installed in the children's bedrooms and he has recently changed the colour schemes in some rooms.

"People forget that for the very modest cost of a few pots of paint it's possible to effect big changes."

The house is a microcosm of Dyson's preoccupation as a designer. "I feel very strongly that good architecture should pay attention to the play of sunlight, and the use of natural materials and colour," he says.

Incorporating environment-friendly features is always a high priority, too.

His recent portfolio of projects is impressively varied - the National Performing Arts Centre in Singapore with Michael Wilford & Partners, working with Terry Farrell on the Swiss Cottage leisure pool and, just around the corner from where he lives, restoring a Georgian property that now houses a Timberland store.

Dyson's home is set in the Christmas- card streetscape of Spitalfields, all sash windows, panelled front doors and flagstone pavements. However, this place, shared with his language-teacher wife Sarah and their two children, Isabella, 13, and Oliver, 14, is quite unlike its neighbours.

"Underneath the render there may well be Georgian brickwork, but the place was heavily remodelled in the Fifties," explains Dyson. Gone are the period windows, the fine staircase, decorative cornicing and architraves as the place was given a functional makeover as a shop and small clothing factory, a continuation of the area's famous history as home to Huguenot silk weavers and textile merchants in the 18th century.

During the 14 years Dyson has lived in the area it has undergone substantial change. "It was desolate when Spitalfields Market closed, and felt rather edgy, but for us it was affordable and felt like a place full of opportunities.

"Being so close to the Hawksmoor church was a real buzz for me, too."

Today, it is noted not just for its Indian restaurants and street markets, but also as a fashionable address and home to a growing band of artists from Gilbert and George to Tracey Emin.

"When we found this place in the late Nineties, the building was a wreck," Dyson recalls. " The roof had collapsed, the interior was waterlogged and rotting, and the courtyard was full of leaking loos and crumbling sheds."

It took an athletic leap of the imagination, but the vision was to transform this unpromising and thoroughly off-putting mess into a family home with work studio on top. …

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