When Olympic gold medal-winning diver Tom Daley began househunting in January 2016 with his then-boyfriend, American screenwriter/producer Dustin Lance Black, their aim was to find a London home with a welcoming atmosphere and bags of character.
The couple, who married a year later in May 2017, eventually found exactly what they were looking for in a spacious, light-filled industrial conversion in Southwark. It has exposed bricks in tawny, toasted tones, uneven raw finishes and rough-hewn wooden beams.
“Most properties we viewed looked the same,” laments Black, known as Lance, who won an Oscar for the 2008 movie Milk, a biopic about US gay activist Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn.
“Their interiors looked identical, as if the developers had sourced all the kitchen and bathroom fittings from one supplier. For me, a home needs to be somewhere I can be creative in. It has to have a certain spirit.” Black had previously lived mostly in Los Angeles but the couple wanted London as their base.
Daley, by contrast, was less demanding when it came to choosing their first shared home. “I’ve always just liked living somewhere I could come home to after my training, somewhere practical, easy to maintain,” he says.
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Not a cookie-cutter apartment
So when the couple chanced upon the triplex apartment off Southwark Bridge Road, converted from what had once been a hop-processing plant, it was Black who fell for it first.
“It was clear this wasn’t a cookie-cutter apartment,” he says, admitting that his “New World” American upbringing has left him craving the crumbly patina of time-worn architecture.
“Some people we know came and suggested we fill in brickholes and other things and I looked at them as if they were mad. In LA, you just can’t fake these textures — very little there predates the Fifties. But it was obvious also that a lot of imagination and creativity had gone into this place.”
Daley adds: “Here has the convenience of a new build but it is comfortable and homely, almost like being in a country house right in the city centre.”
The apartment occupies the top three floors of the building, which has been radically but sensitively reconfigured by Coupdeville Architects in collaboration with Brandler London, a firm that builds bespoke reclaimed wood fixtures, from wardrobes to treehouses, using the kind of weathered timber that Daley and Black love.
By the time the two moved in , “85 per cent of the work had been done to their flat”, says lead architect Pravin Muthiah.
Brandler London founder Chris Brandler bought the building five years ago, and joined forces with Muthiah to redevelop it. But gaining planning permission for the scheme — which involved adding a new floor, a roof terrace and two-storey extension at the back of the building — took two years.
“The house is in a conservation area and there were objections, chiefly that an extra floor, plus a roof terrace, on a building that’s on a street corner would look even more prominent,” explains Muthiah.
In the event, planning consent was granted for several reasons: the proposed extension’s traditional pitched roof made of zinc in a dark lead grey was considered in keeping with the area’s architecture; its windows are frosted up to a height of 5ft 2in so they don’t overlook the gardens below, and giving the roof terrace a clear glass balustrade made it less imposing and obtrusive.
Crucially, each floor’s height was lowered from an average 10ft 4in to 8ft 5in — “still a generous height,” says Muthiah — which helped to compensate for the new storey.
That said, the ground-floor level had to be marginally raised by just over two feet since, being a couple of hundred yards from the Thames, the house is in a flood-risk area. This precaution didn’t apply to the basement — a live-work unit.
The changes in storey heights required a complex reworking of the interiors, starting from the ground floor up. The extension necessitated removing a sloping roof, which was no loss. It had contained an undesirable, cramped attic.
The lower floor of Daley and Black’s apartment had previously housed a kitchen and bathroom and now accommodates their bedroom, en suite bathroom and walk-in wardrobe. An adjacent hallway leads to a guest bedroom and bathroom on the upper floor of the extension.
“The functions of the two floors were swapped around. Tom and Lance’s kitchen/dining room is now on the floor above the bedrooms. This meant both bedrooms could be on the same level, and the living areas could lead to the roof terrace,” says Muthiah.
Rooftop hot tub and a Union Jack obsession
Daley’s favourite space is the kitchen, where he and Black frequently entertain: “I love cooking my mum’s sausage casserole recipe, for example, or baking cheesecake for friends. We made Christmas dinner here for 17 guests.”
Overall, Muthiah aimed to create as open and light-filled a space as possible.
On the top floor is a space-saving, alternate-tread steel staircase that leads, via a skylight, to the roof terrace, complete with its own hot tub — rather a glam LA touch. “The skylight is like the portal into a spaceship,” says Black.
The interiors achieve the lived-in feel the couple dreamed of. A key part of Muthiah’s redesign was to recycle beams from the demolished sloping roof. Parts of these were installed in the guest bedroom ceiling, while others were redeployed as joinery and windowsills.
As for the elegant sash windows, says Muthiah: “It would have been cheaper to remove them but we decided to keep the originals, with all their dents. We restored their beading, lead weights and cords, then reinstated them.”
The furniture and artworks reflect the couple’s contrasting professions.
“I’ve been obsessed with the Union Jack ever since representing the UK,” says Daley about their sofa, which is patterned with the flag. The diver revealed he even knitted himself a Union Jack cosy for his new gold medal.
Meanwhile, a print of David Hockney’s picture A Bigger Splash, with its director’s chair, diving board and LA light, provides a witty nod to both their careers.
GET THE LOOK
Architect: Coupdeville (coupdeville.net)
Metal staircase: Coupdeville (as above)
Bespoke kitchen cabinets, wardrobes and dining table: Brandler London (brandler.london)
Bathroom fittings: John Goslett (johngoslett.co.uk)
Concrete worktops: Paul Davies Design (pauldaviesdesign.co.uk)
Kitchen stools: Baker Street Boys (bakerstreetboys.com)
Union Jack sofa: Timothy Oulton (timothyoulton.com)
Bench and coat rack: (167bermondsey.com)
Top-floor skylight: Glazing Vision (glazingvision.co.uk)
Wood decking on roof terrace: Urban Glass (urbanglass.co.uk)
Black kitchen floor tiles: Capitol Designers Studio (cdstiles.com)
Lighting, electric sockets and switches: (busterandpunch.com)
Fire consultant: (trianglesprinklersystems.co.uk)
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