Rise Design Studio is reworking the London backyard house to maximise space for storing


This renovated and expanded garden apartment in North West London by Rise Design Studio has adobe walls and plenty of built-in storage space.

The Birch and Clay Refugio project in Willesden Junction comprised the remodeling of the existing apartment, the addition of a side and rear extension and a new workshop in the garden to be used as an office for the client’s fashion store.

The apartment was conceived for a family of four – the customer, her husband and two daughters – and designed as a series of flexible spaces that offer maximum storage space.

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

The 99 square meter room is divided into two zones, with living and working areas at the back overlooking the garden and bathrooms, bedrooms and utility rooms at the front.

The colors and materials chosen by the design studio were chosen to reflect the client’s Persian-Bengali heritage while also making reference to her time in Barcelona.

“We wanted to create an apartment for a family of five that would maximize the flexibility of spaces and storage solutions, and reflect the family’s connections with Barcelona,” said Rise Design Studio. “Every room creates an emotional reaction through its materials and colors.”

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

In the rear half of the apartment, an open kitchen with cabinets made of birch plywood and a lacquered concrete floor opens up to a living room with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors and a skylight. The living area overlooks the brass-framed herringbone terrace and the workshop.

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

An extendable dining table separates the kitchen and living area.

In the kitchen, a movable island on industrial castors slides out from under a shelf area in which the oven is located. This allows customers to create a large open space for house parties.

In the meantime, a built-in storage wall in the living room has shelves and cupboards in six different shades of white and a hidden cat flap.

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

The kitchen, farther from the skylight and windows, has light gray plaster walls that maximize the light. The ceiling remains unpainted.

Next to the kitchen is a small bedroom that can also be used as a study and is separated by a plywood sliding door.

This long and narrow room opens through a glass door on one side to the central light shaft and on the other side to the rear terrace with its strips of pink tiles that match the light shaft on the other side. This rearward-facing aspect is viewed through a trapezoidal bay window.

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

At the other end of the apartment is a dark entrance area with clay plaster walls interrupted by polished brass niches.

“The adobe walls used throughout the apartment were inspired by the run-down medieval streets of El Born and El Gótico in Barcelona,” said Rise Director Sean Ronnie Hill.

“Clay was also chosen because of the fact that it doesn’t require paint and has health benefits such as non-toxic, breathable, and moisture and temperature regulating,” he told Dezeen.

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

The master bedroom, immediately to the left, is done in a soothing light gray-green shade with smoked oak floors. A simple grid of built-in cupboards with small black handles lines an entire wall.

The second bedroom, designed for the client’s daughters, has both an adult-sized door and a smaller child-sized door that is painted red. A plywood bunk bed with fanned sides inspired by a whale fin also houses a small play area with drawers underneath.

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

The bedroom is painted in a very light pastel pink, which contrasts with the dark hallway and gives it a unique identity.

The bedroom opens to a light shaft paved with tiles in six shades of pink that are inspired by the architecture of Barcelona. The light shaft leads through into the study and is also overlooked by the bathroom.

The apartment’s dark gray-blue bathing area is a reference to the love of the two daughters of the sea for marine life, especially the blue whale. The walls and floor of the blue tadelakt contrast with the ceiling, which consists of birch plywood slats that are inserted into the plywood back wall.

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

“The only existing item that remained from the original apartment was the boiler, as it was a former housing association,” Hill told Dezeen.

“The layout of the master bedroom and maid’s room have been changed to maximize space efficiency in terms of layout and to create a generous entry and exit space.”

“The proportions of the bathroom area were aligned with the light shaft and protruded slightly into the kitchen area. All walls were acoustically upgraded.”

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

In front of a large blue door with round windows is the plywood-lined workshop at the back of the rear terrace, in the middle of which there is a folding table.

Black swivel lights made of mild steel that allow four different configurations of the space are designed to provide flexibility. The wall construction also avoided the need to drill holes in the ceiling and therefore reduced noise transmission from the apartment above on the first floor as much as possible.

Matching miniature birch plywood pivot lights, also designed by Rise, have also been installed in the master bedroom to allow bedside reading.

Birch and Clay Refugio by Rise Design Studio

Other projects by the London-based Rise Design Studio include a glazed extension to the rear of a house in London and the renovation of a house in a 19th century mansion, also in London.

Hill said the biggest challenge facing Birch and Clay Refugio was “being very tight on budget and trying to ensure maximum flexibility for every inch of space”.

“There has been a constant evolution in every aspect of the design, starting with the black mild steel swivel lights, the miniature swivel lights on the plywood bedside bed in the master bedroom, the plywood flap, the plywood cylinder light in the bathroom, and repetitions of the built-in joinery design.”

The photography is by Ståle Eriksen.

Project credits:

Architect: Rise Design Studio
Contractor: GEB London
Structural engineer: Tyrone Bowen, CAR
Party wall surveyor: Osprey construction advice
Artist (all works of art): Charlie Warde
Sound specialist: Clay works
Glazing: Maxlight + Hugo Carter
Metalwork: A1 Specialized