A Danish minimalism-inspired renovation of a former fashion showroom in a prime west London site has resulted in a light, elegant home which has its owners’ sense of style, and a ‘Hygge’ feel
TEXT TOM BODDY IMAGES RACHAEL SMITH, STÅLE ERIKSEN, NEIL DUSHEIKO
Tucked away in a mews in Lancaster Gate, just off Hyde Park, is a former fashion showroom which has been refurbished as a light-filled, Scandinavian-inspired home.
The building has been owned by Dane Søren Ellemann since 1963, who has long worked in the fashion industry, running the building as a showroom for the last 60 years. But in 2017, Søren and his wife realised they could transform it into their perfect London hideaway.
Previously a dark and fairly bland space, the couple, with help from their architects, have reimagined the property into a contemporary home immersed in natural light.
Born just north of Copenhagen, Søren always had a passion for fashion. This led him to up sticks for London in 1957 to start working for clothing retailer Simpsons of Piccadilly – once one of the largest menswear stores in the UK. “My life has been centred around my love for clothing and design,” explains Søren.
He launched his own brand distributing Danish fashions in the UK in the early 1960s – Ellemann Design Company, and found the Lancaster Gate property in 1963, soon acquiring it as the company’s base. Since then, the old mews building, which was originally used to house coaches for Georgian properties behind it, has not only been the place for showing fashions for Søren’s company since the days of ‘Swinging London,’ but others such as Oscar Jacobsen of Sweden.
Over the years, parts of the showroom were redesigned to accommodate Søren’s needs, which led to the property being adapted for occasional residential use. “We had already made some adaptations to allow us to spend a night if needed.”
However, the property was still in need of “quite an overhaul,” says Søren. The structure was in poor condition and internally, there were “a warren of partitions, side rooms and storage areas.” An adjacent hotel and church overshadowed the primary facade, restricting the amount of natural light, leaving the rooms dark and gloomy. Additionally, as a way of obtaining privacy from the hotel, the first floor windows were at high level, further compromising daylight. Søren knew that if they were going to turn this building into their home, this was one of the first things they would need to address.
Design & planning
With Søren having grown up in Denmark, he’d developed a fascination for how the Danish approach contemporary design, and wanted to bring this into the project. “I wanted the home to have a sense of tranquillity, with clean lines, and a mix of warm natural materials,” explains Søren. As well as Dinesen timber flooring (a “must have!”) and underfloor heating for comfort in colder months, a wood burning stove and a Martin Moore handmade kitchen were high on their wish-list.
To make all this happen, the couple needed to find an architect who was accepting of their ideas but also brought their own creativity to the project. Through a friend’s recommendation, they discovered Neil Dusheiko Architects. “I visited their studios and later Neil himself came out to the site to discuss how we could merge our design sensibilities to create a home that was exciting and spectacular,” explains Søren. He adds: “Neil and his project architect Pamela were fantastic to work with. They had a very creative partnership, and we all worked extremely well together.”
Despite the building sitting in the Bayswater Conservation Area, the team had a fairly straightforward experience with the planning department. “We anticipated there would be some conditions applied during the detailed design phase as the architectural team worked through the drawings.” The team saw it as essential to get constructive feedback and support from the council before submitting a full application, so the architects worked closely with a planning consultant to develop what Søren says was a “very robust” pre-application submission.
“They suggested a few minor adjustments to the scheme which we felt were completely acceptable and took on board,” says Søren. “The process was extremely well managed and we received approval for everything we applied for.”
While not taking an active role in project management, the couple visited the site every weekend to keep an eye on progress, as well as ensuring the neighbours weren’t being disturbed. “We always let our design team know we were there, and would often send them photos of the amazing progress achieved week on week.”
Work started in 2019 and continued throughout the pandemic, “while taking every precaution,” assures Søren. ABC were the chosen contractors to turn these designs into a reality. “We introduced ABC to our architects who checked out their credentials for us,” says Søren. The couple were happy to discover they were a team of “enthusiastic craftsmen” who helped manifest the overall vision of the project, Søren adds.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Even though work continued through the pandemic, there were some delays with delivery and supply. However this was “not a major issue” with the project completing in December 2020.
Layout & light
The three-bedroom mews home is arranged over three levels, and has been rendered in a subtle white externally as a sensitive response to the conservation area.
As the property is L-shaped, when standing on the quiet mews street, the building appears very compact. But entering, you are met with a spacious, modern design which has met all of the owner’s expectations and more.
The ground floor includes a “great deal of storage” says Søren, along with a kitchenette, garage, bathroom, laundry room, and a study with views down the mews. The couple knew that their mobility may be limited in the future, and that ensuring the home was future-proofed was essential. The ground floor therefore also features an accessible bedroom with easy access to the kitchenette, which can double as a guest bedroom in the short term. The home also includes a fully functioning lift which provides easy access to the upper floors.
The bottom section of staircase, ascending to the first floor, is constructed of Douglas fir, with recessed sidelights that accentuate the craftsmanship of the wood panelling. The key material for the interiors, Douglas fir, was used throughout the property.
The kitchen, dining and sitting room are situated on the first floor. These rooms benefit from being double aspect with the windows to the rear overlooking the churchyard garden.
Two bedrooms of the three in the property are located on the first floor, each being ensuite. The top floor, reached by an open riser staircase, contains one important illustration of how the architects brought in precious natural light, with a top lit winter garden found in the smaller of the two bedrooms. Not only does it fill the space with light, but sitting in there feels like you are “almost outside,” says Søren, and offers “lovely views over the church garden.”
In a project with various design constraints like the conservation area and the nearby, imposing hotel meant that solving this issue of natural light required a series of creative solutions like this from the architects.
The central staircase void is capped by a large skylight which allows light into the top floor as well as travelling down to the first floor where the main living spaces are. The open stair and Crittal-style glazing separating it from the dining area further maximises the amount of light filtering through to this level, and gives a sense of space and connection to the sky. This “helps to create a visual interplay between the two spaces,” says Søren.
Nine other skylights on the roof as well as large dormer windows on the front facade further maximise light coming in from above, augmented by bespoke artificial lighting throughout the home. In the kitchen a discrete strip of lighting is mounted on the splashback, “which helps to create a clear zone for the kitchen work areas.” The combination of different lighting aspects has achieved a highly tailored quality of light for the home.
From the start, Søren’s Scandinavian roots also influenced the interior design. More specifically, achieving a Hygge feel (Danish, meaning something like cosiness and contentment), in the design was a priority. “It’s a way of life for the Danes,” says Søren.
Each section of the home has been carefully designed to try and promote this feeling. In the sitting room, a fireplace with heavy logs – along with the different variety of timber types lining the house – adds visual texture while creating a strong connection to nature.
The Douglas fir, as well as being used to construct the stairs, features throughout the property. The team used Dinesen fir widely, which is all sourced from sustainable sources in the Black Forest and other European forests that have been family-owned for generations – and “sustainably managed for centuries,” explains Søren. The use of the solid timber planks add a sense of robustness, and “will hopefully be in place for many generations to come,” he adds.
“As Hygge revolves around taking joy in quiet simple moments, the design could not be overly fussy.” Therefore the interior is free from clutter, with a minimalist approach evident in all rooms. “This restrained design allows us to enjoy the essence of the space, the way the light changes between summer and winter, the feeling of the heavy rugs beneath your feet and so on,” says Søren.
Their love for Danish furniture meant interior styling enhanced by different pieces by Montana, Carl Hansen, Hans J. Wegner, with lights by manufacturers including Klimt and Louis Poulsen.
The accomplishment of transforming what was a dark showroom into a light-filled, comfortable home is one of the couple’s favourite aspects of the project, and they attribute this to the architects. “The natural light makes a big difference, and we are thankful that we were working with an architect who shared our vision for what the home could become,” says Søren. Having a home that also incorporates Hygge design philosophy, and with Scandinavian natural materials that will develop a ‘rich patina’ over time – including the oak and simply finished Douglas fir, are other aspects of what makes this build distinctive.
Søren’s advice to other self-builders taking on a refurbishment project like this is to “find an architect that you can work well with.” He adds: “It’s important that you share a similar vision and excitement for what you are ultimately hoping to achieve for the final result.”
“Hearing back from the local authority that we’d be able to go ahead in some way or other was very exciting! This space which had been such a central part in our lives was going to undergo a radical transformation.”
“I remember when the pandemic started to set in, and supply chains were going haywire. It was hard not to be a little nervous, so I’d say that was a low point.”
Astro Lighting, Flos, Louis Poulsen, Klimt