College Road, Dulwich, London


This new five bedroom house was commissioned by a client, a family with four daughters, who well knew the work of Knox Bhavan Architects – the practice had converted a house for them in the Dulwich area some years ago. But as the family reached school age, more room was needed. A site was acquired in Dulwich Village, within a conservation area and half way between Soane’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, and Barry’s Dulwich College. The new house, a model of innovative planning and sensuous use of materials, is a showcase for the use of bespoke joinery.


Building description

Because the site, a former garden, belonged to a property which the clients bought and subsequently sold on, there was freedom to position the new house close to the existing one without objections being raised. The local authority and the Dulwich Estate insisted that the new three-storey house (of which two storeys are above ground) should present its gable end to the street; the architects used the device of placing a single-storey wing, like a thick wall, at right angles to the main building, running along the property line and protecting the garden from view. The main entrance is at the knuckle between these two, and at the point of entry comes the first view of the elegant landscape which opens out to the south and east. The main rooms on the ground floor sit between a run of service spaces on the north side and an open route on the south, connecting family rooms (television/library, kitchen/diner) to the garden and culminating in a full-width circular sitting room. A formal staircase in the hall runs up to the first floor, which contains four identical bedrooms (distinguished by gradations of colour); they run along the south facade lit by projecting bay windows and serviced by curvaceous bathrooms on the north, with the master bedroom at the rounded end. Below ground there is a generous basement, partly lit by rooflights let flush into the paving above.


The use of timber

Internally, European oak floorboards have been used extensively and provide a complementary background to the large amount of bespoke joinery which is used throughout the house. All windows, external doors, and the roof corbels are solid European oak.


The study

The study is lined on two sides by European oak veneered shelving, with a European oak bay window seat set in the end wall; this creates a place to sit, look out, and admire the garden. To complement the shelving and seat, the room also has a basket-weave parquet floor of European oak.


The circular sitting room

The sitting room is lined with timber panels, of 329 mm wide European ash veneered boards, with the grain running vertically, finished with a milky stain. A series of European oak French doors link the room to the surrounding garden. Each door has its own splayed reveal, with European ash shutters and shutter boxes. The shutters have routed handles cut into their leading edge. The parquet floor is of segmentally-cut English ash, set out radially around a central brown burr oak rose. The central circular floor area is flanked by a series of radial ash rings, set out in a stretcher bond pattern. These rings are laid into the splayed window reveals. The floor has a bleached finish.


The kitchen

The dining/kitchen has a large pair of sliding doors which slide back completely, allowing the stone floor to connect seamlessly with the identical stone floor of the terrace outside. At the centre of the kitchen is an island unit. The top and sides of the unit are solid black walnut boards, joined together by a series of black ebony butterflies. The doors are faced with horizontal bands of black walnut veneer which has been carefully selected to run (like a single board) across the door fronts.


The bedroom bay windows

The four children’s bedrooms on the first floor are identical. Each has a bay window facing the garden with integral European oak shaped bay window seat and study desk, designed as a reading place for the children. Each bedroom is identified by a brightly coloured wardrobe, manufactured out of MDF, on the south side of the corridor. During the day the bedroom doors remain in the open position and are designed to be set in ‘pockets’ within the bedroom wall, so that the corridor becomes part of the upstairs living space.


The master bedroom and dressing room

The oak windows in the master bedroom have splayed European ash veneered shutters. They follow the geometry of the sitting room below and are formed of a single wide section of veneer which runs across from the shutter to the fixed panel below. The ‘oyster’ in the grain was carefully set out to lie centrally (and slipped) on the shutters, by the architect in the veneer shop. The shutter boxes are veneered to match. The central dressing room unit is veneered black walnut.



The house has two staircases, a formal shaped staircase at the front of the house, and a circular service stair at the back. The front staircase is manufactured out of solid European oak, with a black walnut handrail supported by shaped aluminium balusters. The circular turret staircase has solid European oak treads fixed onto specially cast ‘tuning fork’ shaped aluminium chassis.



The house is of traditional cavity wall construction, with the outer leaf a combination of brickwork and ashlar limestone. It has a number of energy saving, sustainable features, these include:

  • Eight solar panels set in the south facing roof provide hot water for the house and preheating for the refurbished swimming pool.
  • Whole house ventilation with heat recovery; outgoing exhaust air heat is recovered to heat the incoming fresh air.
  • A buried 20,000 litre rainwater harvesting storage tank collects all the rainwater to water the garden.
  • The house is insulated 25 per cent above the requirements of the Building Regulations.

Architect Joanna van Heyningen, writing about the house in Architecture Today, describes the joinery detailing as ‘a continuous delight. If one lived here, one would spend one’s time there running one’s hand along smooth curved surfaces. From Holly Barn (earlier TRADA Case Study), Knox Bhavan has brought the idea of angled room entries with rounded edges, and it works. Doors and window shutters don’t simply open; they nest snugly in casings in the walls or slide away inside them. This is sophisticated stuff’.

Completion Date:

July 2009

Year Published:

March 2011

Building Type:

Private House


Dulwich, London


Knox Bhavan Architects

Structural Engineer:

Elliottwood Partnership

Main Contractor:

R Durtnell & Sons


R Durtnell & Sons, Essex Woodcraft, D Gunton Hardwood Floors, I Dunn Woodwork & Design, Tin Tab, K Williamson Veneers

Timber Element(s):

French doors and with shutters, bay windows with shutters and window seats, doors, staircases, parquet floor and interior joinery including shelves, panelling, kitchen and dressing room unit.

Timber Specie(s):

European oak, black walnut, European ash


RIBA Award 2010, Outstanding Craftsmanship – The Wood Awards 2010, Best New House - Grand Designs Awards 2010, Best Craftsmanship – Brick Awards 2010, Shortlisted - Natural Stone Awards 2010

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