Architect Adriana Natcheva’s London flat – a converted horse stable – is a masterclass in elegant solutions for a small space
This architect’s home was once the horse stables for Kensington Palace
The setting and framework had been in place for decades when architect Adriana Natcheva started designing her new home in Kensington, London back in 2009: limited space, high ceilings, a large single window facing the front and two smaller ones facing the back.
The flat, located on the first floor, was originally a stable serving Kensington Palace with ramps for the horses to be led up. The downstairs provided parking and garages for the horse-drawn carts and the coachmen had their living quarters upstairs alongside the horses. When Natcheva bought it, the original stable door had already been replaced with the large single window.
Undeterred by the challenges of such a tiny space and limited available light, she gave her creativity free reign. Everything was aimed at a modern life without children, but with socialising and dealing with potential clients in mind. It was worth the effort. Turning conventional thinking upside down and choosing solutions that weren’t exactly straightforward, every inch of potential was optimised in every possible way. What was once a mere horse stable is now a charming courtyard setting in one of London’s most luxurious and sought-after neighbourhoods.
After graduating from Cambridge University, Natcheva, along with business partner Murray Groves, started Groves Natcheva Architects in 2000. Her office, in the building opposite her apartment, is where she works on both large and small projects, all with a focus on the richness of life. Her own project took considerable time to sort out because of the extensive plumbing needed to accommodate all the various functions within a very tight space. “
The space I did have to play with had to fit all the functions of an entire house and in an aesthetic style I’d be happy to live in,” says Natcheva, who oversaw all the interiors, including the plumbing solutions so she could put the bathroom and kitchen where she wanted, as well as the stairs connecting the mezzanine level to the ground floor.
Inside, the generous ceiling height made it possible to build the mezzanine level above the kitchen and hallway leading to the bathroom. Her bedroom is located above the dining area and kitchen, the latter of which is tucked away neatly behind sliding doors so you don’t feel like you’re eating in the middle of the kitchen. “The interior design as a whole revolves around the storage solutions, which was made necessary by the limited space,” she says.
Cabinets were fitted down the full length of the room and appear as an extension of the kitchen when the sliding doors are left open. These also cover the height of the mezzanine, with further shelving added for books and a ladder for access that can be moved back and forth.
The kitchen is below the mezzanine level and features Nero Portoro marble worktop and splashbacks. The textured marble provides a rich, dark tone to an already very dark room, which has been painted matte black and set against sliding doors in high gloss black.
The glossy surface adds a lovely effect to the space and the light that hits it, while the doors offer the option of opening to the entire kitchen, or closing and creating the feeling of sitting in a dining room, with a Murano glass chandelier above to enhance the effect. Directly above this is Natcheva’s bedroom, where she enjoys a view of the entire flat below. Stairs behind the cabinets connect the two spaces. “The many design options that were available despite the limited space are a result of the generous ceiling height. It’s also the defining factor in what makes the space feel big or small,” says Natcheva, who painted the ceiling off-white to further accentuate its height.
The flow of natural light in a place with limited windows presented its own challenge. Again, everything had to be carefully considered down to the very last detail. The solution to increasing the available light flow was found through the use of the many mirrors, which do a stellar job. A large full-length mirror was added to the back wall of the kitchen, for example, where it reflects the entire flat, essentially doubling its visual impression when standing at the end of the flat with the large window. When you look down the full length of the kitchen, it appears as though the green plants by the window continue and the outdoor space is reflected indefinitely.
“It’s less about the size of the space and more about how you use it,” says Natcheva, who has mastered the art of living in a very small space, where everything has its designated place. Rare objects collected over time create a striking contrast against the dark marble. “I only surround myself with things I really care about and I don’t hang onto things that won’t get used,” she says. “Everything here serves a purpose, or it gets removed.”
One of the most important things for Natcheva was the fact that the flat is a bit removed from the street, which reduces the city noise while still being in the heart of London. If she could have anything more it would be the flat next door, she says, but in reality, she has everything she needs – even enough space on her balcony for a small table and chairs, to enjoy when the weather permits.
Words by: Lykke Foged. Photography by: Morten Holtum and Lykke Foged/Living Inside.