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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

How the Sun Rain Room beats Falling Water

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post looks at inspiring new ways architects are making city buildings lessen their environmental footprint and creating spaces you just want to be in. and yes, I admit my knowledge of architecture is low so this is inspired as much as by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright as an Open House 2017 tour to the Rain Sun Room in Islington. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

The Sun Rain Room roof from the staircase window.

 How beautiful houses can be if you can add water. The Sun Rain Room is just a room, and it may not be over a waterfall, like Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water (1935 Pennsylvania), but this unusual indoor/outdoor space at Wilmington Square, WC1 is a magical extension to a Georgian town house making maximum use of light, shade and the local weather. 

Look up and you see the back of the Georgian house with
a curving grass roof above.
In the Sun Rain Room the modest courtyard space has been transformed into three multi-purpose spaces, a glass indoor room; a covered wall-less outdoor spot with BBQ and a paved area. Indoors has a distinctly meditative feel that would be a happy place whatever the weather, or season. And architects Tonkin Liu already use it for relaxing, reading, to display cuttings, for meetings and to reinvigorate the spirit. Clever use of sun tubes through the sedum roof turns the indoor space into a dappled wonderland when it’s sunny. Equally imaginative use of the Georgian butterfly roof (sometimes known as a valley roof) siphons off the rain water into an elegant tank which runs along the side of a brick wall festooned with ivy. Press a button and the tank releases a small flow of water to create a reflection pool that covers the dark granite slabs the Sun Rain Room looks over. It’s only millimetres deep but it’s clearly a pleasure to sit cosy inside, lost in the reflection of the Georgian building ruffled by ripples. At night the effect must be an even bigger show-stopper when the twinkling lights power up. Or when you want to surprise and pad across it as if walking on water.

Greg Storarr talks Open House visitors through
the thinking behind the Sun Rain Room. The
trees have deeper root ball pots tucked ut of sight.
Guide Greg Storarr, who works at Tonkin Liu, took groups around the Sun Rain Room during Open House 2017. He explained that the house had been subdivided into flats but was now used both as offices by the practice and a place to live.

Creating the Sun Rain Room gave an opportunity to transform the basement. Work took a year and the result is transfixing. It was also very hard to photograph (blame the mirrors, the group, and my own inability to find the spot!).

The tour started in a basement kitchen done with great simplicity and a lot of bleached wooden panels. There’s an internal office lit from above and then a stunning curved 2nd bedroom, with walls and door made from plywood, echoing the curving Sun Rain Room above.  This bedroom is well-thought out. It has a neat mirrored area behind the double bed for storing belongings, as well as a bathroom. Everything is small – because it’s London – but done with such rectangular abandonment and strategic mirror siting that the place expands and expands. And of course it’s not that small because Greg was showing around at least 15 people, many with bags, and we all fitted in fine.

Architect Anna Liu in red and white. The
mirrors make the space confusing to photograph.
Architect Anna Liu, resplendent in an amazing red outfit topped with white lace, shadowed the group. She lives in the house with business/life partner Mike Tonkin and laughingly explained she was: “the madness behind the brains.” But this is an architect’s dream, altering a house so it becomes a place she, (and definitely me) really want to live. Her pride is obvious and it was good hearing how much she “loves the light you get from the reflection and the ripple effect.”

A courtyard space transformed.
So could you do this at home? Some of the materials are very affordable, eg, plywood (albeit with a beautiful grain). There was also an external spiral staircase linking the basement floor to the Sun Rain Room – its only drawback being the usual for spiral staircases, they are very narrow. But there is also some amazing technology to keep the Sun Rain Room roof floating over a long stretch of what used to be courtyard. And there’s a super expensive and very skilled creation, a glass staircase that floatingly links the Sun Rain Room with the main house kitchen high above the basement courtyard.

Apparently the work cost around £2,000m2. Social housing is around £1,300m2 and high end projects around £3-4,000m2.

One of the Open House visitors reckons this was where Aubrey Beardsley – the illustrator famous for his “bizarre sense of humour and fascination with the taboo” worked. If correct, then clearly the house keeps inspiring.

Energy reading metre - get yours from your energy supplier so
you know how much power your gadgets are drawing.
Turns out it’s been rentable on Airbnb for lets over the summer. I’m gutted I never thought to nose around looking for starchitect mini breaks. Now it’s going to be used by a more permanent tenant, who I hope adores the place. Maybe they  can occasionally visit Exmouth Market, but mostly I’d like to think the new tenant is drawn back to the Sun Rain Room basement and courtyard for inspiration, fulfilment and a chance to feel properly in touch with the weather. This may be its first winter, but it’s clear Anna and her colleagues are looking forward to new reflections because this the Sun Rain Room is truly a living space for all seasons.


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