Tsubo Niwa House

This house is a Victorian large single family dwelling situated in Hackney. The client were the founders of Studio XAG. From the very beginning, the project was about refurbishing and extending the house whilst injecting the Clients creative personalities as designers and makers themselves.

The building had fallen into a state of disrepair and was in need of full refurbishment. Works included a loft, rear and side infill extension. A set of living spaces at lower ground floor level were used as additional accommodation for visiting family, it was important for these to be connected to the main house above.

The design response looked to introduce a courtyard within the plan of the living spaces to help articulate a relationship between the existing house and the new architecture.

The rear extension sits quietly at the back of the building with a flush threshold connection with the garden. The pop up wrap around window seat provides some extra head height to the kitchen and aligns the view between the original reception rooms, Tsubo, kitchen and garden.

The kitchen level was lowered in order for it to act as a mid way level between the ground and lower ground floor levels of the existing house. This helps to connect all the living levels of the house.





We wanted an external environment to act as a pivot point between the spaces, whilst acting as an environmental tool to bring in lots of natural light and to aid natural ventilation.

Our research led us to the use of a Tsubo Niwa in Japanese design. A Tsubo Niwa is an external space, entirely enclosed by rooms or garden walls. It is integrally connected with the architecture and life going on inside, becoming a part of one’s daily life. Always present, throughout the day and throughout the year.

Tsubo means ‘an area equal to two tatami mats (3.3sqm)’ and so is very small. However within this space we can capture soft light, the pattering of rain on leaves, a sweet smell of the planting.

It feels like a quite force - providing life energy to the house - it is visible from all the rooms in the house with the exception of two bedrooms and one bathroom.




Full height windows slide back behind a slatted black cladding, providing a layering to the back of the building. A green roof elevates the garden level up towards the baby’s bedroom - topping the sharp black extension with a hairy hat.

The internal spaces were to feel textured, calm and lived in - as such a raw plaster finish was used to reflect the softness of the house. Movement can be seen across the walls and imperfections celebrated.




The original period detailing such as the cornice, skirting and ceiling roses were carefully stripped back to remove decades of repainting. Fixtures and fittings were partly salvaged through ebay finds as well as commissioning bespoke elements such as the joinery.

Monochrome graphics are represented in the tile choices and patterns within the bathrooms as well as the artwork on the walls. The staircase up to the loft extension has natural light flooding in from above - stretching out the previously dark Victorian stairwell.

The staircase balustrade was designed to sensitively depart from the original staircase balustrade - stretching up towards the new floor of the house.
Tsubo House
Categories: Residential
Architects: Fraher & Findlay
Photographer : Adam Scott
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