Anton Khmelnitsky, architect and co-founder of the London-based Architects of Invention bureau, explains why urban cottages have become an exclusive offer of the housing market and how designers embody modern luxury in new projects
May 30, 2019
The format of city mansions, traditional for pre-revolutionary Moscow, returns in a new incarnation in the elite segment. If just a few years ago, through the efforts of developers and architects, old capital estates were easily transformed into authentic commercial facilities, today apartments and luxury apartments of the “deluxe” format are increasingly appearing within their walls.
The building of the former mansion of N.L. Boyle – K.A. Gutheilya, 19th century, architectural monument.
City mansions and estates in the center of Moscow are an indisputable historical heritage, regardless of the presence or absence of the status of an architectural monument. One of the features of urban development in the city center is traditionally considered to be the careful weaving of new buildings into the architectural environment formed by these buildings of the 17th-19th centuries. The format of a separate house for a family in Russia did not become widespread in the 20th century, but it is gaining lost popularity after almost 100 years.
If you dive into history, it is not difficult to remember how in the 1990s most of these buildings were rebuilt according to controversial projects. Such metamorphoses, of course, influenced both the unique decor of the historical facades of mansions, and the internal structure. In addition to the necessary engineering modernization, the layouts of the mansions were also changed: large halls and rooms were “cut up” for routine work processes, ruthlessly destroying all the characteristic features of an authentic interior. All this led to the loss of unique features: instead of green lawns, parking spaces appeared on the territory, instead of terraces, glazed “winter gardens”, popular at that time, facade decorative elements were simplified or partially lost during the reconstruction.
Michael Jackson's former home in New York.
The current trend in working with historic mansions is a careful renovation, taking into account the original architecture and building layouts. The European trend towards the complete preservation of facades and modern re-planning, taking into account the characteristics of the building, is beginning to develop in Moscow, and city mansions are once again turning into unique private living spaces.
The modern reconstruction of city mansions has passed from private investors into the hands of professional developers, who are characterized by a completely new approach to the process and result of work. Of course, we are talking about the elite segment: private residences and club houses are in the highest demand among buyers of luxury housing. In Manhattan, for example, the acquisition of historical buildings for merging into a private mansion is popular among celebrities: this is a prestigious and functional format of urban housing, which allows, on the one hand, not to allocate your own house in a noisy urban environment, on the other hand, to live in the city center not in a skyscraper, but in a classic historic building from the early 20th century. /2022/04/d175b2b6226b511120becdc0a33fe4e7.jpg” width=”728″ height=”1092″ class=”lazy-image__image _align-center” data-v-64ca9b5a=”1″ alt=”Impossible luxury: city mansion as a lifestyle ( photo 7)” />19th century Victorian house in San Francisco.
It so happened that the purchase of a separate house for a family cannot be called a popular trend for Moscow – as, for example, for central Paris. This format is more familiar to “flat” cities – London, Amsterdam, Venice. London is historically a city of low-rise mansions: even today, Kensington Palace Gardens remains a “street of villas” in the heart of the city. This type of urban development practically does not exist in Moscow.
Kensington Palace Gardens in West London is the richest street in the United Kingdom.
At the same time, a city mansion is an ideal format for a family with several children. It combines all the advantages of living in your own home, while being located, as a rule, in the very heart of the city. The premium advantages of such projects include unprecedentedly large areas, the absence of neighbors on the floors, the possibility of creating more functional layouts and, of course, their own separate territory – a garden and places for recreation. But the main advantage, in my opinion, is the ability to truly perceive your home in the concept of “my fortress”, relying, among other things, on the pleasant veil of ancient traditions that we inherited as a memory of the life of the Russian nobility and a certain lifestyle that came from Europe. Another valuable element of any city estate will always be its own private landscaped area, where residents can feel a little out of the city. Which is especially true for such busy cities as Moscow or New York.
Townhouses on the Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York.
Today, there are not many completed projects within the old boundaries of Moscow – these are mostly single townhouses in the Ostozhenka district, built to order. The situation is different in London: the European capital has already accumulated extensive experience in the restoration and reconstruction of historic mansions. Architects work mainly with Victorian buildings, emphasizing their design features. For example, the house on St. Oswalds Place, rebuilt from a 19th century school, after restoration acquired modern interiors and engineering, but retained a double-height living room.
Victorian quarter in Kensington, London.
The advantages of the mansion, in addition to the large area, are the presence of interesting design solutions. In historical objects, as a rule, there is a mezzanine where children's bedrooms and dressing rooms can be placed, an attic adapted for a study or library. Isolated bedrooms with separate entrances and private bathrooms are comfortable for a large family. The semantic center of the mansion is the living room with a fireplace and the dining area – as in the century before last, uniting the whole family for evening tea drinking and conversations.
Interior of the Scottish estate Kennels Cottage.< p>Architects and interior designers can divide urban mansions into two types: with preserved interiors or without. The most difficult thing in working on such projects is to find a balance between history and modernity: not to let the object lose its historical spirit, but at the same time to create a comfortable home for living today for a family with certain habits and needs. The capital of Great Britain has already accumulated extensive experience with both categories of projects: underground floors with swimming pools, SPA or fitness are added to historic villas.
18th century Georgian mansion in Bloomsbury, London.< p>Sometimes historic mansions that are being renovated to the format of modern luxury housing may not need redevelopment. Such an opportunity, in particular, was discovered when working with the ORDYNKA project in Zamoskvorechye, which will appear on Malaya Ordynka in 2020 – a unique project of its kind for Moscow. The renovated estate of the 18th–19th centuries will include three mansions designed by architects E. Yuditsky and N. N. Blagoveshchensky. As a result of careful restoration of historically valuable elements, the mansions will retain the main features of a Russian noble estate. This is just the rare case when the layouts of houses were historically conceived so convenient that they did not require a deep transformation. A vivid example of a new Moscow estate of the 21st century. cfe30e13aa99abfb44384fb666a66c34.jpg” width=”728″ height=”910″ class=”lazy-image__image _align-center” data-v-64ca9b5a=”1″ alt=”Impossible luxury: urban mansion as a lifestyle (photo 0)”/>Homestead in the Ordynka Clubhouse Collection.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that the unconditional exclusivity of the mansion format lies not only in the large area of the offer and private territory. First of all, the historical mansion in Moscow is a kind of “visiting card” of its location. The facades of such projects shape the urban development and emphasize the connection of the city with its history. Each of the elements of the ensemble should complement each other and represent the actual building in its environment – not copying the “old” architecture, but rethinking it.