Vic and Tyson Benton each sit where they are most like at home: Vic on a built-in corner sofa, Tyson at the dining table under a slatted skylight. Their twin babies nap, their toddler is in the nursery and in a bright, open-plan kitchen, dining and living space – the heart of this home – they alternate between work and lunch. The room, with terracotta tiled floors that extend into the garden, is split over two levels and the three living areas revolve around a poured concrete centerpiece, with a plant shelf at the top and a shelf below.
To the right is an extended kitchen island and the dining room; to the left, two steps lead to a living room with a dark red carpet and comfortable seating. A large column and a steel beam, painted in a striking blue, form an arch in the middle of the space. The wooden ceiling trusses are left visible under a skylight: one of them conceals a retractable projection screen. The space is cheerful and bright. Hope, even.
Soft light filters from the front, back and ceiling through the leafy plants. Large photographic prints dominate the white walls, enlargements of photos taken by Tyson on vacation in Sri Lanka. “We were looking for a set of artwork for the room, and then we realized that these images had similar plants and colors to the ones we had chosen,” says Vic. The door handles are yellow everywhere, and a suspended steel staircase is painted the same blue as the arch. It feels a bit like an atrium in the Barbican Center in London or a modernist ranch in Palm Springs. Except we’re at the end of a sixties cul-de-sac in South London.
The Benton’s bought the house in 2016 when they decided to start a family. “We were looking for an end deck property where you can build on the side,” says Tyson. “And luckily, there wasn’t as much demand for the slightly run-down ’60s homes as there was for the slightly run-down Victorian homes.”
Tyson grew up in London, where his father was an architect and ran a construction company. “As a child, I spent my weekends on construction sites,” he says. The couple met 12 years ago when Vic lived nearby and now runs a creative production company.
Their vision was to transform the two-bedroom house, with its small rooms and low ceilings, into a space large enough to welcome the family over Christmas. It was a major renovation which required an architect. They visited Don’t Move, Improve! exhibition in 2017 and loved a design by R2 Architects. “When we met Frederik from R2 he drew his idea for us on a piece of paper and it was these two nested houses – the existing one in the front and a more recent zinc extension in the back. . I was like, yeah, that’s it! Tyson said.
Big design decisions included creating continuity in the interior, splashing bold colors, and functional materials such as concrete and plywood. “We’ve tried not to get too deep into the current trends, otherwise it might look like an avocado bathroom in 10 years – although I like these,” says Tyson. “In trends there are always classic elements, so we tried to look for them. One of them was to choose faucets that were brushed steel rather than black. The bright pops of color are inspired by the 1980s design of the Italian group Memphis. “These colors aren’t particularly trendy – cobalt blue seemed like a risk,” says Tyson.
The goal was sustainable construction with minimal waste and efficient insulation. An old hardwood staircase was recycled as surfaces around the house. “A neighbor recently ripped off his stairs and threw everything in a dumpster, so I went to save him,” Tyson explains. “I use it to finish our shelves.” They also used old fences to create the formwork (the temporary structure into which concrete is poured); now, when they look at the lines in the concrete units, the couple know they are from old materials inside the house.
For greenery, Vic researched mid-century planting. “I realized that they were mostly tropical plants with large leaves or formal shaped bushes,” she says. “I love tree ferns and bananas, so this is what I chose.” Unfortunately, the twins continue to dig them up. “We’ve put them high for now,” she adds.
The Maison des Bentons produced the last 10 designs of the 2020 Don’t Move, Improve! competetion. “We were very proud to have this recognition,” says Tyson. Do they have plans for what to do next? “No more construction work! Vic said. “We will be here for a while.”