Costa’s Barbers: the transformation from store to home That is a higher cut.

Costa’s Barbers: the transformation from store to home That is a higher cut.

London’s Battersea

Developer Duncan Blackmore, who is on a quest to reuse odd urban spaces in a good manner, recently completed a project that included redesigning an ancient barbershop into their own live-work space. The project was created by architects Brisco Loran.

It is common knowledge that high streets are under danger due to downward spirals caused by the increase in internet shopping. Additionally, it should be evident that the government’s main solution to this crisis—allowing stores to be converted into dwellings without obtaining planning permission—primarily makes matters worse. Friendly storefronts are replaced with spartan masonry walls that have sash windows punched in them. On the facade, dead space is created; pedestrian traffic slows down. Due to the high value of residential real estate, owners are strongly encouraged to shut their stores and convert them into inexpensive apartments—cheap to construct, not to purchase or rent.

A project in south London called Costa’s Barbers demonstrates how such modifications may be carried out in a different way. It is essentially a shop-to-home conversion, but the design makes every effort to liven up the street where it is located and to keep open the idea that future uses may include both inside-out transactions. At the very least, it adds brightness to its surroundings as a wonderful piece of craftsmanship. It should be noted that it has nothing to do with hair cutting; rather, it is only the name of a company that has long since closed.

It was created by the up-and-coming architectural firm Brisco Loran, whose directors, Thom Brisco and Pandora Loran, lived on the construction site without a shower while working on it, and who still reside and work there. It was also designed by the property’s owner, Duncan Blackmore, who claims to like compact areas and think that its “idiosyncrasy and asymmetry” are essential to the vitality of cities and towns. He implements his theories in a sequence of planned architectural explosions around Britain.

Although it is easiest to characterise him as a property developer, he objects to the term, believing that “urban practitioner” would be a more accurate description. Blackmore, now 44, was up in progressive housing cooperatives in east London. After a brilliant career in the art market, starting at the auction house Bonhams at age 16 and becoming an independent dealer at age 22, he went on to purchase and renovate houses. He lists modern art he witnessed in east London galleries and pieces like Michael Landy’s Break Down (2001), in which the artist openly and methodically destroyed everything he owned, as inspirations.

He co-owns Arrant Land, a business that has constructed interesting dwellings in Whitstable and south London. Most recently, the firm received planning approval to convert a church hall in Tunbridge Wells into residences. Blackmore is a co-founder of Neighbourhood, a research and development firm that is now engaged in an independent living initiative for care-leavers in Bootle, Merseyside. He works with architects and builders on a number of projects under the Arrant Industries name. These projects include the Glasgow “micro-civic space” Kiosk, which is used for community purposes, and Ferguson, a small apartment in the same city that boasts more architectural creativity than some skyscrapers.

Another Arrant Industries project, Costa’s Barbers, is 54 square metres big yet offers a lot of space. It offers the street a reconstructed storefront with substance and depth, a masterfully wrought, yellow-painted piece of joinery with several moving parts: sliding sashes that let in light inside, and panels featuring opaque glass patterns created by the art studio Pavilion Pavilion that can be lowered to offer seclusion. Behind is a tiled front room that is being used as an office, next to an elevated cooking area with dish racks that eerily recall the enormous kitchens at Lutyens’s Devonian Castle Drogo. Two bedrooms and a shower room are a few more steps up; the bedrooms must be at least a specific height above the ground because of the surrounding Thames’s potential for flooding.

We welcome complexity. (Avoidance of it is one of the most harmful urges, motivated by dread of the unknown and intellectual laziness, according to Blackmore.) Few internal walls are parallel or perpendicular, and the boards and tile patterns clash and are misaligned as the roadway winds beside the now-hidden Falcon Brook. Remaining tiles from what seems to be a former façade adorn a pier to the left of the street elevation; according to Brisco, “we stored our waste on the facade.” It is possible to wind out an awning to a depth of three metres, allowing café tables to be set up on the street.

The salvaged legs of a snooker table, quartered lengthwise, are used to create a cornice at the top of the shopfront. The panelled dados inside are from the backs of antique pews. With mirrors that appear to dissolve the wall, panels made of stones and glass pieces found on lockdown walks along the Thames foreshore, and a shallow relief of white planes vaguely inspired by Ben Nicholson, the back of the shop/flat/office is practically another project in and of itself.

As Blackmore puts it, “I’m a planning geek and love a bit of risk.” Costa’s Barbers, like many of his creations, is the result of his artistic ability to work within set parameters. His and the architects’ hands-on approach is reflected in the way it is made visible, which adds to much of the joy it provides. He participated in the building process as well. Blackmore has known RP Joinery, a firm 500 yards from his Whitstable house for 15 years, who produced the shopfront. This allowed Blackmore to go over the specifics with the company as it was being built.

Costa’s Barbers, in his words, is a “useful, adaptable, enriching thing.” It displays vitality and facilitates communication. It makes suggestions for prospective actions that could or might not happen. Although it is not currently planned, sales via the windows are not ruled out. Although the project’s high level of involvement will be difficult to duplicate elsewhere, it establishes a crucial principle: everything constructed on a high street should contribute to the area around it. In a world of mischief, it’s a good act.

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