Each September, Open House London offers opportunities to visit buildings that are often not available to the general public. The Fog House was an excellent example of what makes Open House so wonderful. It is someone’s home, so we would never get inside without the generosity of the owner and the Open House team’s negotiations.
This converted and extended small industrial building was an intriguing choice as it’s a residential property with an interesting history.
The building was a factory-warehouse. It was built in 1871–72 for Henry and Thomas William Donkin, who had purchased the old house that was on the site. They were pattern–card makers who made the cards that set the pattern on weaving looms.
The original building was a three-story, load-bearing brick structure, with a long, narrow footprint, orientated north-south.
The now-demolished house adjoining at 14 Short’s Buildings/ Sans Walk was also acquired by the Donkins, in 1878. Their firm, Wright & Donkin, was based in Clerkenwell until 1910.
In 1910, no. 35 was purchased, along with 14 Sans Walk, by James Samuel Harrisson, a City brush-maker to use as a factory and warehouse. Among various alterations, Harrisson added a lift at the rear and rebuilt part of the external north wall.
At one point, the building was used as a leather tanning factory. But the longest-running concern here was T. Smith & Co., electro-platers, from the 1930s until about 1990.
In 1995–97 the disused plating works was converted by MRA Architects into a house and studio for the sculptor Marc Quinn. The factory floor was removed to create a double-height basement studio with living accommodations on the three upper floors.
This was around the time that Quinn gave up drinking and produced Emotional Detox – a series of seven sculptures made of lead and cast from the artist’s own body.
Quinn left in 2000, and the house was acquired by the journalist and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter (a household name for people of my age). In 2002 she commissioned the architect David Adjaye to remodel and extend it. The work was completed in 2004.
Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye first came to prominence at the end of the 1990s, with a number of dynamic London houses for high-profile clients, including Ewan McGregor, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Chris Ofili, and Alexander McQueen. More recently, the architect’s practice, Adjaye Associates, has turned its hand to major civic buildings, including the BFI Southbank and the Idea Store in London, the Nobel Peace Centre in Olso, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver.
To the south end of the site there is St James’s Churchyard. Adjaye took advantage of this, by removing the back wall and constructing a three-story, cantilevered, glazed extension to exploit the prospect. This provided terraces at first- and third-floor levels plus a bedroom on the second floor with the same great view of the church.
The existing mansard level on top of the building was replaced with a steel and glass ‘pavilion’ extension containing the kitchen and living room. The glass used has a bronze tint, and has also been sandblasted to give a misty effect which led Adjaye to call the building ‘Fog House.’
With the additions, Adjaye made it a house on five levels with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The interior floor space is flexible and measures approximately 2,780 sq ft over the five stories.
All of the windows were reglazed with translucent glass so that they admit light without giving a view. It is designed to be secret from the outside. The building was painted a dark grey to reinforce its neutrality.
Adjaye said, “In brighter weather, it glows with diffused light; at other times, the glass has a darker color and the internal reflections describe a virtual space that has a mysterious depth.”
Janet Street-Porter was unimpressed that the local planning department made them retain the side windows as they were “not even that old.”
The client’s brief was for total privacy, and the front door to the house is on a pedestrianized cul de sac.
Janet Street-Porter later commissioned architects Ryder HKS to add a library on a steel gantry on the ground level. There is also a garage on the ground floor at the back of the property.
Where the gym equipment is now in the basement, was a living room when the current owner moved in about six years ago. She felt it was too dark and moved the main living room to the top floor. This was Marc Quinn’s art studio (there is a wet room in the basement too).
There are three sets of doors, and all are likely to be original.
The staircase is at the front of the building, so has natural light, although that ‘fogging’ means you can’t see out.
Each of the three stories above is largely open-plan. The first floor has a reception room and bespoke cupboards along one wall.
At the far end, there is a study that has full-height glazing to look out onto a large covered terrace.
There is a separate bathroom on the landing with glass-tiled walls. The current owner has largely kept the interior decor the same as when Janet Street-Porter commissioned David Adjaye.
The master bedroom occupies the second floor with a freestanding bath, a large dressing room, and an en-suite shower room.
The top floor has the kitchen and dining room, plus the main living room. This opens onto a southeast-facing terrace that makes the most of the outstanding views.
There is clear glass by the kitchen sink as the views are just of rooftops.
There was a great story about the kitchen which may not be true but let’s hope it is. When the works were being done for Janet Street-Porter, she mentioned to Elton John that she was getting close to the top of her budget and she still needed to buy a kitchen. Elton John, generously, told her that she could have his old kitchen as he was replacing it anyway.
At the top of the building, there is glazing on three sides and three large opening roof lights.
Nothing is Perfect
Janet Street-Porter and David Adjaye had a public falling out over the project and the building’s faults. She felt the name Fog House was very pretentious. She said she dreamed of ‘ritually disemboweling’ him before ‘mopping up the stormwater in my living room with his designer sweaters.’
Nearly twenty years on from the conversion, there are probably some changes that could be made. If we are due to get summers as hot as this year’s, the building will need ways to keep the heat out. An issue that wasn’t needed at the time of the conversion. The original factory windows are single-glazed so an extra layer would help the thermal properties of the home.
And Janet Street-Porter did say that once she started living here, she wished she had installed a lift (elevator) as it’s three flights of stairs to get to the kitchen and main reception. All that gym equipment would lead me to believe that the current owner is clearly fit, and this is not a concern. She also had a second property outside of London, so isn’t here every day.
Clerkenwell Close is quiet, so an excellent choice for a home. I walked around to look at the rear of the property from St James’s churchyard.
It’s a great area close to restaurants and shops on St John Street, Clerkenwell Green, and Exmouth Market. And nearby Farringdon station is on the new Elizabeth Line.
Address: 35 Clerkenwell Close, London EC1R 0AU