Project Name: Rembrandt House

Location: Watford

Date Completed: February 2017

Interior Designer: Phoenix Interior Design

Architect: Assael Architecture – master planning. Henley Homes – working drawings and details

This project involved the conversion and restoration of a locally-listed Edwardian print works into 43 stunning modern apartments, some with mezzanines and all with high ceilings and large windows. The design brief was simply to do justice to this amazing but tired and largely empty building in Watford, to create unique new homes within a landmark structure and to return it to full use as a new community. The exterior was dilapidated: the windows and roof needed replacing, the brickwork was dirty and the finer details of the decorative plasterwork had been eroded away. Years of ‘make do and mend’ had led to thoughtless placement of wires and signage and poor maintenance. It was locally-listed and a real landmark, but it did not appear much loved.

The interior was beautifully evocative, with high ceilings, visible metal ceiling struts and big windows. The former print halls were up to 50m long and would once have echoed to the rumble of the earliest commercial presses. They were flooded with light and full of potential, but they were also full of clutter and in a very poor decorative state. Henley Homes design team focussed carefully on space planning, so that each apartment benefited as much as possible from the space, the light and the remaining period features. They managed to create 43 apartments (1, 2 and 3 bed: 13 social housing apartments and 30 for private sale). The striking mezzanine apartments on the second/third floors have exposed metal ceiling beams as a unique feature, and are really beautiful. Even the smallest one-bed feels special.

The interiors are contemporary, with an eye to detail and finishing. Oak style floors, bespoke German kitchens, wall-hung bathroom suites, doors designed and made to the exact specification at their in-house joinery, fresh white walls. Rembrandt House represents the best of modern design and construction techniques within a historic industrial building. Henley Home’s favourite aspect has to be the sheer scale of the building (which is a three-storey block plus basement of over 120m long but only around 15m deep), and how well this scale has lent itself to spacious new homes. It was built as a factory, back in the early days of production line technology when industry was still glamorous. Its redbrick Edwardian façade has design features such as a plasterwork pediment and classical rules of symmetry for its doors and windows. Rembrandt House was always a large local landmark – and now it’s a thriving new community too.

Rembrandt House is in a fabulous central location in Watford, with excellent commuter links and with shopping, leisure and countryside all on its doorstep. Until its restoration, it was a landmark for local navigation, but it was a half-empty and rundown commercial space. It is now all sold and filling up with new families, bringing a much-needed boost to the local economy. There is ample underground parking on site, so no impact on local parking, and the restored façade represent a renewed (and much more pleasant) street scene in an area with a great deal of footfall. Henley Homes always knew that restoration of the decorative plasterwork frieze and pediment would be a specialist trade, but it was key to completing the restoration so they went ahead. The missing parts have been recreated using skilled moulding techniques, and the rest gently cleaned and stabilised, before all being repainted in a neutral stone shade. The surrounding brickwork was also all cleaned by hand, to ensure that the surviving decorative detail was not further eroded.