An invisible house hidden away beneath a stylish Shoreditch street | House & Garden

When furniture designer James Shaw bought an empty plot in a covetable east London, it required an unusual amount of ingenuity to turn it into a home

“I like the idea of things going pear-shaped,” Shaw tells me on video call from his car. Whilst something going pear-shaped – awry or misshapen – is usually best avoided, for Shaw it is a philosophy of creation whose results can be particularly fruitful. His signature, recycled plastic designs are assemblages of colourful oblongs whose texture is something like royal icing squeezed from a tube of toothpaste. “I do everything by trial and error, so I appreciate the unexpected and allow things to be as they are.”
The kitchen, designed and built by Shaw, features a blue hi-macs island (on wheels), stainless steel appliances and cabinets as well as cabinets in warmer orange colours, whose woody trompe l’oeil texture is the result of a relvenline veneer. The recycled plastic sconce wall lamp and barstools are also designed by Shaw. The lampshade is from John Lewis and on the floor, ‘raised access’ metal tiles, typical of an office, create storage space.
The 60 metre-square plot came with a catch-22. Being in a conservation zone, his development would have to resemble the other houses nearby. However, if it did, it would block out their light – another no-no. “The house had to be invisible. Our only option was to go down,” Shaw explains. Designing the house with his friend Nicholas Ashby, an architect, the creative opportunities that arose from these parameters obsessed the pair. “We had some mad ideas. At one point we were going to make the whole house a staircase with different pods or levels on it. Then we were talking about making it a swimming pool, with ledges where you’d sleep or have the kitchen. A single grand gesture,” says Shaw, pausing as a lorry squeezes past his car.
Neither a staircase nor a swimming pool (although they did find room for a small plunge pool), the resulting house is fittingly bottom-heavy – pear-shaped – with the majority of living space situated underground. “Creating the basement, there were some serious bits of engineering, to avoid the other houses slipping into the hole. Things could have gone badly wrong. It’s about finding the areas where you could play and those where you have to be super serious.”

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