Built in phases between 1929 and the mid 1950s, London’s Battersea Power Station is, in a word, a behemoth. For scale, the entirety of St. Paul’s Cathedral could fit neatly within the plant’s vast boiler house. The coal-powered station, designed by architects J. Theo Halliday and Giles Gilbert Scott, is one of the world’s largest brick buildings, notable for its four towering chimneys and its graceful Art Deco details. Decommissioned in the 1970s and ’80s, the building reemerged in 2021 from an eight-year restoration by WilkinsonEyre that transformed the stately white elephant into a bustling residential and commercial development—essentially an entirely new neighborhood.
“We had to figure how our clients could live comfortably in this kind of iconic building. We wanted to preserve the sense of being inside a power plant while making it feel like a beautiful, inviting home,” says New York–based architect Joe Serrins, who recently designed a residential unit for the family of longtime clients Ali and Lama Kolaghassi, a couple prominent in international financial and philanthropic circles. Serrins’s scheme, a case study in adaptive reuse, manages to broker a nuanced rapprochement between industrial toughness and elegant, urbane design. Nestled at the base of the station’s northeast chimney, overlooking the Thames and the city beyond, the apartment revels in its exceptionally idiosyncratic sense of place.
“The clients’ instinct is usually for formality, but a more informal approach felt more appropriate for this space,” Serrins says of the two-story property. “We juxtaposed exposed columns of blackened steel with soft, luxurious materials and finishes to highlight the tension between the old and the new—high detail, high touch,” the architect adds.
The living room encapsulates the pervasive design sensibility and aesthetic direction. The walls are sheathed in pale silk, and the chairs and sofas are upholstered in mohair, silk velvet, alpaca bouclé, and other sumptuous textiles. Jim Zivic tables made of blocks of coal are paired with a cocktail table in straw marquetry, exemplifying the blissful union of the raw and the cooked. Paintings by Pat Steir and Antoine Langenieux-Villard, part of a comprehensive art program, underscore the distinctly contemporary vibe. A rainbow-hued glass installation by artist Spencer Finch, which drops down from the ceiling of the upper level, animates the space with an ever-changing dance of natural light. “When the sun comes in, the room feels like a kaleidoscope. It’s bananas,” Serrins enthuses.
A luminous Vincenzo De Cotiis table set on a Hechizoo rug of woven metal and nylon wire anchors the dining room, which is wrapped in panels of limed white oak. Olafur Eliasson’s Sunflower Worldview, a trippy agglomeration of crystal spheres, faces off across the room with a signature Sheila Hicks cotton-and-linen wall hanging. Herringbone oak floors, a ceiling of polished Venetian plaster, and a white lacquered sideboard set against a plane of Carrara marble augment the merry medley of reflective and matte materials.
Off the family room on the second floor, an industrial steel staircase with floating oak treads leads to the roof deck, one of several terraces and gardens hovering beneath the colossal chimneys. “All of London knows those chimneys. The scale is wild,” Serrins says of the monoliths, which rise above the city like de facto minimalist sculptures. Set against the muscular architectural shell, Serrins’s deft ensembles of fine furniture, art, and objets de vertu become all the more captivating. Consider the cozy family room/home theater, wrapped in panels of silvery-blue Ultrasuede, with artworks by Do Ho Suh and Harold Ancart. Or the study, commanded by a Matt Connors painting and a shapely Vittorio Dassi midcentury desk set on a custom Edward Fields silk-and-wool carpet. Or the Max Hooper Schneider sculpture that turns a chic little powder room into a strange world of wonder.
Ultimately, Serrins’s ministrations walk a fine line, balancing deference to the estimable power station and its sweeping views with the need to craft a precisely articulated urban oasis keyed to the tastes and passions of his adventurous clients. “They had a vision of moving into this incredible building in a completely reinvented neighborhood,” the architect says. “It felt like they could invent something new and exciting for their family.”