At home with Ewald Van Der Straeten and Louise Lloyd
Architect Ewald Van Der Straeten bought this maisonette in Bethnal Green’s Trevelyan House in 2012, which he now shares with his partner Louise Lloyd, an opera singer. ‘People have this connotation with ex-council flats, that they aren’t as desirable but I could see the potential,’ recalls Ewald who immediately set about re-jigging the layout when he moved in. ‘I also really liked the architectural story and history of the building as a starting point.’
You may recognise Ewald from the ITV series Love your Home and Garden, where he appears with George Bradley – with whom he co-founded the architecture studio Bradley Van Der Straeten nine years ago – and gardener Alan Titchmarsh. Eager to find out more about this and what being an opera singer is like, we sat down for a coffee and a chat with the couple in their mid-century inspired living room.
Firstly, tell us the story of this flat.
Ewald: This building was designed by the brutalist architect Sir Denys Lasdun (the National Theatre is his most famous work) and it was one of his first cluster blocks after the war. The area was heavily bombed and this was a fast-fix for housing which was very much needed. When I moved into the flat seven years ago, the layout of the social spaces felt quite isolating, particularly the kitchen and living room, which were separate. I decided to open it up to create a room within a room, so now when people come over for dinner and I’m cooking, it’s all connected.
What do you like about living in east London?
Louise: I lived near Hyde Park for ten years before moving in with Ewald so I was really spoilt for green spaces. It was a big transition to move east but I’m just starting to get used to it. The surrounding areas aren’t as green but I feel more at home here in the sense that there are more people in a similar situation to us: young professional first-time buyers of a similar age starting families. There are some lovely things near here too, such as Broadway Market, Columbia Road Flower Market and Victoria Park, which is where we had our first date.
Louise, how did you get into opera singing?
Ten years ago, I did my Masters at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I teach singing and piano for a school in Knightsbridge, teach privately and I’m a singer. I have a piano here which a lot of time I play for pleasure but also when I’m doing my singing practice. I need it so I can learn the music and accompany myself.
I’m also involved in a production of La Bohème which won an Olivier award some years ago. It started off in a pub in Kilburn which transferred to the West End, and it is still touring. I don’t perform every night, just one or two shows here and there. I’ve had a bit of a break from singing because we have a baby due this month.
We couldn’t help but notice! Did being pregnant affect breathing when you sing?
Funnily enough, I sang the role of Gretel when I was 34 weeks’ pregnant which is hilarious because that’s the part of a little girl and I was up on stage with bunches in with a bump. Because I’d had regular singing lessons throughout my pregnancy, the muscles had got used to it. It does affect your breathing but you just have to work that extra bit harder.
Ewald, it must be so lovely to live with a pianist and listen to Louise play.
E: I absolutely love it. Louise is sometimes a bit self conscious but I encourage it. Often she’ll be playing and I’ll be cooking away.
L: I think the family next door quite like it too. I was worried so I went round there once and said, ‘Oh gosh, I hope I’m not disturbing you’ and they said, ‘No, we love the music!’
E: Your voice carries quite a long way.
L: When I’m at full pelt it probably travels all the way to the nursery group across the road but no-one has complained yet!
What kind of food do you both like?
L: We’re both into healthy living. We tried veganism for a bit; now we’re vegetarians. I love Spanish food – that would be my favourite. We also make a lot of soups. And Ewald makes the best pancakes. That’s our weekend treat: Ewald’s pancakes with nut butter.
Sounds delicious! Ewald, does wellbeing also play a key role in your architecture practice?
E: Yes, definitely. We try to keep the wellbeing of the end user at the heart of all our projects. It’s something that isn’t considered enough with new builds which don’t always take on board factors that seem obvious, such as the amount of daylight, minimum room sizes and the layout, and using sustainable materials where possible.
As a practice we are also starting to work in the charity sector. We refurbished the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Centre in Highgate and seeing their headquarters being transformed for the better was so rewarding. A building like that doesn’t just change the lives of the actual users but all the children and members of the community who visit. Now we are actively looking in the charity sector and wanting to work with people who have wellbeing as part of their brief.
Speaking of your work, what is being a presenter on Love Your Home and Garden like?
It’s so much fun. Last year was the first time so it was tough because everyone was on a steep learning curve and the actual renovation was condensed down to a very short time frame of about six weeks. It’s also very rewarding because you go into well-deserving people’s houses who, for whatever reason, can’t necessarily afford a makeover and their emotional reaction at the end when they walk in and see the result is incredible. It’s very humbling. I come home buzzing on reveal days.
What was home for you both growing up?
L: I’m originally from a village in Wiltshire so life was all about the community, and we would always get involved in the summer fetes. There’s a part of me that really misses that but I knew as soon as I did my first trip to London that I wanted to live here. Home is important to both of us; we want to make it a place of happiness and comfort.
E: Home for me was Belgium, a town between Ghent and Brussels. I always had to commute to meet my friends so as a student I knew that I wanted to be in the middle of the action rather than next to it. In Belgium the property mindset is very different. People buy once, for life, and that’s it. Here, everyone buys to get on the ladder. When I talk to friends back home, I explain that this is not where I’m staying; I have to buy five more houses to get to get the house I want.
How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
L: I’m big into running. Before I got pregnant we both ran a couple of half marathons.
You sound like very healthy people!
L: We try, though there’s a lot of chocolate in the cupboard right now….
E: I also like surfing and watersports. For the last two years we’ve been to the Philippines. In Europe, Portugal is the place but it is very different.
L: We both like travelling. I spent some time studying flamenco and Spanish in Seville. Funnily enough, Spanish is the one language I don’t use for my job, which is one reason I wanted to do it – but also I just love Spain and the culture. Flamenco is so passionate and fiery and in Seville, they have this wonderful attitude where they don’t seem to have any worries. They just let go and it is very liberating to be immersed into that world.
Inspired to take up our own new hobbies for 2019, we head home to settle down on the sofa and catch up on the latest episodes of Love your Home and Garden. To find out more about Ewald’s architecture practice, visit https://b-vds.co.uk/