03 Jul 2015

Self-build paradise in the city

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On the eastern edge of Hampstead Heath, North London, sits an inspirational new family home within the Highgate Conservation area.

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Previously home to a mediocre 1950s house, this sloping site, with its idyllic views of Hampstead Heath and beyond, offered Stanton Williams Architects the opportunity to create something special.

The design concept integrates an unusual floorplan which focuses around making the most of natural lighting and views. The sloping site is taken advantage of by incorporating additional spaces within the lower garden level.

To enter the house, visitors cross a bridge towards the middle level, walking over a stream that tumbles down rockery and plant life towards the garden on the lower floor. This minimal stone and metal bridge allows nature to be retained and sets the new home sensitively back from the road. The whole structure has been carefully and specifically positioned to preserve mature trees.

The bridge leads into the heart of the house, which works as an entrance hallway, looking down over glass balustrades onto the ground floor below. This design choice means the ground floor – home to the main living space – is able to benefit from double-height ceilings and double-height windows. This volume is especially useful for gaining maximum levels of natural light, with double height and lightweight curtains softening the black window outlines and dark interior elements. The expansive glazing incorporates large sliding doors, helping to further dissolve the boundary between inside and outside.

A suspended fireplace hangs down elegantly from the six-metre ceiling far above, accompanied by five large cylindrical statement lights, each element hanging in harmony to fill the voluminous space. Even though the property has an open plan layout, recognisable domestic divisions are kept. A large dark grey corner sofa and dark chaise longue creates a definitive separation in living area from the white sofa and chairs at the opposite end of the open plan room. The division creates defined functions; the dark space makes the most of the fireplace and looks out onto the garden, whereas the lighter area benefits from a television.

Behind the grey corner sofa sits a long dining table, perfect for entertaining guests. To the rear of the property is the kitchen, still within the open plan room, but neatly separated using colour and texture.

The free-flowing arrangement of the home, with open plan spaces and large windows, encourages a feeling of overarching connectivity between storeys, as well as between indoors and out.

In the garden, soft stone paving curves around the house towards a set of stairs that leads to a small swimming pool aligned with the middle level, referring neatly to the nearby ponds on the Heath. A fresh lawn extends the width of the property, with careful planting capturing the essence and allure of a tropical paradise.

At the top of the building, the storey cantilevers out from amongst the tree canopies and floats towards the desirable views. There are four bedrooms on the upper level, each with its own en-suite bathroom. This storey benefits from four aligned, yet divided, symmetrical balconies, all of which can be entered from different rooms to make the most of the view out onto Hampstead Heath at the same time as maintaining privacy.

Material references for the house reflect its natural setting. Cedar fencing and oiled Iroko balconies contrast with the Accoya timber envelope. Painted in dark grey, the timber brings additional texture and colour to the limestone on the exterior facade. The crisp and sharp protective exterior layers give way to softer warm interior spaces, with an extensive oak ceiling and floors laid out in limestone and dark oak.

The property is a combination of concrete, timber and glazing. The entire structure has a real sense of engaging with nature. Bronze handrails draw connections with raw elements and the use of different woods echo the mature trees that are central to the property’s position. Thoughtful glazing, including long flat rooflights on the upper level and thin vertical windows towards the back of the home, ensure each storey is showered with sunlight.

The house is designed to be naturally ventilated and well insulated. Details such as skylights placed strategically at various points in the house to bring in further daylight ensure that the family can engage with nature at every possible opportunity throughout the seasons.

Embedded in a unique, rural-like setting, Fitzroy Park House manages to be at once protective and open.

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