There is a part of London's Notting Hill which looked like a film set long before the neighbourhood became synonymous with movie-land. The terraced houses which line the streets immediately south of Notting Hill Gate are painted in sugar-candy colours, lending a bohemian air to what are otherwise ordinary Georgian houses. A little too ordinary for Alan Power Architects' client, a design-conscious couple who chose Power from a selection recommended by the riba Client Advisory Service, and turned up at early design meetings armed with back issues of The Architectural Review. The brief was to 'open up' the house to bring in as much light as possible, and to create an interior as eye-catching as the lime green facade.
The key to the new scheme was the decision to replace the existing dog- leg stair with a straight laminated glass staircase enclosed by glass walls. On the party wall side, the stair is supported by a steel flat built into the finish of the party wall but appearing to bear directly on the masonry. The structural support on the other side is provided by a triple-laminated sheer glass wall. Sections of laminated glass flooring at the foot and head of the stair are used to maintain the purity of the original concept of a transparent 'slot' running through the house. Top- lit by a full-length skylight, the stairwell runs along the party wall filtering blue-tinged natural light through to the lower floors.
Although there are some metal components - stainless-steel shoes designed to bear the laminated treads and glass floors, and disc-shaped mechanical fixings that join the vertical laminated glass sheets to the floor - invisible fixings such as structural silicone and a newly-developed transparent structural tape have been used to maintain the clarity of the glass stair. Glass treads are fritted with visibility dots, making the experience of climbing an 'invisible' stair rather less disconcerting, and, more poetically, casting dancing shadows on the adjacent wall - especially dramatic when back lit by a low wintry sun.
Replacement floors have been built on a new cross-braced steel frame, creating open-plan spaces which are a stark contrast to the maze of small rooms typical of houses in the area. The climb upstairs culminates in a light-drenched dual-aspect living room. Sparsely furnished with designer classics, and utterly devoid of clutter, this is a space for contemplation and retreat rather than for the rough and tumble of everyday life. 'I asked them whether they were lounging in the living room people or sitting round the kitchen table people, and they decided they were definitely kitchen table people,' says Power, and, accordingly, the kitchen/dining room has been relocated from the basement to the ground floor, and is now the focus of the house.
While the living room enjoys the warmth of a beech floor, the lower two floors are cooler, with a limestone floor. Kitchen units are tough custom- made stainless-steel units imported from Sweden. A rectangular island unit contains the sink and an industrial-scale storage rack, while mobile storage units on wheels are parked below fixed worktops either side of a commercial gas cooker. A newly-formed opening has been made in the rear wall, giving the ground floor a glazed wall with stainless-steel-framed sliding doors leading onto the limestone-paved terrace on the roof of a small extension below. The remainder of the rear wall has been almost entirely rebuilt, using second-hand stock bricks to match the original - being in a conservation area, alterations to the street facade were out of the question.
The staircase to the lower ground floor is enclosed by a saw-tooth glass screen built into the limestone, allowing this potentially gloomy floor to enjoy the full effects of the lightwell. Bedrooms have been relocated from the first floor to this lower floor, where most of the space has been given over to the master bedroom suite, complete with dressing room, and an en suite bathroom housed in the rear extension. A full-height clear- glass bathroom overlooks a low-level walled patio, providing a bath with a view, but also with privacy. Just as walls of white-painted cupboards help to keep the ground and top floors immaculate, a utility space tucked under the stair, and an en suite dressing room, preserve the impression of spartan austerity on the lower floor. Not that there is any clutter to conceal.
The contents of the cupboards are as perfectly ordered as the house itself, demonstrating, as Power points out, an appropriate mentality for this kind of house: 'We knew they were going to be a good client, when we saw that they stored their shoes with shoehorns'.