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Stairway to haven

interiors - Simon Miller Architects' house conversion in Muswell Hill, north London, is tied together by a spectacular cantilevered oak and glass stair

The stair that links the newly opened-up ground floor with the roof conversion of this outwardly conventional house is a supremely simple visual idea, complex in the making. A winding stair of cantilevered French oak treads and risers, like a continuous folded plate, is sliced through by a glass balustrade. It is made as an object to be admired from every angle. (Behind this magic lies a more prosaic tale of ingenuity - see Working Details, p34-35. A wall-side handrail is yet to come. ) It involved close cooperation with engineer Elliott Wood Partnership, the carpenters of Peter Billing, and Firman for glass. A carpenter was hard to find, partly, architect Simon Miller feels, because the stair construction is an integrated combination of carpentry and steelwork. Even the general contractor, says Miller, 'had not done anything as complicated before' as this house - notably the complex roof setting out. There is praise not only for it being good, but also for its patience.

Apart from a grouping of rooflights close to the ridge, outward signs of change are easy to miss. The hipped end of this semi has been extended to create a gable, and to the rear there is a dormer across the width of the house. Rationalisation of rear openings includes sliding doors to the kitchen and sliding/folding doors to the ground-floor living room. These are part of lightening the typically dark, cellular layout and stairs, of such interwar housing. Plain white walls (except for colour backing the staircase) and underfloor heating simplify spaces and provide settings for an art collection.

Three new built-in 100 x 100mm steel columns support beams (made from universal columns) used to open ground-floor links from hall to family room and from family room to kitchen, widening and raising the openings. Fire doors slide out of sight. The transition from hall to family room is marked by a drop ceiling, also in French oak, and backlit niches for art objets. Between the kitchen work surface and wall cupboards above are new stained glass windows by Kate Maestri.

A generally straightforward refurbishing of the four children's bedrooms on the first floor includes, in the bedroom above the hall, incorporation of its immediate roofspace to give an extra wedge of height, and hence space for a child-friendly sleeping platform.

The newly opened-up and enlarged top floor is the parents' haven, with bed, living and study spaces plus bathroom. Its flow of space and light, especially from the rear dormer windows, contrasts with the retained cellularity of the childrens' bedrooms. On this second floor, rooflights brighten the heart of the 10m-deep plan, as well as toplighting the stair. As the circulation pivot for each floor, this animates and binds the whole house.

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