A Stanton Williams-designed home in Hampstead for a film director and an interior designer cuts a dramatic dash, writes Ellis Woodman
Hampstead Heath is one of precious few places lying within easy reach of central London that offer the rus in urbe pleasures of leafy isolation – a distinction that accounts for the £7 million-plus price tag of the larger homes ranged along its eastern fringe.
This select neighbourhood forms the site of Stanton Williams Architects’ latest project, a detached house designed for a film director, an interior designer and their three children.
Located midway down a secluded cul-de-sac, it takes its place among a diverse group of properties ranging from late Arts and Crafts Movement cottages to post-war villas which reflect the area’s longstanding sympathy for modern architecture.
Attracted by a south-facing view towards a panorama of dense woodland, Stanton Williams’ clients bought the site with the aim of demolishing its former occupant: a down-at-heel 1950s house of two storeys and a pitched roof. Its replacement, ranged over three flat-roofed storeys, has been equipped with a significantly greater floor area, principally by scooping out a volume of the sloping ground on which it stands.
The introduction of a high timber fence which screens its lowest two storeys from view ensures that, seen from the street, the house reads as scarcely larger than its predecessor.
Source: Edmund Sumner
On being buzzed through the entrance door, we find ourselves crossing a newly established rockery – featuring abundant ferns, an artificial stream and a couple of mature pre-existing trees – by way of a short, succinctly detailed bridge. Ahead lies a narrow side elevation which invites a reading of the house as an assembly of independent volumes distinguished by differing cladding treatments.
A gallery extends down one side, ultimately connecting with a west-facing terrace equipped with a modestly scaled swimming pool.
The ground floor and a wing housing the stair and ancillary spaces form an L-shaped extrusion faced in a highly figured German limestone, while the bedrooms occupy a dark painted timber box that seemingly floats above. In between, an expanse of glazing admits views through the full width of the house and out to the trees beyond.
While this introduction asserts the fundamentally systematic nature of the building’s plan, the interior is not free of surprises. The middle level on which we enter houses a reception area – complete with grand piano – beyond which a void has been extracted to provide a 6.4m floor-to-ceiling height over a large part of the ground floor living room. A gallery extends down one side, ultimately connecting with a west-facing terrace equipped with a modestly scaled swimming pool.
What are not at first apparent are the smaller rooms concealed behind flush-fitting hinged panels ranged along the length of the gallery. These include an office and guest bedroom and, most memorably, a home cinema lined in sausage-like forms upholstered in dark felt – the kind of lushly intimate set piece one might expect to encounter in an Adolf Loos house.
Taking the stairs to the lower level, the immediate sensation is one of dramatic spatial expansion. This floor is larger than those above, the space under the terrace having been exploited as the site of the kitchen. While open to the living area, the kitchen is slipped in relation to it in plan, establishing a startling 25.5m diagonal axis between the floor’s opposing corners.
The views also extend outside, thanks to the provision of full-height glazing. An extraordinarily slim-sectioned sliding window system manufactured by Vitrocsa has been specified throughout, allowing the interior a very direct relationship to the encompassing garden.
The bedroom level ‘box’ cantilevers out over the glazing on all sides – providing summer shading – and approximates the height of the wood it surveys over neighbouring gardens. Standing here is an experience akin to occupying a treehouse, a reading that has been consolidated by the introduction of timber flooring in place of the limestone used downstairs.
Source: Edmund Sumner
The bedrooms are of compact plan but a 3.1m head height offers a leavening generosity while allowing for the introduction of clerestory glazing above the lower corridor by which they are accessed. Each has also been provided with its own recessed balcony, accessible by way of a full-height glazed door.
These spaces have been fitted with low-iron glass balustrades, and lined in oiled iroko – a material that introduces a welcome warmth to a palette of external materials otherwise dominated by dark grey tones.
Linings have always been afforded a primary role in Stanton Williams’ architectural lexicon, often serving as a means of articulating spaces created through a process of strategic extraction. That has certainly been the practice’s method in this project. For all the refinement of its construction, the house maintains a beguilingly cave-like relationship to the outside world: a place from which to enjoy a privileged view, but also a site of retreat.
Start on site: February 2012
Completion: July 2014
Form of contract: Design and Build
Gross internal floor area: 566m
Construction cost/m2 £4,950
Architect: Stanton Williams
Executive architect: Tully Filmer (with Restructure JC)
Client: Private client
Structural engineer: Barton Engineers
M&E consultant: Skelly & Couch / RJA Consultancy + Management
QS: Stockdale /Jon Sales QA
Lighting design: Speirs + Major
Planning consultants: First Plan
Party wall surveyor: Millbridge
Landscaping: Earth Moves Design
Audio visual: Marquee Home
Main contractor: Restructure JC
Cad software used MicroStation