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The height of good taste

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Conservation power has made a positive contribution to the success of this house refurbishment by Cogswell Horne for private clients in the conservation area of Notting Hill Gate, West London. The planning authority insisted that no part of the Grade II-listed coach house visible above the wall on Hillsleigh Road could be altered. Permission was granted, however, to raise the wall slightly, enabling the architect to extend the kitchen to the street wall and remodel the ground floor elevations.


Because of this ruling, there is no indication of the surprise awaiting as you step through the plain carriage gate into the courtyard. Raised and re-paved, with a playing fountain and outdoor heater, a south-facing sun trap has become the main focus of the L-shaped house, acting as an exterior room which flows sideways through a glazed screen into the kitchen, and forwards through two French doors into the living room.


This intermingling of indoor and outdoor space reminds the clients of their earlier home in Kenya, as do a sealed concrete floor used throughout the ground level, and the open-plan kitchen where much spontaneous entertaining occurs.


Two elements in particular contribute to the special quality of this house. First is the way Cogswell Horne has blended the old and new structural elements: exposed steel indicating the changes to the ground floor (formerly a warren of boxed-in rooms), the existing walls and openings coming into their own higher up. Second is the way it has handled the section, opening up unexpected heights and capitalising on the proximity of a dramatic neighbour: moving from the single-height kitchen, you enter an almost treble-height living space and gaze up through a continuous rooflight to the gable end of a Victorian church, forming a theatrical juxtaposition. The eastern end of this room is overlooked by a gallery/library on the first floor, with white American oak benches saving space by doubling as balustrading .


A second treble-height vista has been achieved by cutting back the first- floor deck over the kitchen to create a visual link between the ground and top floors. An open-tread stair and bridge in perforated ship’s decking, connecting the teenage children’s bedrooms, preserves vertical transparency. The thematic link between outdoors and indoors continues in subsidiary spaces such as the children’s en-suite bathrooms which have small rooflights framing glimpses of tree tops, sky, or merely an area of house wall; it reaches almost fetishistic proportions with the insertion of a hand-wide openable panel to the side of a window bay in the kitchen.


The main bedroom occupies the top floor. To preserve its attic character, the architect has exposed the beams, put in a new tongue-and-groove ceiling and introduced storage space and a bathroom as a floating ceilingless unit gathered under the unifying ‘upturned hull’ of the roof.


Timber is the predominant finish: cupboards in the kitchen - specially designed by a catering company - and panelling to the top stair flight are in walnut, with ash and oak used elsewhere. Walls are in painted plaster with some mirror finishes on the ground floor and upper bedroom to enhance the feeling of unlimited spaciousness.


Several factors have contributed to the success of this project: the site is idyllic, and the clients were patient and were prepared to spend time talking to the architect about the way they liked to live and visiting contemporary homes including John Young’s flat. An enthusiastic and aptly named contractor, Accurate Construction, was an added bonus.

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