A Truly Bespoke Home in Highgate

by Jamie Mitchell in Interior designed homes

Architect SHH turned planning restrictions into an advantage when it came to creating this family’s dream home.

Building your own home has obvious advantages – you get to choose a layout and design that’s perfectly tailored to the needs of you and your family. That was the case when a family originally from South Africa approached architecture practice SHH, asking it to build a new home on the site of a detached house they had bought in Highgate, north London. Moving to find more space, the family wanted a three-storey home in which they could live more ‘laterally’, with living spaces situated across two floors only (along with guest and staff accommodation on the third floor).

It wasn’t quite as simple as that though: planning restrictions meant that the façade of the house had to remain in place so that it was in keeping with the other houses in the area. There was also a listed tree in the garden that could not be removed.

SHH has plenty of experience of this kind of project: ‘The complete re-working of existing London housing stock is one of the practice’s specialities and so we always have a huge number of reference points for how to get the best out of each site’s specific footprint,’ says Stuart McLauchlan, the lead architect on the project and associate director of SHH.

In the end, SHH came up with a completely bespoke home for their client, while retaining the existing façade.

As well as completely redesigning and rebuilding the house, SHH also created a contemporary extension to the rear of the house, linked to the main house by a glass box, which houses a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and changing rooms. According to McLauchlan, linking the house to the garden was very important to the clients who, hailing from South Africa, were well used to this kind of indoor-outdoor living and were keen to recreate it even in the less clement climate of London.

‘The brief was extremely clear and the client very much involved at all stages.’

For the extension, the dimensions and location had to take into account the huge listed copper beech tree in the back garden, while planning permission stipulated that the roof of the pool complex had to be the same height as the garden fence.

These apparent difficulties actually turned out, says McLauchlan, to be ‘great advantages, as it shut out the wind and created a great sun trap. The upper pool area flows out into a pond and the view from the dining area is of the upper green roofing.’

As well as having plenty of experience of creating this type of project, SHH also had a more personal experience in this case, having designed the clients’ previous home.

‘We’d designed their previous home, which they’d been very happy with – and so they came to us straight away again when they wanted to move once more, looking for more space this time and a different way of planning the layout. In fact, we worked with them even from before the purchase, to help them find the right property for their vision from the outset,’ says McLauchlan.

According to McLauchlan, this was a very design-literate client. ‘The brief was extremely clear and the client very much involved at all stages.’

The main focus of the brief was a desire for lateral living, meaning that the ground floor of the space is effectively one continuous space divided up into a series of zones: kitchen, informal dining, lounge, formal dining area, offering maximum flexibility.

The kitchen, for example, can be zoned off with a sliding panel, which also helps contain the family’s children and pets when necessary. Leading off from the kitchen is a playroom for the kids, and a further utility area with under-floor heating, which also serves as a wet room for showering the dogs. All the plant elements were contained within a basement extension to maximise living space.

As well as creating a contemporary, stylish scheme, McLauchlan says it was also important to bear in mind that this is a busy family home, so it also had to be robust, practical and functional: ‘Lifestyle was very much the main driver so hard-wearing materials were very important, but without ever sacrificing quality. The kitchen, for example, features reconstituted stone, which retains its condition well – much better, say, than stainless steel or marble.’

One of the most unusual elements of the project is a monolithic, 3.5m-wide and 1m-thick floor-to-ceiling limestone fireplace, which acts as a dividing wall on the ground floor between the lounge and formal dining areas, with an inset fire that is visible on both sides. The structure was treated with resin to fill any gaps, before being fully polished, with the end result indistinguishable from a single block of stone.

The brief also asked for the home to be as eco-friendly as possible and so the scheme features ground source heat pumps, insulation that is double the statutory requirement, rainwater harvesting and a large bank of solar panels across the south-eastern extension, which look like ordinary roof tiles and which furnish the home’s hot water and pool heating.

The perfect balance in this project – of durable, yet stylish design, luxury living combined with eco-friendly technology and indoor and outdoor living – are, says McLauchlan, what makes the design of this home special. They couldn’t have got quite the same result from an existing house, but as McLauchlan says, success was also down to a good working relationship between client and architect. ‘The final scheme is a complete reflection of the needs of this particular client and their family and functions extremely well. It’s an unusual mix of luxury and strong environmental awareness.’

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