Marlena and Olav Hellebo have replaced a dated 1960s estate house with a stylish contemporary-style eco home boasting exemplary green credentials.

A peaceful 1960s estate in a North London Conservation Area may not be the most obvious location for one of the greenest family homes in the South East, but for Marlena and Olav Hellebo it was more or less assumed that, wherever they built, it would be a shining example of low-impact, energy-efficient house design. “I grew up in Australia, where eco houses are much more prevalent,” says Marlena, “but green issues are close to our heart and we had wanted to self-build for years, so it was really a natural decision — the problem was finding an opportunity.”

The couple, who have two young sons, spent four years looking for a building plot before they came across a dated ’60s house in this lovely street, and boldly bought it prior to gaining planning permission for a replacement dwelling. “We took a risk with this property. We didn’t know if we would be able to knock down and rebuild,” says Marlena.

Luckily, the level of eco technologies in the design helped secure favour with the planners who, despite this being a Conservation Area, were in favour of the scheme.

Marlena and Olav knew that the key to the project’s success would be finding an architectural practice who could interpret their vision, and the couple now fully credit the spectacular results to SHH Architects, who they worked with for 18 months to finalise the design; SHH also acted as contract administrators.

Demolition of the old house began in July 2007 with work to the foundations and basement starting in October. Due to soft ground and the presence of two protected 150-year-old trees – the roots of which had to be built around – the foundations were piled.

Unlike most eco houses, usually built with lightweight timber frame or SIPs, the structure is steel frame with an external skin of lightweight Thermalite blockwork, resulting in a cavity wall with extremely low U-values and good thermal mass. This means the house retains heat in winter and stays cool in summer.

The front of the house has been designed to be open and exposed, with its tall front door and double-height glazing, while the rear, which has been beautifully landscaped by Chelsea Flower Show double-gold medallist garden designer Kate Gould, is enclosed for the family’s privacy, with a secure terrace leading off the children’s bedrooms.

One of the most exciting aspects of the house is the steel frame staircase, complete with engineered oak treads and a sleek glass baluster. It was actually inspired by the architect’s own staircase, which Marlena and Olav fell in love with during a visit. A rooflight casts light down to illuminate the stairwell.

What’s really special about the house is that while it is certainly a paragon for eco-friendly living and great contemporary design, much more than that it feels like a family home — somewhere you could really live. “We wanted this place to be designed for us – a couple with two young children – and we couldn’t be more delighted to be living here,” smiles Marlena.

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