Cezary Bednarski’s remarkable new self-built home has already become something of a local Notting Hill icon.
A few hours in the company of architect Cezary Bednarski is one of the more life-affirming ways to pass the time. It certainly restores your faith in the class of architects that one might term ‘high-brow’.
He can see through the dreaded archi-speak, doesn’t believe his own hype and, praise be, has not been whipped by the wet towel of pretension — the last bastion of the wannabe. Cezary is the real deal.
- Name: Cezary Bednarski
- Build cost: £100,000 (£645/m²)
- Build time: 2 years 9 months
- Location: West London
And so is his house. Situated on a prominent corner location within the Colville Conservation Area near Portobello Road in Notting Hill, he has self-built an iconic contemporary house that provides an astonishing example of how to make the most of tight urban sites. The 5m wide by 18m deep corner plot was created some 35 years ago when a house that stood there, long-since left derelict, was served with a dangerous structure notice and taken down by the council. The remains of what were left became a bit of a local attraction for children’s football games and, later on, the more unseemly detritus of London life.
The council finally sold the plot and Cezary picked it up in 2007 for £650,000. The planning process had two stages — firstly to get approval for a change of use from public open space to residential. And secondly, for detailed planning permission for what was finally built. Most likely desperate to see anything in place of the urban wasteland next door, the neighbours weighed in with letters of support and approval came in just six weeks.
The tiny site was too small for a single house with a garden, which pushed Cezary into the idea of building two “vertically detached” houses, thanks in part to the corner location allowing two very separate entrances. Cezary’s design history indicated quite clearly that this was not going to be a run-of-the-mill townhouse, of course.
“Our functional brief was a home for four, with ample space for music-making and racing Scalextric,” explains Cezary. “The emotional brief was for ‘light, bright, easy spaces’ and a warm home that was connected to its setting”. The resulting house is without doubt a remarkable piece of residential design. It makes every use of its site — apart from a 2m-long strip to the rear to allow light into the rear of a neighbouring house. Externally, the terazzo tiling at street level provides what Cezary calls a ‘defence’ against the random acts of passers-by and breaks up the white render but the highlight, of course, is the remarkable grill-like window structure that brings shed-loads of light into the upper house where Cezary lives.
Constructed of oak with long pieces of glazing carefully installed on site, the window structure resembles a kind of modern take on a bay window. The east-facing façade overhangs the pavement by a foot, increasing the house by an additional 11m². Cezary has squeezed a further 12m² by protruding the front elevation of the house by 1.2m relative to the neighbours (giving the impression of bookending the terrace).
This device accomplishes much more than a simple space-grab, however. For one of the crowning achievements of Cezary’s design is the way it allows glimpses of the local area from the most unexpected spots. By glazing part of that protruding front elevation, Cezary can spend an enjoyable Saturday afternoon surveying the street below down to Portobello market; the windows on the east façade allows more of London to emerge. Yet privacy was also a major issue. None of the fixed glazing in the ‘bay window’ is clear — Cezary used a clever system called Vanceva, which provides an interlayer between double glazing to allow about 15% transparency. “It has the effect of being a bit like London smog,” he jokes.
This high level of design, using bespoke detailing for every aspect of the construction, does not come cheap. Cezary reckons he and his office spent a total of 4,500 hours (averaging about 550 man days) working on the scheme. At an average cost of £2,900/m², it is only really viable thanks to London property prices. That said, it is a great place to be, for sure, and a brilliant reaction to its site. As Cezary concludes: “There is joy, inventiveness and surprise to it, and to the living in it, and this is its most precious quality.”