When the owners of a north-west London home approached Robert Dye Architects, they originally wanted to see how they could extend their 1970s home. However, due to the hill on site, a standard extension was out of the question.

A new build was solution and the family worked closely with Jason Coleman of the practice to deliver a remarkable site-specific design.

From the dramatically modern architecture to the careful attention to detail, and the almost seamless changes in levels, this magnificent home is a credit to the close collaboration and constant dialogue between client and architect.

The Project:

  • Name: Robert Dye
  • Build cost: £1,710,000 (£3,420/m²)
  • Build time: 2 years 7 months
  • Location: North London

The Brief

Initial plans were drawn up for a front extension, which would involve excavating back from the road under the house to create a new entrance and forecourt at street level. This would also create scope to add extensions to the upper floors at the front of the house. Plans were submitted to the local planning department, but in the intervening period, the clients had begun to wonder whether they could take the build further, and so another set of plans were produced to extend at the back.

With all the changes, it wasn’t long before the client was asking the practice what it would cost to simply demolish and rebuild the whole thing. As it turned out, there was such a minor difference in price between extending the existing house and knocking down and starting again that the answer was obvious.

The stairs

Oak floorboards have been used to clad the staircase and act as a contrast to the smooth lines of the concrete floor

Planning

Robert Dye Architects then proposed a new scheme to demolish the house entirely and provide a contemporary new build roughly to the same footprint as the original plans outlined in the 2006 extension proposal.

The planning consents had established a volume for the house, with perimeters which would not interfere with the neighbours. With these guidelines in place Jason Coleman, lead architect on the project, had the opportunity to see how they could create something architecturally interesting, within the site’s limitations.

glass ceiling and floor in a hallway with concrete steps leading to bathroom

The master en suite on the top level (which features a stunning sunkey bath) is spilt over two levels and connected by a unique hallway with glazed ceiling and floor

Design

Layout and Exterior

Jason modelled the design of the new building around the hill. The design for the family home cosists of a series of boxes that stack and interlock on top of a solid concrete base.

The split-level floors allow the house to follow the natural gradient of the site, resulting in a spacious 500m² footprint. At street level, a reflective pool (a favourite drinking and paddling space for the family’s dog) leads to the front door, set within the concrete-clad ‘stone box’, which in turn forms the base of the timber frame master bedroom ‘box’ clad in burnt larch directly above.

A further burnt larch-clad box housing the dining room can be found to the side of the front elevation which is cantilevered out above the garage. Conscious of the traffic noise and keen to maintain their privacy, the clients didn’t want any of the family spaces to have windows facing the road. The dining room, for example, features a round, domed skylight and a letterbox window (right), positioned to put the horizon at eye level when you’re sitting at the dining table. The only opening window in this space is sideways over the courtyard.

garden of industrial style clad building with concrete base

Due to the sloping site, the garden is accessed from the first floor, which is where the main living area and kitchen is

Interior

At ground level, and with a huge window and a cill wide enough to sit at the pool’s edge, there is an entertaining room, incorporating a games and music area, home cinema space, and a zinc-clad bar inspired by Parisian cafés. Floors in béton ciré (waxed concrete) make this a practical space for parties.

Behind this, a gym with shower room and the control centre for the technology incorporated into the house, are located, along with access to the integral double garage.

The central concrete staircase – positioned under a skylight – is a real highlight in this property, with its treads bridged out from the wall and the sides clad in sawn oak floorboards. The stairs wind their way through the various levels of the house, alongside a central void, which brings light in and traps heat from the top of the house, bringing it back down to be circulated.

Sitting above the ground floor (which is heavily built into the hill at the back), the main hub of the home is the epitome of well-conducted zoned living and features an open plan kitchen/dining/play/family space cleverly designated by furniture and slight changes in level. Sliding doors meet the garden at the back of the house, offering space for outdoor dining — cleverly shaded and weatherproofed thanks to the cantilevered bedroom level above.

A central stack in the living area offers a place to conceal cabling for the house’s technology, which includes smart lighting, security and audio-visual distribution to name but a few. It also provides a place for the flat-screen TV.

living area and open plan kitchen diner with polished concrete floor and central services column

In keeping with the minimalist design, the dark grey central stack in the living area conceals the cabling for the technology, smart lighting and audio-visual equipment

Eco

Not just delivering on exceptional quality of accommodation, rebuilding allowed for the house to adopt a more ecological approach too, including green roofs, rainwater harvesting and a full mechanical ventilation heat recovery system. Incorporating these sustainable elements along with passive techniques cleverly worked into the design – such as solar shading and construction providing high thermal mass – has allowed the house to achieve Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4 and a BREEAM EcoHomes rating of ‘Very Good’.

The concrete base of the home aids cooling in the summer and emits heat in the winter. The underfloor heating is within the structural concrete and there are no extra applied finishes, so you get maximum benefits of thermal mass in the building. This approach created a greater initial outlay, but will save the family a lot of money in heating over time.

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