The owners of this home turned their back on victoriana and wholeheartedly embraced modernism and concrete
Back in 1999, when she was expecting her youngest son, Ned, Geraldine Bedell remembers the hours she spent ‘flopping in front of the telly, in a very fat, vegetative state’, watching Grand Designs on Channel 4. ‘I thought Kevin was brilliant,’ Geraldine confides with a smile. ‘He made it look fun! All the pitfalls passed me by.’
So, when the couple’s estate agent rang up to suggest they take a look at a plot of land (they were in the market to upgrade to a house big enough to fit two offices and four children), all of a sudden building their own house didn’t seem like such a crazy idea. ‘I assumed that if you built your own house, you automatically got Kevin Mcloud,’ writes Geraldine wistfully in The Handmade House, the book she wrote about their self-build project.
‘I assumed that if you built your own house, you automatically got Kevin Mcloud’
She didn’t get Kevin, of course - instead the family ended up with the usual raft of problems, as well as a vast hole where their bank balance used to be. 'Instead of trying to cram a 21st-century family into a Victorian house, we thought we could do it better ourselves,' says Geraldine. So, they entered a closed bid at £150,000 over the asking price for an already over-priced piece of scrubland. ‘We spent as much on the land as we planned to spend on the whole house!’ she laughs.
It's almost an accident that their new house turned out to be a beacon of modernity. They’d initially talked to architects Azman Owens about extending their former house, but when the plot came up for sale it made sense to use them. After all, Geraldine had no idea whether a family house could even fit on the patch of land she was so taken with. So, Azman Owens were just handed the job. ‘We intuitively felt they were right,’ says Geraldine.
So, in one fell swoop, the couple had made the leap from Victoriana to 21st-century chic – almost as though someone had flicked a switch. Geraldine had been brought up in vernacular semis in suburban Essex and she and Charlie, like many Londoners, lived in a tall Victorian terrace. Yet they’d just signed up to have their new house designed by architects who Geraldine describes as ‘fiercely Modernist’. They were proposing to replace cosy comfort with a slick, hard-edged building that, in Geraldine’s eyes, demanded that you had no belongings, were perfectly tidy and, more to the point, had no kids.
They’d never done stripped-down Modernism before. Well, Geraldine hadn’t. Charlie reckons he was more of an expert: ‘I was minimalist and very tidy. Until I met Geraldine, I’d put things down and they’d still be in the same place when I went to get them. But that stopped happening!’ Geraldine was less sure. ‘I liked Modernist spaces, but they seemed clinical,’ she says. There was nothing for it though. The only option was to decide what they actually needed and got rid of a massive 70 per cent of their possessions.
‘I haven’t missed a thing,’ Geraldine says. And they seem to have got the hang of the minimal thing. Looking around, nothing seems out of place. But then perhaps that’s the beauty of designing your own place – or having experts to do it for you. Geraldine and Charlie answered lots of questions from the architects about how much ‘stuff’ they had, how many metres of bookcases and wardrobes would be needed. And Azman Owens responded with a mass of storage designed to use every inch of space. ‘The house is designed to be efficient,’ says Charlie.
Just about everything in the finished house – walls, floors and stairs – is made of unadorned, finely finished concrete. So it seems surprising that neither Geraldine nor Charlie were initially very taken with the stuff. ‘Growing up in the East End, it reminded me of vandalised post-war blocks of flats, and Charlie of the underpasses in Basingstoke where he was beaten up,’ says Geraldine. It was only when they had to slim down the budget and it was suggested that they lose the poured concrete that Geraldine realised how attached she’d become to it. ‘I went to the bathroom and my eyes filled with tears,’ she says.
This must have been the moment she became a fully fledged Modernist. ‘You don’t have to keep buying things because you want them,’ she says, as if reassuring herself that she has now escaped the retail addiction of our consumer society. Of course, others might say she’s simply swapped trad taste for design that’s more slick but equally addictive.
Architects: Azman Architects www.azmanarchitects.com
Structural engineer: Brian Eckersley 020 7354 5485
Main contractor: Varbud Construction Co Ltd 020 8997 9383
Concrete ready-mix: Hanson Pre-Mix www.hanson.co.uk
Ironmongery: Allgoode www.allgood.co.uk
Blinds: Sampsons www.sampsonsblinds.co.uk
Concrete consultant: David Bennett www.concretebennett.com
Blinds: RJS Interiors www.rjsinteriors.co.uk
Roof membrane: Alwitra www.alwitra.co.uk
Skylights: Vitral UK Ltd, www.vitral.com
Alarm and Fire System: ADT Fire and Security, www.adt.co.uk
Underfloor Heating System: Wirsbo www.wirsbo.co.uk
Specialist Concrete DPM: Vandex International www.vandex.com
Garage Door: Crusader Door System 01708 346 767
Sanitaryware: Sissons www.sissons.co.uk
Flooring: Dalsouple www.dalsouple.com
Tiles: Reed Harris www.reedharris.co.uk
Lighting: Aktiva www.aktiva.co.uk
Electrics: Louis Poulson www.louispoulsen.com
Lighting: Erco Lighting www.erco.com
Lighting: Delta Light www.deltalight.com
Words: Claire Barrett Images: Edina Van Der Wyck