When a London couple built their new family home, they turned their back on Victoriana and wholeheartedly embraced modernism and concrete.
Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud can take some of the credit for this stunning north London house. After all, if it hadn’t been for the TV programme, Geraldine and Charlie might never have built their own home, and Geraldine would never have written her book, The Handmade House, documenting the whole experience. When Geraldine was expecting her youngest son, Ned, she remembers the hours she spent ‘flopping in front of the telly, in a very fat, vegetative state’, watching Grand Designs on Channel 4. ‘I really thought Kevin was brilliant,’ Geraldine confides with a smile. ‘He made it look fun! All the pitfalls passed me by.’ And 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), 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,’ says Geraldine. ‘He’d be there in my kitchen eating Hob Nobs, dropping crumbs on my plans, admiring my taste in kitchen worktops and discussing modernism with me.’ She didn’t get Kevin of course.
Grand designers rarely come in a brainier guise than homeowners Geraldine and Charlie. She’s a highbrow writer for The Observer, he’s an influential economist, author and thinker; but from the very start, the couple were apparently much more driven by their hearts than their heads. After years of being ‘at war with our house’, as Charlie nicely describes it, suddenly it seemed clear. Geraldine says that: ‘Instead of trying to cram a twenty-first century family into a Victorian house, we knew we could do it better ourselves. These houses weren’t designed for the way we live now.’ If that came at a price, then so be it. They’d initially talked to Azman Architects about extending their former house, but when the plot came up for sale it made sense to take them along. Rather than following ‘Kevin’s golden rules’ (which include interviewing several architects), Azman Architects were simply handed the job. ‘We intuitively felt they were right,’ says Geraldine. So they signed up to have their house designed by architects who Geraldine describes as ‘fiercely modernist’.
The only option was to take a hard look at what they actually needed. They started chucking out stuff, and got rid of a massive 70 per cent of their possessions. In the end, decluttering was not as problematic as they expected. ‘I haven’t missed a thing,’ Geraldine says. Looking around, nothing seems out of place. 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. ‘The house is designed to be efficient,’ says Charlie. ‘You find you don’t need very much. You don’t need stuff to make it feel yours.’
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.
Whatever your view, I’m sure Kevin McCloud would heartily approve of the passion that got the handmade house built. Time to celebrate with a mug of builders' tea and a plateful of Hob Nobs.
Architects Azman Architects (020 7739 8191; azmanarchitects.com)
Eckersely O’Callaghan (020 7354 5402; eckersleyocallaghan.com)
Main contractor Varbud Construction Co Ltd (020 8997 9383; varbud.co.uk)
Concrete ready mix Hanson Pre-Mix (heidelbergcement.com/uk)
Blinds RJS Interiors (01844 260 050; rjsinteriors.co.uk)
Skylights Vitral UK Ltd
(01223 499 000; vitral.co.uk)
Specialist concrete DPM
Sanitaryware Franke Sissons
(01246 450 255; franke.com)
Tiles Reed Harris (020 7736 7511; reedharris.co.uk)