Highly-developed interiors

Step away from the magnolia paint. The latest property developments are teaming up with star interior designers to give their homes the wow factor

Tom Dixon's Design Research Studio is behind the lofts at Upper Riverside, Greenwich Peninsula
Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio is behind the lofts at Upper Riverside, Greenwich Peninsula

Showhomes can be a bit like churches – beautiful to look at but once you’ve seen a few they all merge into one. The trouble is that they’ve become so neutral, with palettes of dove grey, café latte and cream, and their ubiquitous “luxury hotel” look that buyers struggle to distinguish one gloss white open-plan kitchen diner from the next.

If last decade has been all about the big-name starchitect building, the next will be about the interiors, too, as some brave developers are enlisting the help of the biggest names in interior design and styling.

Nicola Fontanella's Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central
Nicola Fontanella’s Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central

“The public is demanding more interesting spaces; social media such as Pinterest is making people increasingly aware and excited by architecture and design so the more pedestrian, beige look just isn’t cutting it anymore,” says Albert Hill, director of the Modern House, an estate agency that specialises in architecturally interesting homes.

“I also think that developers themselves enjoy working with more interesting designers rather than churning out the same old product – they are trying to stand out from the crowd,” suggests Hill.

Nicola Fontanella's Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central
Nicola Fontanella’s Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central

One development that will definitely stand out from its neighbours is Maine Tower, part of the flagship new Galliard Homes’ Harbour Central development of 901 homes, retail, commercial and leisure facilities that is about to launch in Canary Wharf. Stephen Conway, CEO of Galliard, which is London’s second largest residential developer, has called upon Madonna’s interiors style maven Nicola Fontanella of Argent Design to create an opulent Art Deco look that will bring the Manhattan glamour of the Great Gatsby era to Docklands. It’s a collaboration that came about by chance, when the two met on holiday and got chatting– but the results are far from your ordinary new-build specification flat.

Nicola Fontanella's Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central
Nicola Fontanella’s Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central

Planned as a ‘vertical village’ the 41-storey tower will have pockets of social space woven into the different levels, from a gym and spa, to a private cinema, cocktail bar and club lounge, and a library. All will have the trademark Fontanella stamp on them – expanses of glass, bronze-effect panels and polished plaster and stone walls, softened by deep sculptural sofas and glamorous soft furnishings.

The apartments add a touch of Miami Glamour, with blues, turquoise and splashes of gold and bronze, while the rich stone kitchen worktop and warm wooden floors make a contemporary update to the gloss kitchen and stripped floors of most new-builds. Studios will start from £350,000 and Harbour Central launches this Thursday [25 JUNE], www.galliardhomes.com.

Nicola Fontanella's Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central - a studio apartment
Nicola Fontanella’s Art Deco-inspired designs for Maine Tower at Harbour Central – a studio apartment

It’s a move that will surely have cost the Conway far more time, effort and expense, but one that he hopes will pay off. As Hill explains, “Developers are trying to move the public perception of developments from just being purely money-making vehicles to something with a little more vitality and integrity. And buyers are ready for that.”

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Over the water at Greenwich Peninsula, the former creative director of Habitat, product designer and head of his own Design Research Studio, Tom Dixon is responsible for the interiors of the Loft Collection, a limited edition release of 35 apartments at Upper Riverside (lofts from £720,000, www.themodernhouse.net). Featuring his signature use copper and with a strong industrial edge and a nod and a wink to British design heritage (think green enamel metro-style tiles reminiscent of a Victorian pub or tube station), the playful, bold scheme has had hipsters flocking to the area to get a slice of his residential style.

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Expect bright jewel–hued sofas, emerald green kitchen splash-backs, metallic tables and surfaces, industrial steel beams in the bathroom and incredible iridescent glass shower screens that refract the light like a rainbow. “The colours work to connect you either to the ground or the sky,” says Dixon. “They are strong and bright – they seem very modern and fresh but in fact they inspired by old painting of the area, the sunsets and the surrounding nature.”

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Even if you don’t manage to bag one of the remaining lofts, Dixon will have a hand in designing the public areas covering everything from street lamps to gardens, pavilions and he has already created the interiors for Craft, a sleek restaurant and bar on the peninsula. It’s all part of a wider “place-making” scheme, designed to attract a creative crowd of artists, theatre companies and designer-makers. Having a big-draw name on the design team, not only sets the style, it sets the tone that the master developer, Knight Dragon, is trying to achieve.

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“Tom Dixon is such a rare talent and such a bold designer that we knew he would create an alternative to the usual bland vanilla apartments so often found in new developments,” says Kerri Sibson, sales and marketing director for Knight Dragon. “We are creating a vibrant new destination with stunning modern architecture, and amenities including a skyline pool, so with Tom’s interiors we knew we would attract the sort of design-savvy crowd who would enjoy this. We intend to work with other such world-renowned designers in the future to continue to offer something different and exceptional.”

The Heals interiors at The Corner House
The Heals interiors at The Corner House

In Fitzrovia, developer Derwent London has collaborated with designer furniture store Heal’s on the homeware brand’s first residential development in its 200-year history, which will breathe new life into a converted office building – the vast amounts of glazing and industrial hangover from the property’s former life will lend themselves perfectly to the understated, pared back aesthetic of the Heal’s style.

“Curating the look and feel of the apartments of The Corner House has been a great experience,” explains Heal’s creative director Carmel Allen. “Both Derwent and Heal’s believe in creating personal spaces rather than over-stylised designs so each room has a very liveable feel. Sometimes show flats are just that, all ‘show’, but we believe that giving a space a relaxed, modern feel is the right direction.”

The Heals interiors at The Corner House
The Heals interiors at The Corner House

What’s more, residents will be able to use a Heal’s stylist to help design their own bespoke interior to complement their apartment, and as part of the collaboration, they will be entitled to a home consultation from a stylist and a 10 per cent discount on and purchases, as well as invites to design events, previews and workshops at the store, which is handily, just across the street on Tottenham Court Road.

The first six apartments have just been pre-released ahead of the remaining five, but et in quick as a new home on Charlotte Street won’t hang around long. Two-bedroom apartments from £1.75 million, www.cornerhousew1.com.

ALISON TYLER

 

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The invisible house

Can you build a contemporary home in a conservation area sensitively? Here’s one that succeeded, against the odds…

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Ken Martin is a man who drinks a lot of coffee, 4,200 cups in the last two years to be precise, according to his intelligent Gaggenau coffee machine that takes pride of place in the high-tech modern kitchen that he designed himself – but then, having self-built a daring black glass box of a house, in the middle of a Conservation Area in London, the retired lawyer has probably needed the caffeine.

But far from the drained, husks of people that you often see on the likes of Grand Designs after a self-build project, Ken is still brimming with enthusiasm two years on from completing his epic build.

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Despite its bold lines, from the outside the black glass house has an incredibly calm quality, reflecting the trees and sky and the Victorian houses opposite. In one corner the yew trees almost melt into the house, like a vertical pool shimmering the tree back upon itself.

Yet sitting inside this incredible stealth house – I call it that because, like the planes, in certain light, it literally recedes into the surrounding trees so that you almost don’t notice it is there ­– is like being inside a Scandinavian cabin in the middle of the woods. It is utterly tranquil, quiet and cosseting, like being hugged by the trees around us. No wonder he hasn’t bothered with curtains, with views like this, nor would I. And while the exterior is all glass, steel with clean, sharp lines, inside it manages to feel homely and warm – you don’t feel like you’re sitting inside a stark glass box.

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This is thanks in part to Ken’s own interior style. “This is my family home and that is how I planned it, so there’s a mixture of our things – we didn’t go an buy all new stuff to create a showhouse, it needed to feel comfortable and like our home.”

So there’s a range of furniture from Mid-Century Ercol sofas (one of which Ken rescued from a south London skip) and String shelving, a 1920s oak chair from Heals, an 1870s early Arts and Crafts cabinet, a contemporary floral Pinch sofa, and a thoroughly modern Dutch suspended central fireplace, which is never needed because the house is just so darn energy efficient.

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The warm iroko wooden window frames and blonde wood floor add to the almost tactile atmosphere.

But turn the other way and behind double pocket doors (that slide into the walls), the all-white, minimal kitchen, dominated by a vast square Corian island, is revealed, giving a new perspective to the home.

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Because, for all you could forget your surroundings when sitting inside looking out, this house is a highly engineered, and expertly designed modern build.

Ken has lived in 11 homes since buying his first place in 1986, and each time he’s wanted to do a little bit more, from replacing kitchens, to renovating, remodelling, and eventually adding a Mansard floor to his previous home in Dulwich. That gave him the bug to go further and build his own home, so he began to search for an opportunity.

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In 2007, he, his wife and daughter, moved into the neighbouring house in Forest Hill – a beautiful 19th-century cottage that came with a good 500-square-metre plot that had planning permission granted on it many years earlier. It wasn’t the easiest site, a sloping plot sitting at the end of a private, gravel track road that fades into Albion Millenium Green, a wild and overgrown dingly dell that supports wildlife and acts as an almost rural backdrop.

He invited his friend the architect Ian McChesney, who is as known for his sculptures as his properties, and who had created the pavilion for Avenham Park in Preston along similar lines, to come down and have a look. “He’s as mad as a fish but a visionary about how things should look,” says Ken. “I just let him have a think about how we could exploit the space – I knew I wanted to do something modern and appropriate for the location, but beyond that my only brief was that it should be less tall, less deep and less wide than any of the other homes on the street. I didn’t want it to be over-developed or to feel greedy. I think that would have been taking the piss – you should always ask for what you want and then stick with that.”

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When the plans went in to Lewisham Council in 2008 there were 68 objections, despite the fact only a handful of houses are even near to the plot, but Ken, who’s passion for the project is still infectious today, personally spoke at the heated council planning meeting to defend his plans and make the case for his future family home.

“I don’t think the fact that it was a conservation area made it that much harder – what was important was that the building enhanced the area around it, but that is as important to me as it was to the planners and objectors. One thing that did help was that I had a great planning officer who understood what I wanted to achieve, and the fact that the houses on the road are so different, from a Fifties council block to 1920s and Victorian houses, also helped the argument that this building should be of its time.”

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It took until 2009 before plan was approved and a further three before work began, but once it did, Ken didn’t waste any time. He began in February 2012 and the house was up by the October, though not without a few nerve-racking moments.

Ken project managed the whole build and was there everyday coordinating everything from the 28 metal piles that the wooden frame of the house simply sits on, to the aluminium shell that wraps around that, and finally, the black glass – made and imported from Façade Concepts in Germany – and iroko wood frames that complete the build.

“I was like the Ringmaster gathering all of the different people together to work on the project at the same time and trying to get the best from them.”

One of the hairiest moments was the delivery of the glass panels down the very narrow lane, “one of them broke,” says Ken. “We had to wait two months for another panel to be made and then brought over Germany, and then it had to be literally man-handled in by the Albanian crew because they could get the lorry down.

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Ken sourced virtually everything from the internet, whether it was the Swedish firm Scandia Hus who supplied the wooden frame to learning to use Google Sketch Up to create his own designs or coming up with the kitchen himself, which he based on a Baulthap design but created himself for a fraction of the cost – “anyone could get these huge drawers made if they wanted to, you just create them from MDF and then get them sprayed, any good car garage could do it,” he says casually as if it’s nothing extraordinary.

“Without the internet this wouldn’t have been possible, I couldn’t have researched it otherwise. Everyone is motivated by watching Grand Designs, but not many people realise that you can do it with a reasonable eye and determination. Using the internet I have managed to combine the uniqueness of something bespoke but with the security of a manufactured house.”

Ken describes himself as a “serial mover” rather than a developer – “there’s no way you’d build a house like this if you just wanted to sell it, you have to feel it and be doing it with a passion, rather than an economic vision” – but now he’s been bitten by the building bug he’s ready to do it again, just as soon as he finds the right opportunity.

“I don’t think we could ever live in an ordinary place again after living here, it’s just marvellous.”

The Tree House is for sale for £1,595,000 with www.themodernhouse.net

Ken’s top 10 tips for self-building:

Buy the best location you can find, and afford, – the build will cost the same wherever it is but the location will make all the difference.

Use an architect and put faith in them – they think about things in an odd way and can visualise the way stuff will be in a space; most people can’t do that.

That said, it is important to also know what you want and to be able to explain that to your architect, learn to talk their language.

Decide what it is you want to do and be confident about it – if you have a good scheme and a good ‘story’ about the building and what it is going to do, you will win planning permission.

Be visionary. The more you compromise and dilute your ideas the less successful the build will be.

Don’t scrimp and save on the materials, they’ll only be around 40 per cent of your final cost anyway, so it’s worth getting them right.

Don’t get carried away with kitchen designs, you’ve got to live with it – and cleaning is a big deal.

Learn to use software like Sketch Up so that you can try out designs for yourself.

If you can be on site during the build, you should. You will not get what you want if you are not there.

Don’t change your mind – stick with your plan, I drew all mine on Google Sketch Up.

 

The rise of stealth homes

Eidolon House in Highgate has been clad with mirrors
Eidolon House in Highgate has been clad with mirrors

With the government’s news that all of us will get the “right to build” in the new housing bill – obliging councils must do more to support self-builders, helping them to find suitable plots and making land available – there could be a new wave of innovative developments in the capital.

One of the biggest issues in London is trying to create housing in Conservation Areas and on awkward plots sensitively. The answer is hidden and disguised homes that don’t compromise the existing land- or streetscape, like the Tree House has done.

Zaha Hadid's Investcorp building at Oxford University
Zaha Hadid’s Investcorp building at Oxford University

Sitting opposite Highgate Cemetry and in a Conservation Area, Eidolon House, completed last year by Dominic McKenzie Architects, is thought to be the first mirror-clad house in London. Using polished stainless steel to clad the building and reflect the tree opposite, the building changes its hue with the seasons and time of day.

St-Antonys-College-by-Zaha-Hadid_dezeen_468_14

At the University of Oxford Zaha Hadid’s new Middle East Centre was conceived by the architect as a reflective tunnel suspended in space – the glass front reflects the existing Victorian buildings while the curved mirrored stainless steel sides reflect the sky, spires and trees that surround it. The result is bold and strikingly modern, yet recessive at the same time.

Trinity Crescent in Tooting Bec
Trinity Crescent in Tooting Bec

In Tooting Bec, Trinity Crescent is a new development of two homes that are hidden from view so that you wouldn’t even know they exist, despite each one offering more than 3,000 square feet of luxury living space. They are on the market from £2.25 million with www.featerstoneleigh.co.uk.

ALISON TYLER

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The Barbican, reborn

The stellar refurbishment of the Barbican’s Brutalist fourth tower proves that you can go back to the future, without creating something hackneyed or ersatz

Central London new developments generally don’t come with an iconic Grade II-listed building, mature gardens the size of a small park, ponds complete with ducklings, secure parking and cycle clubs, storage facilities, gyms, schools, crèches, a restaurant – oh, and Europe’s largest arts and cultural centre, on your doorstep. But then it would be hard to find anywhere quite like the Barbican.

This Brutalist Sixties development (which actually wasn’t finally completed until 1982) has come full-circle, as a new appreciation for the raw, bush-hammered concrete walls, industrial-chic Crittall doors and Mad Men-style architecture is back in vogue, and large-scale community-led developments have finally been recognised as the building model to strive for. As resident and architect Dave King says, “The Barbican’s architecture is ageless, generous and robust. But what you appreciate when you live here is how peaceful it is, even though you are in a crowded city.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 17.09.19

He’s right; as I visited on a sunny day last week, one resident was running the organic food shop on site, another gave us a friendly hello as he held open the garden gate, and several people were quietly enjoying the gardens, while others were actively getting their hands dirty in the wildlife garden. A flyer advertises a garden tour and talk by one of the estate’s oldest residents coming up soon. “If you want it, there is a really thriving community here that you can be part of,” says Tina Evans, group director at Frank Harris estate agent, who has been based on the Barbican estate for 16 years. With a community of 4,000 people, the Barbican is practically an urban village within the City of London.

“Some residents have been here since the beginning, and others move around trading up and down as there is such a diverse mix of housing here,” explains Evans. “Once people move in, they rarely move out, which is why the new flats are so exciting.”

The bespoke designed kitchens by Conran + Partners
The bespoke designed kitchens by Conran + Partners

The flats she’s talking about are in Blake Tower, the only tower that is not yet a residential building. The former YMCA building on Fann Street has been empty since the last students moved out in 2012, but now developer Redrow is in the process of gutting the insides of the 17-storey block to carve out 74 contemporary, art-inspired studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

The original 1960s architects were the internationally renowned Chamberlain, Powell and Bon, and today it is being sensitively restored and refurbished by Harper Downie, while the interiors will be reworked by another iconic architecture and interior design studio Conran and Partners. “We’ve been inspired by the historical, architectural and cultural characteristics of the Barbican to create a fresh, exciting and crafted design that has a modern heritage,” says Simon Kincaid, project director at Conran and Partners.

The terrazo bathroom at Blake Tower
The terrazo bathroom at Blake Tower

The design is all about celebrating and complementing the existing structure and the innovative, modernist original design from the Sixties. The dramatic spaces will be showcased with clean minimalist lines and delicate brass detailing, such as the screen that will divide the living room and the curved brass door handles. “We wanted to soften the Brutalism so that it feels warm, rich and soft,” says Brook Lloyd of Conran and Partners.

“Restoring an existing building presents its own challenges,” says Neil Ventin, the Health and Safety and Public Relations manager for McAleer Rushe, who are working on the tower. “For instance, we are completely demolishing the lift shaft piece-by-piece, then it will have to be redesigned and rebuilt to modern standards and to meet modern technology.” They are currently clearing the former student digs to make way for the open plan apartments that will replace them, and while the floors, internal walls and the windows will be replaced, much of the fabric of the building is protected and will remain.

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“We are saving and restoring the original balustrades, Crittall doors and glass screens in the communal hallways, and the original concrete will be restored and revealed where it was painted over or damaged over the years,” explains Ventin.

However, working with a building of such character also brings excitement, explains Redrow’s Managing Director, “Of course it is challenging but it’s not formulaic in the way that a new-build might be. It means we can be more creative and work more with the area around us.”

That inspiration is embodying in some of the apartments’ finer details, such as bathroom basins designed to match the curve of the Barbican buildings’ balustrades, and the same terrazzo and brass elements that are used within the Barbican Arts Centre.

It has also made for much larger apartments than usual, with some one-bed flats covering 87 square metres, compared to a typical 50 metres for a regular new build.

With such care and attention it’s clear that this legendary London landmark will live on for at least another half-century, while Conran will breathe new life into the apartments without turning them into bland “new-build” show homes. It’s a rare chance to buy a piece of Britain’s architectural and design legacy – and one that comes with a whole neighbourhood and cultural playground in place, too. It’s hard to imagine a less sterile antidote to your average new-build city pad. I’m sure Chamberlain, Powell and Bon would approve.

Prices from £650,000, www.blaketower.com

ALISON TYLER

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More Cheese Please!

Woohoo, It’s British Cheese Week! I do LOVE cheese, as anyone who’s seen me, with my Neal’s Yard Cheese bag, will know.

Neal's Yard Covent Garden
Neal’s Yard Covent Garden

So this week, it’s an opportunity to gorge on cheddar (the nation’s favourite cheese – 80 per cent of Brits say it’s their cheese of choice), slice into some stichelton, or stir some goats cheese into a salad.

Inside the Borough shop
Inside the Borough shop

For me, oat cakes, charcoal crackers and parmesan biscuits (I could sit and eat a packet of M&S parmesan biscuits in one sitting) are essential, as is quince paste.

The Cheeseboard in Greenwich
The Cheeseboard in Greenwich

I love our local shop, the Cheeseboard in Greenwich, and news that Champagne and Fromage is opening an outpost here this month has filled me with excitement.

The tempting Cheeseboard, Greenwich
The tempting Cheeseboard, Greenwich

In central London, Neal’s Yard Dairy, La Fromagerie and the French cheese van at Borough Market (literally a guy who drives across from Normandy each Friday) are my favourites – and you can sit down and eat in at the cafe at La Fromagerie, too.

The outside of La Fromagerie, Marylebone
The outside of La Fromagerie, Marylebone

Anyway, here’s a bit of cheese-based research designed to celebrate Great British Cheese Week, from Branston. The average Brit consumes a palatable four servings of cheese a week, and our favourites are, drum roll please:

La Fromagerie1. Cheddar,

2. Mozzarella,

3. Red Leicester,

4. Brie,

5.Parmesan,

6. Stilton,

7. Wensleydale,

8.Feta

9. Camembert

10.Cream cheese

ALISON TYLER

The fun of the fair

Just a little update, and a thank you really, to all my fabulous friends and supporters who came to the Blackheath Village Montessori summer fair on Saturday. I wish I’d taken more photos!

The weather gods were kind, and the sun shone on a really successful and enjoyable day, where we raised as much money as we could for Lewisham Food Bank.

I was in charge of cakes and coffees (because I’d secretly quite like to run a cafe!) and it was BUSY! But we took a record amount, so thank you to everyone who donated cakes, coffee, cups, and to all those who came and bought one, or two, or even six!