Paul Interview Part Two: Would the Magic Be Lost?

Monday, October 24, 2016

After years of living in the same Highgate house, Paul and his wife felt love at first site for a house in a quiet cul-de-sac just half a mile away. It was clear that a lot of work would have to be done to bring it up to modern standards, but they didn’t want to sacrifice the friendly atmosphere that drew them to the house in the first place. It’s now been a year since the project was completed, so we caught up with Paul to talk about his unique new home.

Click here to read part one.

What did you want to achieve with the renovation?

As I said, the house had a great presence and a friendly feel and we wanted to preserve that even though we were totally changing the layout. DGA did a very good job on that. We wanted to open everything up more and let in more light without it feeling too grand, which could have easily happened as it’s a very large house.

What was important in the change of the layout was a feeling that you could flow through the rooms, which would make getting around day to day more pleasant but also be fantastic for big social gatherings, which we like to hold often. In the old layout, everything branched off from a hallway, so every room was a dead end.

Now we have a central hub where all the practical things are – the utility room, the cloak room and loo – and all the rooms go around it in a circle. You can walk uninterrupted through the entire floor, and when you open all the doors it becomes one giant space but still segmented into sections with their own atmosphere and function.

We also needed the house to be wheelchair friendly. This was obviously a sensitive subject but also very important in terms of design and future proofing the house, but all it took was one conversation with Michael and we never had to mention it again. He took it into account through the whole process, making sure the floor from the kitchen to the terrace is flush, that there’s room for a wheelchair to move around the future, that there’s a lift installed discretely.

He never raised the reason why he was doing something, he just got on with it without making a big issue out of it.

Was there anything about the new design that surprised you?

The room with the bay window was originally very dark because an extension had been built beside it which blocked off most the light. DGA moved the entire bay window forward to expand the room and fill in the awkward L shape the house had before. I never realised how good a bay window actually was. What I thought was going to be the dark library is now a very bright library.

There’s also the kitchen, which is in the new extension. The original extension was too small for the rest of the house, as soon as John walked in he could tell it wasn’t to the right proportions. The new extension spans the length of garden side of the house, so there’s enough room for an open plan kitchen, dining and sitting space.It opens up directly onto the terrace and garden and has Crittal windows which match with the New York style of the garden, which has a slightly overgrown urban look inspired by The High Line, one of my favourite places there. It has a different vibe to the rest of the house because it’s new. To be honest, we could live in the room. We still don’t have furniture for the rest of the rooms but it hardly matters because we spend so much time in there!What advice do you have for people considering a similar project?

Make sure you use an architect. It can be very hard to think of the bigger picture when you’re being thrown constant decisions, so it’s important to have someone who takes the time to walk around the building with you and visualise what the finished product will be, so that you can go through the finer details like electrical points and furniture layouts with that context.

The other thing is make sure you get a really good builder, that’s just as important as getting the right architect. John recommended Galower Build and they’ve ensured what we wanted in finish and feel and what DGA had designed was actually implemented. They got on well with the neighbours and would do odd jobs for them like fixing guttering. We didn’t have a single complaint over an 18 month build.

I did try and persuade them to do our new house in the Lake District as well, but that’s a five and a half hour commute there and back – I don’t think they’ll do that!