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Designer Space

London Portrait, 1989

by Geraldine Onslow

'Geraldine Onslow visits an architect's idyll in Belsize Park.'

'The publicity surrounding Prince Charles' blitz against the post-war development of London - moderism, carbuncles and the like - has been bad for architects. On the domestic front they are often accused of designing homes which have innovative designs but are uninhabitable.

'The house shown here is the home of architect Richard Nightingale, designed by him and his partner, Hugh Cullum. Richard bought his plot in Belsize Park five years ago; it was an infill site in a street of large Victorian villas. At the time it seemed that all his friends were buying derelict houses and restoring them and they were forever peering behind crumbling plasterwork or an ancient sink to discover more costly decay.

'So Richard Nightingale determined to start from scratch to find a site to fill - with a new building. Given that the house next door is a four-storey Victorian property, light years apart in style from his, the two seem to sit happily together. Planning constraints restricted the height of his house to the top porch of its lofty neighbour.

'The foundations had to be dug deep to achieve two storeys within the height restriction. The building has been designed to complement the older house and the windows, while far removed from a Georgian sash, are aligned in height and proportion. It is a small house with big ideas. There is nothing cottagey about its design, although it measures only 14' wide by 40' deep.

'Nightingale and Cullum wanted to create a generous feeling of space within this planning constraint. This they have achieved by designing a large, symmetrical, single-storey living room in the centre, from which all other areas feed off. This is capped by a large skylight.

'The kitchen at the front and the bedroom above have windows set at an angle to bring maximum light and to direct approaching visitors to the main entrance, which is at the side of the house. At the back, a curved double-height window creates maximum light and an easy boundary between the house and the small garden beyond.

'There are two bedrooms: the guest bedroom and bathroom are the only two enclosed rooms in the house. The main bedroom, like the next door study, is open to the balcony which surrounds the central space on the first floor.

'The kitchen is warm and functional: the sink and work surface are made of dark green moulded terrazzo flecked with red. The unit doors are of MDF with an oak veneer. The same look is carried through to the living area. The surfaces are finished with an inlaid strip of aluminium and edged with solid oak; the floor is made of polished green Cumberland slate and bordered with oak.

'The effect of the living-room floor is suprisingly warm - literally, because there is under-floor heating; the colour is rich and earthy. The effect of the stone is softened by a cracked glaze, but this hard, taut, no frills finish forms the character of the house and adds to the sense of the space.

'In creating such a huge hole in the centre of the house and losing so much potential floor area, the architects may have reduced an already restricted space. But the opposite is true. the spacious living room and the minimal study, dining and sleeping areas enhance this effect.

'Richard Nightingale is pleased with his house, both as his home and as an architectural exercise. He has created an unusual town house which is both masculine and comfortable. It has grandeur on a small scale and gives a lie to the old saying that architects design houses that they do not have to live in.'