Centre court: how courtyard architecture can transform your living space

PUBLISHED: 09:00 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:59 23 March 2017

The courtyard at Hampstead Lane allows views of the adjacent rooms

The courtyard at Hampstead Lane allows views of the adjacent rooms


Are courtyards only the preserve of a warm, sunny climate? Belsize Architects’ Shahriar Nasser says no

The courtyard of the Pink Mosque in Shiraz, Iran The courtyard of the Pink Mosque in Shiraz, Iran

In the metropolis it can be hard at times to find a quiet space to take in the fresh air. Many north Londoners are turning to courtyards as a means by make the most of their space without compromising on style or access to the outdoors.

By definition a courtyard is an area enclosed by walls or buildings but left open to the sky, an arrangement that lends itself perfectly to homeowners looking to carve out niches of serenity in the urban sprawl.

Shahriar Nasser of Belsize Architects explains that the courtyard has a long and illustrious heritage in Europe and further afield.

Quads in Oxford and Cambridge have been established for centuries, and many European towns and cities were laid out around residential courtyards.

The interior courtyard at Regents Park Nash Terrace by Belsize Architects The interior courtyard at Regents Park Nash Terrace by Belsize Architects

“Courtyard typology was heavily in use in 18th and 19th century French, Italian and Spanish buildings,” he says. “The courtyard became a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the town.”

Nasser found his passion for courtyard architecture whilst studying in Tehran. Wandering its streets, he was inspired by the ancient Persian architecture all around him.

“The discovery of old houses was fascinating,” he says., “Walking around going through narrow, winding lanes and coming across portal entrances from time to time. You felt you had reached a destination.”

Once inside, surprises abounded. Often courtyards would have been planted with fragrant citrus trees or plants bearing pomegranates.

A Mediterranean feeling interior courtyard at 12 Pages Lane by Kirkwood McCarthy A Mediterranean feeling interior courtyard at 12 Pages Lane by Kirkwood McCarthy

The Iranian climate necessitated this architectural style.

“In the centre of Iran the climate is harsh,” explains Nasser.“ Exposed outdoors areas are inhospitable in dusty desert winds. “By having a courtyard you could remove the wind and create warmer areas as the heat can be retained,” he explains.

Although no shamal winds blow through Hampstead and Highgate, the design ideal translates beautifully to the British climate, where a courtyard can allow year-round use of the outside space.

Even if you are one of the lucky cohort to own property with a large garden space, our temperamental island climate renders them obsolete for much of the year.

A conservatory or the hugely popular ‘glass box’ style extension is one way to bring the outside in, but only a courtyard can give you access to fresh air within the sheltered confines of walls.

No wonder homeowners are turning to courtyard designs to make better use of their precious outside space.

“You can create your own micro climate,” Nasser explains. “You might be able to sit out in the middle of March, whereas in an open garden it would be unpleasant.”

A courtyard can keep an outdoor area cool during the summer months, whilst sheltering it from chill winds in the colder months and retaining heat absorbed from the winter sun.

For once in London, it’s not just all about the weather. Courtyards can have an important social function to play within a home.

“I think it creates a better connectivity and healthier social life within,” says Nasser. “Courtyards make community, they make us have to face each other and not ignore each other.”

At Hampstead Lane, a courtyard was installed between the bedrooms and family room to allow views of the adjoining rooms, including the indoor swimming pool.

“The courtyard itself functions 
as a room,” he explains. If you’re hosting a party, a courtyard space can be covered to provide and extra space for socialising whatever the weather.

After extensive research, Fiona Kirkwood of Kirkwood McCarthy also came to the conclusion that courtyards are the perfect solution for creating outside spaces that are completely functional.

“We have explored a variety of mechanisms to help clients improve the relationship of house with garden,” she says. She experimented with green walls in dense urban spaces and double height glazing to overcome limited daylight, but in the end courtyards come up trumps.

“Courtyards treat the outdoors as a room of equal value to an internal room,” she explains.

Courtyards don’t necessarily have to be outside, either. On Regents Park Nash Terrace, Nasser modernised a listed property by integrating a courtyard into the interior of the basement. The original building was set slightly apart from a newer rear extension, with a small landscaped area filling the void.

“The reason for this is to let them both breathe and see each other, and have a dialogue with each other,” explains Nasser. The natural light that now floods the basement has the added benefit of a positive impact on wellbeing. “It creates a feeling of calm and joy.”

With increasing numbers of homeowners choosing to improve their existing homes instead of moving, we predict that integrated courtyard spaces are only set to become more popular. 
As for Nasser, the search for the ideal courtyard continues. “I am yet to design my dream courtyard building,” he says

Case Study: An Interior Courtyard

A semi-detached property in Muswell Hill was transformed by an interior courtyard.

The project on Pages Lane was Highly Commended in the New London Architecture 2017 Improve, Don’t Move awards.

Architects Kirkwood McCarthy were faced with a dark and introverted plan, typical of Victorian properties, and tasked with creating an extension that wouldtowhich opened up the interior living space without compromising on the original structure.

“The courtyard is critical to the successful extension and reconfiguration of this home,” saysid Fiona Kirkwood, director at Kirkwood McCarthy.

“It preserved the daylight and outlook of the original front living rooms and establishes a garden sequenced view through the house that has a magical dappled light quality from the Acer tree.”

The design instils clarity between the original and new elements, widening. The effect is to widen the interior space and makinge the most of the southern garden aspect.

“Centralised within the ground floor layout, the courtyard structures a visual interconnectivity between the various living and garden spaces,” says Kirkwood.

With a monochromatic palette integrating graphite zinc and black steel with original brick and timber panelling, the effect is one of synergy between old and new, a seamless flow between the garden and interior, and a holistic sense of space and light.

Property search

e.g. Oxford or NW3
Powered by Zoopla

Other Hampstead and Highgate property news

Transaction numbers dip for UK but Hampstead is bouncing back

Despite a rollercoaster year and a national dip in transactions Hampstead estate agents are reporting the return of big deals

Cuddle up with Paddington Bear in this one bedroom flat on Chalcot Crescent

A one bedroom apartment on the pretty in pastel Primrose Hill street home to Paddington Bear is on the market with Knight Frank

Need a bigger mortgage? Buy an eco home

Homes with higher EPC ratings could offer buyers bigger mortgages says new report, but the Highgate Society Sustainable Homes Group has raised concerns that the EPC system is flawed

Barretts Grove: Stokey house with ‘wicker basket’ balconies is bookies’ choice for UK’s best new building award

Bet your bottom dollar on this home in Stoke Newington, now the bookies’ favourite to win RIBA’s prestigious Stirling Prize.

Dartmouth Park area guide: pubs, schools and family homes

Your guide to all the things to do in Dartmouth Park, including the best restaurants, pubs, schools and cultural activities in this corner of NW5. PLUS our guide to property in the area

Hot property in Dartmouth Park

Our top three include a five bedroom, listed home, a period flat and a ground floor garden flat with a cottage feel

Comment: Email trails tell house hunting horror tales

Even though rents are supposed to be dropping, reliance on emails and extortionate tenant fees makes house hunting a nightmare

Green light for Dartmouth Park house with floating kitchen

Amos Goldreich Architecture has been granted pemission to build this unusual extension project in a conservation area

Proportion of overseas landlords halves, but Hampstead may buck trend

Stamp duty and uncertainty hits overseas investors the buy-to-let market, but in American and Russian interest in Hampstead property has held

Doctor Who’s who: why the series’ stars love Muswell Hill and Crouch End

Jodie Whittiker may be the first woman to play Dr Who, but she’s not the first Time Lord to live in north London

Property of the Week: a new Arts and Crafts style development in Hampstead Garden Suburb

Set within a private residents’ courtyard these six new houses and 39 apartments have been executed in a classic local 19th century architectural style

Floral decor: 3 fresh-as-a-daisy interiors looks

Make rooms look blooming lovely with floral designs guaranteed to grow on you...

In a bind about bindweed?

Bindweed is one of the most difficult of weeds to eradicate - but there are ways to stop it strangling your plants

Haringey tipped as one of top ten for house price growth

Portico has revealed that Haringey is poised to be one of the hottest areas for house price growth in the next four years as developers eye up the next target for gentrification

Four of top ten Metropolitan police property sell off in north London

The Metropolitan police have sold off £1 billion worth of property in the past five years including in Hampstead, Highgate, St John’s Wood, Marylebone and Golders Green

The way we lived: an interactive tour of our local domestic history

From Golders Green in 1910 to 1960s Highgate, take an virtual reality tour of 400 years of London’s domestic style at the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton

Camden to have £7 million investment in affordable homes

The Mayor has today announced 335 new affordable homes to be built in Camden as part of £1.7 billion deal with local authorities and housing associations

Hornsey area guide: shops, restaurants, pubs, library and schools

Your guide to all the things to do in Hornsey, including the best restaurants, shops, pubs, schools and local history. PLUS our guide to property in the area.

Hot properties in Hornsey

A garden flat, modern one bed apartment and a striking end of terrace complete with turrets make up our top three in Hornsey

Got wood: inside the V&A’s new plywood exhibition

In a world-first exhibition, plywood is placed under the microscope for an in-depth look at the material that’s full of surprises.

Bank of England scrutinises long term mortgage lenders

PRA cautioned against a return to pre-2007 antics and warned long term mortgages could be storing up problems for the future

Next station: the Paddington Basin development including a gym, primary school and a hotel

Paddington Basin has long been in the shadow of the King’s Cross redevelopment, until now

Collective thinking: discover the new app that’s disrupting the way we rent

Sick of the stress of searching for a private rental property? There’s an app for that. Meet the St John’s Wood husband and wife team behind The Urban Collective

Comment: Roll up, roll up, the most frustrating show on Earth

Renting property in the circus of London is an eternally irritating game of hook a duck

Up, up and away: how to save Camden’s green spaces

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has urged London’s councils to build upwards rather than destroy the capital’s much loved green spaces

Kilburn offers the most choice for renters

8 per cent rise in rental stock matches 8 per cent fall in asking rents in a competitive market, but Kilburn comes top of the polls for supply

Easy does it: house price growth eased 1 per cent in June

House price growth slowed last month to the lowest annual rate since May 2013 as effect of stagnating wages and stamp duty on second homes bites

Property of the Week: A Grade II listed Georgian Terrace in Dartmouth Park

This five bedroom family home on Grove Terrace just moments from Parliament Hill is on the market for £2.4 million

Review: Ornament is crime celebrates our Modernist architectural heritage

In a much needed re-evaluation of Modernist architecture, Ornament is Crime celebrates the enduring architectural legacy of the last century. Frankie Crossley speaks to co-author Matt Gibberd.

Inside Bill Oddie’s Hampstead garden

Birdwatcher Bill Oddie on his weird, wacky and wonderful garden full of Disney memorabilia, gorillas and black magic

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

2016 © Archant Community Media Ltd

Terms and conditions | Cookie policy | Jobs at Archant