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Let there be light: a modern home illuminating the future of environmentally friendly living

PUBLISHED: 09:30 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 14:16 21 April 2017

The front elevation blends seamlessly into the street

The front elevation blends seamlessly into the street

FRENCH +TYE

This East Finchley property is not just innovative, it’s invisible. We take a nosey around the modern eco home.

The main living area is flooded with natural lightThe main living area is flooded with natural light

Leicester Road is like any many other streets in East Finchley. Just off the High Road, it is lined with semi-detached and terraced late-Victorian properties, some in red brick and others painted white, grey and pink. All seems very ordinary, so you’d be forgiven for not noticing one little property neatly slotted into the fabric about half way up the road.

This was the design of the creators from Openstudio Architects, founded by Jennifer Beningfield in 2006 and, until relatively recently, housed in Belsize Park. Turn around and walk back down Leicester Road one more time and you will notice that what used to be a somewhat dishevelled outbuilding wedged between the two adjacent properties, has been replaced by a narrow redbrick house, with two large windows fronting the façade. Although the property is undeniably a statement house, its exterior design is not obtrusive. “We wanted to do something contemporary but also something which is very sensitive to the street, so it completely disappears,” Beningfield says. “You don’t notice it.”

The sleek kitchen features Corian worktopsThe sleek kitchen features Corian worktops

The resulting five-bedroom, semi-detached property is quite different to the originally planned mock-Victorian structure first applied for. After a contemporary proposal was put in, the design was eventually won on appeal.

“When we went to the planning officer, he said, ‘you’re going to have a lot of trouble with the neighbours’, but we didn’t have trouble with the neighbours. The neighbours all really liked it,” says Beningfield. In fact, they liked it so much so that they wrote letters of support for the proposals. Maybe it was the seamless transition, a minimalist blending into the rest of the street which garnered support.

Minimalism itself is a theme which has a double meaning for the property. Minimising the environmental footprint of the house was a key part of the brief from the client-led project, an electrical engineer who began the work in March 2011. Designed with the professional couple in mind, “we wanted a house on a restricted footprint in London,” Beningfield explains, “that felt light and bright and generous, clean, joyous and calm, and that was contemporary but actually contextual as well.”

The rear facade is clad in charcoal Cembonit and peppered with windowsThe rear facade is clad in charcoal Cembonit and peppered with windows

As a result, the property was designed in accordance with passive sustainable principles to minimise energy requirements. It’s a feat of sustainability, with eco-friendly features running throughout the house. The rear façade stands out, glazed to maximise the intake of light and warmth from the south. It is clad in charcoal Cembonit, a durable fibre cement. The elevation is also stepped so as not to impeach on the sunlight received by neighbouring gardens. Natural materials span the house, such as Basalt stone flooring, limestone tiles and solid oak floors and stairs.

Yet eco-friendly needn’t mean backward, out-of-touch or devoid of mod cons. Underfloor heating warms the house, whilst clean-cut appliances and fittings are used throughout. The light, airy kitchen features a Corian worktop and integrated Miele and Bosch appliances, whilst the bathrooms host sanitary ware by Hansgrohe. The overall effect is one of smooth, sleek lines and raw natural elegance. “It makes the spaces seem much bigger, and it puts the emphasis on the light rather than fussy detailing.”

Light is rather a running theme of the property, and allowing light to permeate into all areas of the house was paramount to the sustainability of the building. A skylight at the top of the stars introduces brightness right through to the core of the property whilst large, triple glazed windows feature heavily along the garden façade to collect the sunlight for thermal efficiency. “It’s a wonderful thing to have lots of light in a house, but it’s also a smart thing to do in terms of how you use sunlight as energy in a property,” Beningfield explains.

So if sunlight is the perfect match for the fresh, natural feel of the open-plan home, what about when it gets dark? At night, the high-tech KNX integrated home automation system fosters a homely feel with controllable mood lighting, fitted where the walls meet the ceiling. The colour palette chosen allows the natural light to illuminate the house, with muted greys, light wood and clean, crisp white tones which will no doubt make the property feel radiant even on London’s more gloomy days. The result is that open plan, clean and crisp interiors don’t translate to a cold, hard atmosphere. There’s a snugness about the place which makes it feel effortlessly cosy.

This is in no small part a consequence of the narrowness of the property, which only makes the amount of natural light permeating the walls more impressive. The architects built the top part of the house using a pre-fabricated system made off site and built using structural insulated panels. The effect is to provide thermal insulation with minimum wall thickness, so important given the lack of space. Having said that, there’s still room to grow given that there’s a garden to the rear of the property and the lower ground floor remains unfinished to allow for personal amendments.

For an invisible house that nobody would think twice to look at when passing by on the street, it’s a remarkable property, both in design and execution. The recent RIBA Taylor Wimpey Project 2020 Open Design award won by Openstudio Architects is tantamount to the design skill and environmental innovation of the architects.

Leicester Road is marketed by The Modern House and is on the market at £1,495,000.

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