Seeing double: the house that was so good they built it twice
09:30 17 February 2017
What do you do when your client sells their new home before they have even moved in? Do it all again, but differently, says Stuart McLauchlan of SHH Architects
Repeat custom is the mark of a good architect but Stuart McLauchlan, associate director of super prime specialists SHH Architects, probably wasn’t expecting to hear from one set of clients quite so soon.
Having completed a home for a South African family with two young children in West Hampstead, McLauchlan was probably looking forward to an invite to their housewarming party.
Instead, whilst getting the house valued for a mortgage, the estate agent made the client an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“His wife came back from holiday with the children and he had sold the brand new house they hadn’t moved in to yet,” McLauchlan explains.
“So that is how we landed the second project so soon after the first one!”
With the pressure on to find another home to renovate, he accompanied the clients on several site visits before settling on a Highgate plot that actually suited them even more than the first had.
“They were looking for something more horizontal and this house was perfect.”
Time and budgets were tight, but McLauchlan hails from the same hometown as the clients, so he understood their desire to transport a slice of South African-style living to Highgate.
“They wanted a lovely place that made them feel a bit like they were in South Africa with a lot of indoor / outdoor space so on warm days they could spill out in to the garden from the house,” he says. “It is a comfortable space that feels like home, nothing too grandiose or crazy.”
There are no isolated spaces in the main living area, as the clients were keen to avoid a stuffy formal dining room that would only be used on high days and holidays.
Instead the open plan reception area encompasses easy living and dining areas, whilst a sliding screen can be drawn across the kitchen to allow catering staff privacy for large scale entertaining.
Rather than simply produce a redux of the first project, McLauchlan went back to the drawing board.
“We didn’t replicate anything from the old house except the timber flooring, but we knew what they liked so what we produced interior design wise was on the money.”
Understated luxury to facilitate easy living was the order of the day.
“It wasn’t overly complicated, it wasn’t overly lavish. Most of the walls were just painted to show of their art collection,” he explains. “We knew where all big pieces were going when we were designing it.”
Along with the natural wood flooring throughout they chose cream stone for the entrance hall and staircase, whilst three large slabs of quartzite make up the kitchen floor.
For the kitchen McLauchlan installed a large back painted glass splashback, which the clients found doubled perfectly as a whiteboard.
“They use it for scheduling all the kids’ movements and dog walking. Their whole life plan is on there being constantly updated,” he says. “I have since adopted it to use on other projects.”
The finished style is contemporary without being too flashy or modern.
In a nod to the 1970s neo-Georgian style of the original house they included oversize cornicing and skirting boards, but apart from the façade the house is essentially a new build.
“We rebuilt everything from scratch. By the end there were only a few bricks left of the original.”
Compared to the project in the enormous garden, the main house was a breeze.
In a feat of supreme technical engineering a heated swimming pool sits in a glass structure, which had to be sunk below ground level in order not to disturb their neighbour’s sightline.
“That pool wing is a technical marvel,” says McLauchlan. “It was the smallest part of the project but the most complicated.”
Overall they managed to create 8,000sq ft of accommodation, where the house that had previously been on the site had a mere 5,000sq ft.
Completed in 2012 in just two years, the contract work cost a cool £2.8 million, although in today’s market McLauchlan reckons you would be lucky to do the same for less than £5 million.
For McLauchlan it is a rare opportunity to show off his work. Due to his personal relationship with the clients they are happy for their home to be displayed in the press and on the SHH website, but most of his clients require absolute privacy.
“The day we get the projects we sign a non disclosure agreement,” says McLauchlan. America, Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Nigeria, Moscow, Italy France; the list reads as a catalogue of super prime property destinations.
Operating at such a high level of the market, you’d think these ultra private clients would demand absolute secrecy for security reasons. In reality they’re much more worried about keeping their bespoke designs on lockdown.
“Everyone thinks people are going to nick their ideas.” McLauchlan explains.
“It is frustrating,” he concedes. “All of our best projects are unfortunately not allowed to be shown to any body.”
Instead, SHH has to rely on word of mouth – and returning clients, of course.