The iceberg house opposite Hampstead Heath
- Credit: JOAS SOUZA | PHOTOGRAPHER
This contemporary Hampstead home is a lesson in building down rather than up with its magnificent basement.
At first glance, Langtry House on East Heath Road in Hampstead appears to be a fairly unassuming, modestly sized bungalow lying low behind wooden gates.
Get closer, however, and, like an iceberg, the house reveals its true bulk sitting unseen below the surface of the ground.
Built on the site of a former carpark the property, which is being joint marketed by Aston Chase and TK International, follows the logic that if you can’t build upwards, why not build down.
The house is entered on the deceptively discreet ground floor, which is faced with narrow brown bricks, punctuated with large, floor-to-ceiling glass windows. This floor contains a reception hall and master bedroom – complete with dressing room and en suite bathroom. So far, so low profile.
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Walk down the stairs, however, and the house opens out into a subterranean lair fit for a Bond villain, complete with high end finishes and up to the minute technology. One double-height feature wall is even finished in a rugged grey stone, recalling the fact that the room is built into the earth and resembling the sinister yet chic hideouts beloved of 1960s villains from Russia to Los Angeles.
Despite having been dug out of the ground, this lower floor is surprising light and airy thanks to smart use of a central void area and plenty of windows and glass panels in the ceiling.
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The open plan downstairs living space has a 25ft ceiling height in the impressive main area. Leading off this is a Poggenpohl kitchen and dining room, which has direct access to a central sun deck. A further two bedrooms also enjoy outside access.
Meanwhile, the architect has also taken advantage of the natural darkness of the underground living space with a soundproofed cinema, family television room, gym, wine cellar and plant room.
The project was overseen by Tony Gibber, the man responsible for hits by Bucks Fizz and Billy Ocean, as well as the original Top of the Pops theme tune and many of the house’s neighbours have a similar pop pedigree, with Boy George and Nick Mason from Pink Floyd counted among them.
Gibber, however, has made the leap from 50p pop factory hits to one of a kind £5million houses as a project manager.
He named this property after Victorian actress and society mistress, Lillie Langtry.
“I chose Langtry House because of Lillie Langtry’s association with Hampstead Heath,” says Gibber. “Her cousin, Philip le Breton, was Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works. This body looked after all the parks and open spaces of London in the 1870s and Philip himself was adamant that Hampstead Heath should remain a wild and uncultivated park for Londoners to visit and take fresh air within.
“Lillie and Philip were very close and Lillie often stayed with him at his home in Leighton House off Belsize Road, close to the Clifton Hotel in St John’s Wood where she would have secret trysts with the future Edward VII in the first half of the 1870s, when he was Prince of Wales.
“Lillie had the prince’s ear during that time and ‘coincidentally’ in 1875 it was agreed by the Board and the Prince of Wales that Hampstead Heath should indeed remain untouched, just as it remains today.”