INTERIORS: A FIRST CLASS HOME DELIVERY

What is a girl to do with pounds 750,000 to spend on her pied-a-terre? Forget about a bijou pad in Chelsea, says David Redhead, for the same money you could have a derelict building in Notting Hill and call in the Scandinavians
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The Independent Culture
Never mind that the odds on your lottery numbers coming up are prob-ably marginally worse than some forgotten maiden aunt leaving you a fortune. Will you indulge me by playing the over-mortgaged Londoner's favourite daydream game for a moment or two? All you do is imagine you have all the cash you need to buy the London home that you've always wanted. I don't mean loads of money, you understand, just a million or two.

So what do you fancy going for? A bijou cottage in Chelsea? A mansion flat in Mayfair? A Georgian terrace in Hampstead? Appealing as any of them may sound, if you're a young and thrusting member of today's urbane media elite, you're probably already dismissing such conventional trophies of "I've made it" smartness as hopelessly out of date or just plain boring.

The fact is that in the smarter bits of inner-city London today, vernacular cosiness no longer exerts its traditional iron grip on English popular taste. Wealthy urban trendsetters now want their homes to come with a tougher, more streetwise edge. That's why, if you really want to state your credentials as a member of the fin de siecle in-crowd you'll go for a home like the two bedroomed, two storey, foursquare pounds 750,000 house that designer Gunnar Orefelt has just created for a young west London painter.

At first sight, you may wonder where all the money went. Set in a cul- de-sac amidst a tatty streetscape of council blocks and obsolete factories and warehouses, the undistinguished brick building - once a GPO sorting office - is only rescued from anonymity by the light that bathes its facade with a mysterious lilac, night-time glow. But though the exterior may not exactly look desirable don't be deceived. Its location on the fringes of ultra-trendy Notting Hill has turned this crumbling corner of west London into big time real estate. The area recently overtook Mayfair as London's priciest boom-time hotspot. And the growing trendiness of the warehouse conversion has made its out of use workshops and factories some of the hottest properties in town. The tumbledown dairy opposite the Orefelt house is now attracting plenty of interest from residential developers at a price of more than pounds 1m.

What these gritty urban relics are supposed to provide is light, space and ready-made industrial character - domestic assets increasingly prized by modern-minded Dinkies (dual income, no kids). With its full-height, eight-metre roof and its no-nonsense steel roof trusses, the old sorting office has all three in spades.

Given their design heritage, you might have expected Swedish-born Orefelt and his Norwegian project architect, Knut Hovlund to have come up with something distinctly restrained and Scandinavian: all cool airiness and hard edged grandeur. But Orefelt's single-minded client vetoed anything so conventional. "The brief was straightforward - two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a painting studio, but some people you work for influence you more than others," Orefelt says. "She had incredibly strong views about what she did and didn't want."

What this client wanted, according to Orefelt was something "warmer and more frivolous" than a typical warehouse conversion. The obvious way of adapting a large industrial space into a home is to build a mezzanine at the back for the bedrooms, kitchen and bathrooms, with a double-height living-room serving as the front-of-house set piece. But here the plan has been reversed. Step beyond the heavy wooden entrance doors and you find yourself in a "hall" between two free standing "boxes" built into the space. Corridors and a staircase lead left and right but your natural impulse carries you straight ahead into the open spaces beyond, a terrazzo- floored room which turns out to be a top lit painting workshop and studio.

It's a bit disorienting if you're looking for the living-room, but the architects argue that the plan has its own logic. "The double-height space was always intended to be a studio," explains Orefelt. "It's at the back, visitors don't have to wade through all the mess and clutter to get into the house." The layout was also calculated to intrigue. "It feels like a Chinese puzzle," explains Hovlund. "It constantly throws up new surprises."

Retracing your steps back into the hall and ascending up into the living spaces you start to understand what Hovlund means by "surprise". The restraint of the pale grey entrance hall prepares you to expect an understated interior. But on top of the box, these neutral tones and the elegant built-in furniture become the backdrop for a showy post-modern showcase. Among the kitsch connoisseur must-haves in the mezzanine living space are a vast sofa covered with leopardskin patterned fabric; a rug decorated with Snow White and the seven dwarves; even a cuddly full-size dog sculpture by Jeff Koons. Adding to the technicolour extravagance is the built-in divider that separates this "room" from the kitchen. In dazzling yellow formica this monolithic slab by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass looks a bit like an oversized Lego model.

I'm beginning to get the feeling that this is a house built for having a good time. "It's designed to party," enthuses Hovlund. "You can pipe music through any of 16 speakers dotted around the house. We even built in a DJ position." True exhibitionists may enjoy dancing on the rooftop sun terrace - a space that's directly overlooked by residents of the adjoining tower block.

Clearly you'd have to be an extrovert to make the most of this place. But what if the hostess with the mostest wants to be alone? Hovlund says that, if necessary, she can make a tactical withdrawal to the bedrooms. Con-cealed inside the box below the living-room and kitchen this "private" part of the house includes "old-fashioned" bathrooms with "salvaged" suites in banana yellow and aqua blue, a master bedroom furnished with Italian classics of the 1950s and the sort of dressing-room - complete with a stippled glass showcase wardrobe and dirty clothes chute to the basement - that any fashion victim would die for.

So what do you reckon? Could you be persuaded to trade in your dated domestic ideal for a Nineties fun palace for the girl who has everything? I admit I'm tempted by the ground floor snooker room - and especially by the beer-filled Fifties Frigidaire. I have my doubts, though. I don't want to sound too middle aged but if I ever do get round to building myself a million-pound dream home, I think I'll expect it to have rather more than two bedrooms. !

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