Architecture: Rooms of their own

What does it look like inside the homes of those fashionable designers who create such uncompromising visions for their clients? Lisa Lovatt- Smith found out for her new book London Living. Here we look at three of them
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It took an architect as daring as Seth Stein to spot the potential in a singularly unprepossessing disused stable and builder's yard in Kensington. He decided that the two existing buildings which formed an L shape could be supplemented by another L-shaped structure of his own design, to create a rectangular house with a central Japanese courtyard overlooked by the living areas and gallery. Today, the house is quite magical. Splashed with vibrant pink and indigo in an otherwise undefiled powder white, it seems to belong more to California or Mexico than to London. The end result is thoroughly sensual - not a word one usually associates with minimalism.

Stein's iconoclastic design includes large spaces, bold washes of colour, organic shapes and a variety of textures from polished cement through frosted glass, to wood and ceramics. As darkness falls, it becomes apparent that the lighting has been thought out with elaborate thoroughness. From one side of the house to the other, through glass doors and huge windows, other rooms are visible, like a careful sequence of minimalist stage sets. The frosted facade glows pinkly, due to the Matisse-coloured wall behind it, looking excitingly odd from the street.

Ron Arad, his wife and two children have the basement, ground floor and garden of an Edwardian house in Belsize Park, north London. Its comfortable interior appears a million miles away from Arad's signature creations in cast iron and raw steel. The tough features that Arad brought to his clients' homes have given way in the 1990s to smoother more sophisticated products.

In his "English dream" of a home, the Israeli-born designer has done surprisingly little in the way of interior architecture: "Living spaces are already perfectly defined... the Victorians and Edwardians invented all that, and it is never questioned... It's so classically good, the way that it is, that it was not worth transforming." He knocked the ground floor into one large room and, as he has a deep-rooted aversion to curtains and all forms of blinds, he has installed sanded glass in the windows that face the road, "translucent rather than transparent". This is the only high-tech touch about the place - even the cornices have been left untouched. Most family life goes on in the kitchen which Arad installed in the main living space, a puzzle of a conventional room full of fantastically original furniture.

On Tom Dixon's CV it says "1981-4 - nightclub promotion and event organisation". It got him into designing furniture from bicycle handlebars, soup ladles and old frying pans. In 10 years, Dixon has progressed from constructing chairs out of domestic debris to what he terms "grown-up design". His pieces, in plastic and aluminium, raffia and rattan, are produced in Japan, by Capellini in Italy or by his own label, Eurolounge. His pieces are part of the permanent collections of all the important museums world-wide. More importantly there are Dixons in all the best drawing rooms.

Dixon, his two children, and their mother, Claudia Nella, live on the All Saints Road, west London, in the former site of his shop, Space. The flat is spread over three levels of a converted Victorian house, the original ground floor and basement being connected by a room he created by roofing over the yard. His family are used to living with the "not necessarily functional" prototypes of Dixon pieces, mixed with a sprinkling of 18th- century French furniture inherited from his French grandmother, who lived in Tunisia where Dixon was born. But he does get bored and says he changes everything "every couple of months".

`London Living', by Lisa Lovatt-Smith is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, price pounds 25

Arad style: from left, early 1970s sofa, side table made from an old dartboard mounted on a wrought-iron sewing machine stand; the "Tree Light", shaded bulbs on long, flexible tubing, was designed by Arad in 1983. In the living room, one of the famous "Rover" chairs designed by Arad in 1981; the painting, by Gabriel Kalsmer, is made up of abstract images punctured by large circles. Arad's "Lovely Rita" shelving system for Kartel, used for spices and kitchen utensils

Dixon style: far left, in the foreground, Dixon's "S" chair for Capellini; on the right his Loop bench in Philippine rattan; Pylon chair in background designed by Dixon for Capellini in 1991; the 1950s-inspired coffee table is a prototype called Spot, also by Dixon. Centre, Pylon chair and "taco" lamps, designed by a colleague. Dixon with his two children on the walkway above the main room

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