Highgate hideaway

A dull mock-Tudor house in an exclusive North London lane joins the celeb class after a see-through makeover. Penny Jackson reports
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The Independent Online

The full picture of just how unusual this north London property is becomes clear as soon as you enter. A large, light-filled entrance hall opens into a modern and minimalist interior that manages at the same time to be a warm family home. A wall of sliding glass doors leads into the garden at the back of the house, and even from the front door your eye slides down the limestone floor out onto the green of the lawn. Glance up and you find yourself looking over a screen of tall bamboos to Hampstead Heath.

The full picture of just how unusual this north London property is becomes clear as soon as you enter. A large, light-filled entrance hall opens into a modern and minimalist interior that manages at the same time to be a warm family home. A wall of sliding glass doors leads into the garden at the back of the house, and even from the front door your eye slides down the limestone floor out onto the green of the lawn. Glance up and you find yourself looking over a screen of tall bamboos to Hampstead Heath.

This is the first secret of the house in Fitzroy Park - its location in one of Highgate's secluded 'celebrity lanes' where your neighbours could well include Sting, Annie Lennox and more recently George Michael. For this reason, of course, the house enjoys extraordinary privacy and almost rural seclusion. It was its position that its current owners saw as exceptional, not the original house itself.

On moving back to London after time spent in New York and Hong Kong, the owners wanted what could not be found there -- the feel of a weekend house seven days a week. Their search narrowed down to a mock-Tudor house they disliked but in a spot they knew they couldn't better. Planners would not allow them to demolish it and start from scratch, so they settled for keeping the facade and the original roof line while knocking down the back of the house to create a home where the outside space was as connected to the inside as far as it was possible.

"Having had a house in California we were terrified of northern living in northern light. So the key to this was carving a hole in the roof and putting in skylights and also an open track staircase. The main feature of the old house was a particularly dreary and dark oak panelled lobby, which we removed and replaced with clean white open space; we don't even have skirting boards," the owner says.

Since living the best part of the year outside could only be a fond memory in London, they came up with the next best thing - a huge 48ft-long room they call the "Egreat" room which opens directly out into one of the gardens. Slightly lower than the rest of the house, its ceiling height feels particularly generous.

But it is the palette of thick glass, limestone and maple throughout that unifies the minimalist design while bringing a sunny warmth to the house. The glass, used on every surface, is slab glass rather than sheets, so the strong green colour shows through. The play between the Vicenza limestone and the maple was carefully thought out, without appearing contrived. A long glass-topped unit, for instance, partly divides the kitchen from the (glass) dining table in the great room, but also doubles as a serving area.

This is a house where guests can easily be swallowed up, but open-plan living doesn't mean the family has no means of escape. Two smaller rooms, currently used as studies, could be used as extra sitting rooms and the children have space for studying. "If they want privacy they can have it. Although it is wonderful to have a space where we interact as a family, they would hate it if they didn't have their own space to withdraw to", explains their father.

On the first floor the main bedroom is 34ft long with a balcony that runs across the back of the house. Adjoining it are a large bathroom with steam room and two dressing rooms. Maple and glass have been used throughout.

When the house was rebuilt, all the storage space was designed for a specific purpose. "Some people ask how you can live without clutter, but you just get rid of it like weeding a flower bed and then you are left with what is important". In the kitchen, deep drawers and larders lined from ceiling to floor with glass shelves do away with the need for wall cabinets. "At one glance you can see what you have," say the owners.

This holds true for the house as a whole. From one end you can see across to the glass doors leading to the swimming pool and gym, which sit in an L-shape to the house. The wall of glass alongside the pool opens into the garden. "We use the pool all year round. We put underfloor heating in the house so on a cold, frosty morning we can roll out of bed and run through the house to the pool."

Outside the garden has almost a cloistered feel and is so sheltered that you can sit there from early spring onwards. The two gardens, of almost equal size are divided by the house with the pool on one side and annexe on the other. This self-contained three-bedroom unit has done service to au pairs, housekeepers and a regular contingent of guests from abroad.

The owners are themselves intending to spend more time abroad, and need a smaller base in London. The house is on the market with Glentree International at an asking price of £4m. Jeremy Gee, from the estate agents, describes it as being of a truly Californian style but extremely flexible. "It is in a unique position and what hits you is that it is completely private and secure, in its own little world."

When the current owners had their hopes for a completely new house dashed by the planners, the alternative seemed inferior. Although they still regret that a budding young architect missed an exciting opportunity, the end result has been far from second best.

"We have been thrilled and the juxtaposition of old and new has worked extraordinarily well. We set out to find a country house in town and that is what we have, next to a huge managed estate. How else would you describe Hampstead Heath?"

Glentree International: 020 8458 7311

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