Home Truths: Starting from scratch

Cheryl Markosky meets the architect Michael
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The Independent Online

Architect Michael Gold and his wife and partner Wendy Lyhne have transformed a vacant lot into an unusual contemporary house that melds easily with Chelsea's period property

Architect Michael Gold and his wife and partner Wendy Lyhne have transformed a vacant lot into an unusual contemporary house that melds easily with Chelsea's period property

When my wife Wendy first saw 19 Mossop Street, it was just a 29-foot gap between the Admiral Codrington pub and a four-storey office block. We were incredibly lucky, as it is very rare to find a blank space to build on in central London. She just spotted the For Sale sign on the fence. It had been a cheap restaurant in a fashionable part of Chelsea; the owners knocked it down in 1999 with the intention of rebuilding, but had a change a heart and decided to sell. We wanted to live in a working city. So here was an opportunity to build a family house literally from the ground up. Many contemporary buildings in London are wacky for their own sake, but as an architect my challenge was to create a home that fitted in with the rest of the street, would work as my office and be a home for our five children.

"Building the house took a year. The site is only 29 by 29 feet. There are a number of commercial buildings in the area, like Conran, Jigsaw, Joseph and Chanel, that use plate glass exteriors, so we decided to build a glass-fronted, four-storey house. Because of the classical proportions, some passers-by think it's a conversion. In fact, it's all brand new.

"We have a commercial lift in the house big enough to accommodate an armchair. It is currently painted sky blue with a table and chair and a place for biscuits and whisky in case of breakdown. My kids' friends think it is cool – they ride up and down in it all the time. I commute from my bedroom on the first floor down to the front door to collect the papers, back up to have my breakfast on the top floor, then back to my office. We love bussing things to someone on another floor and, with the doors open, the lift becomes part of the room for a while. It is much more fun than we ever imagined.

"The top floor is a large family dining room and kitchen running the full width and depth of the house, leading on to a roof terrace with a playground surface and a small pool for the kids. They love cycling on their trikes around this whole space. We have used very inexpensive grey linoleum throughout, most of the walls are brilliant white, doors and woodwork are all different shades of grey. The only exception is the children's bedrooms with a blue floral print.

The dining area has a high curved ceiling, a real old log fireplace, flowered sofa and a big Italian stainless steel fridge. There are no high level cupboards on the kitchen walls. Instead, we use big rolling drawers for china, glass and even rubbish. Cupboards would have turned it into a kitchen and it would stop feeling like a living room. Our Lacanche Chateau cooker has large gas and electric ovens. There are stainless steel worktops everywhere. We use under-floor warm water heating throughout and all the windows have white blackout roller blinds.

"The bathroom has ledges and recesses, a large sensual bath, low sinks for the children and taller ones for the adults. We use a system of air-cooling because there are no windows to open. Tall doors throughout the house give a sense of height and scale. My office on the first floor has a separate spiral staircase leading up to it from the entrance hall, so I can be quite self- contained. All the stairs are made of oiled mahogany with plain steel banisters. For storage, we use freestanding antique French armoires. I have a shop that does them up and paints them grey to look as if they've come from French hotel bedrooms.

"We have a huge glass front door and large solid door that swings across it. At the side, there is a double garage with a resin floor that could easily be used as another room. The glass façade at the front of the house actually sits about eight inches in front of the masonry wall; the gap is just big enough for the kids to get round it. The openings in the front wall have the proportions of a Georgian five-bay town house. It's very unusual, but the neighbours seem to like it. People who live in traditional buildings in nearby Knightsbridge mostly give it the thumbs-up. I planted a large plane tree in front of the house that protects the glass from too much sun and heat in the summer and works as a visual screen. From across the street, because all the window spaces appear to be "open" behind the single glass wall, the building takes on some of the characteristics of a doll's house.

"The environment locally is much nicer now that this house is here. It's very quiet and there are advantages and disadvantages in not having neighbours. We use the pub next door as a takeaway and the Conran shop café round the corner does soup and toast for £2. Or if you want to splash out, you can buy a T-shirt from Jill Sander for £215. The house was only finished last October. We weren't expecting twins, so now we need a garden. It would be great to start again with an empty site to build on. This is a bit like living in a Manhattan-style house and it would suit a particular type of person. You don't have to build massive blocks in the city. To achieve the same density, you can build a house like this."

Gold Lyhne House at 19 Mossop Street is on the market at £2.85m and is available through John D Wood, 020-7352 1484