Property: Home grown by grand design: How did they manage to fit so much into Stratford Studios? Extremely tastefully, says Anne Spackman

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The Independent Online
From the outside, No 8 Stratford Studios looks like the stationmaster's house at Frinton-on-Sea in Essex. Its walls of small, dark brick stand four square against the march of time, a suitable backdrop for the Morris 1000 which for so many years sat outside.

When you look at the house, it is impossible to imagine how everything fits in: three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a spacious kitchen and dining-room, a huge studio roof with two galleries and a conservatory. Is this some kind of Tardis?

Well, yes and no. It is unashamedly modern, from the few pieces of furniture down to the tiniest fitting. But whereas Dr Who blinded you with stainless-steel science, this house offers the more subtle surprises of light, space and depth.

This is a far cry from a few years ago, when it was owned by an elderly female piano teacher, keeper of the Morris 1000, who had two grand pianos in the main, studio room. The room itself was surrounded by a warren of dark passages and stairways untouched since the Forties.

When the present owners, a young banking couple, bought the house, it was clearly in need of renovation. It was not until they uncovered the damp behind the rotten interior walls that they realised they would have to strip it back to basics.

Together with an architect, Les Thorne, who had worked for one of their colleagues, they planned the grand scheme. Bold ideas often collapse for lack of nerve or money. The owners had plenty of both; where they looked like coming unstuck was with the planners.

'They tried to list the interior,' Les Thorne says, incredulously. 'It was very dark and oppressive, people used to think it was haunted.

'A lot of planning officers only want to know one thing: is it original? If the answer is yes, it's good. Aesthetics don't come into it.'

The architect's over-riding aim was to bring light and interest into the building. 'There are no views from that house, so we had to create the views inside,' he said. 'Most houses are a series of boxes. I used diagonals and curves to make things look bigger.'

Central to the design was the staircase, which spirals up the middle and out across to the galleries at either side of the main studio room. The stairs are made of beech, the 'case' is a series of steel spokes and the balustrade a Gaudi-esque curve of painted filler - all Les Thorne's own work.

The house consists essentially of two floors of living space, one of them double height, at the front, and three floors of bedrooms behind, the top one leading off the gallery. Each bedroom has its own bathroom, with an industrial-size power shower and water pressure you rarely find this side of the Atlantic.

The attention to detail extends from the door handles (Philippe Starck style, but actually German, from the Conran Shop) to the lavatory brush holder (a stainless steel and wood circle, fixed to the wall).

The colour everywhere is a soft white, chosen by the interior decorator Charlotte Barnes. She found the key pieces of furniture, many of which were made by the most prominent of London's young contemporary designers. The desk with curved steel legs in the study area was custom built by Mark Brazier-Jones. The curved raffia chair that goes with it is an original by Tom Dixon, and the dining table was commissioned from Paul Belvoir.

Elsewhere, there are vintage Fifties pieces, such as the pair of wrought-iron chairs from Paris in the main studio room, and a Fornsetti table in the bedroom used as a television room.

It was on the lower ground floor that the house presented the most difficult challenge. Les Thorne put the cooker in the centre of the kitchen space, facing the dining table and near the open staircase. 'It was important that anyone working there could take part in conversations and not be cut off from everyone,' he said. 'The longer the views you get, the less trapped you feel.'

The third bedroom has been created from an unloved corner behind the dining room that was a series of passages and a coal hole. The transformation was made possible by the sinking of a double-height conservatory into the basement, with a bell jar of glass on the ground floor.

Robert Bailey of Strutt & Parker in Kensington sold the old house to its present owners and is selling it again. He cites this conservatory as the most outstanding and transforming feature of the property. 'The area was dark and unattractive. It seemed to offer so little scope,' he said. 'The conservatory was a very clever idea.'

Modern houses are difficult enough to find anywhere in London. Detached and freehold, with off-street parking, and in Kensington, they are rare indeed.

London is now thronged with buyers who say they are looking for 'something different' - and, with the City flush with cash, many of them have the right kind of money ( pounds 985,000) to buy Stratford Studios.

It was a combination of wealth, youth and taste that created this house. Les Thorne, who has spent much of his life designing council flats, describes it as 'an adult playpen. This is their reward for getting up in the morning,' he says.

Les Thorne (081-846 9722); Charlotte Barnes Interiors (071-244 9610); Strutt & Parker (O71-235 9959).

(Photograph omitted)

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