Me And My Home: More glass than walls
Mary Wilson meets an architect who decided to turn his own dream home into a reality
Tuesday 13 April 2004
Philip Waddy is the principal architect in West Waddy Associated Design Partnership, which he formed with John Ashton, a town planner, in 1999
I 've lived and worked in Oxfordshire since I qualified as an architect 20 years ago. For most of my career I have had my own business. When I started I entered design competitions in my spare time and after having had considerable success set up on my own in 1984.
My first house was a tiny two-bedroom farm cottage that I did up with my wife, Lorraine, and we then moved into a Victorian house near Oxford, which was an idyllic place with roses around the door and a pretty English garden. It was very nice, but after spending so much of my working life realising dream homes for my clients, we got bored and decided we wanted to design and build our own place.
We started to look for a building plot, but unless you are very lucky you will have to pay half a million for a decent plot in Oxfordshire. In the end, we found an existing house that we could make over. It was a very tired-looking and neglected Sixties bungalow, but what set it apart was its position. It was in a wooded plot of one acre with a well-stocked garden and amazing views over the dreaming spires of Oxford.
We couldn't afford to knock it down and there was a covenant preventing a second storey being built, which luckily put a lot of other people off. I had a vision of how I could transform it into something avant garde and very bright and airy, and the concept of how I wanted the house was in my mind from when I first saw it. I didn't want to make it complicated, but getting it all to work took a long time.
I had thought that designing my own place would be easy, but I had so many ideas. Working for clients is much easier as you have to step into their shoes and transform their dreams into reality. My mind was just awash with ideas and I found that when designing for oneself you become less structured.
I have completely remodelled the exterior, putting on cedar cladding and acrylic maintenance-free render and acres of powder-coated aluminium windows, many of which are full-height. Now there is fabulous connectivity between the house and garden. I hate being hemmed in and I can sit in the living room and watch the the wildlife, including the deer that come into the garden. It's very therapeutic after a long and hard day's work.
The kitchen was designed by my wife. She saw something she liked in John Lewis and I took some pictures of it. I then went to a kitchen designer I know and he had it made up at a fraction of the cost. It's all in maple with black granite worktops and stainless-steel appliances.
We opened up the living room to the dining room by making two large internal windows either side of a central opening. The two walls of this room are almost entirely in glass. The third wall dividing the living space from the rest of the house is in translucent glass bricks and on the fourth side we have built a very simple plastered chimney breast in place of a rather naff stone fireplace.
Over the fireplace, which is a rectangular hole about 18 inches off the ground, there is a single length of powder-coated steel beam, which is in our mantle shelf. This is one of the simplest pieces of design in the house, but the most effective. But it is amazing how long it took to get the details right. Communicating exactly what you want to tradesmen is quite difficult, too. On the floor there is a simple granite hearth.
The dining room was formerly a sunroom and because it had a low, flat roof, in order to create more height, I cut a large hole in the roof - about two metres long - and put in a large roof light. Now when you are sitting around the table in the evening you can see the sky and stars. It is wonderful.
The house has five bedrooms and the external wall of our bedroom, which faces east, is all glass. There are two large glass doors that slide open and a semi-circular decked area overlooking the trees and the garden, which we can sit out on. As the garden was completely sloping when we bought the property, we have put in four terraces, which gives the house a certain dynamic and means the children can play more safely on the flat parts.
Another thing wrong with the original house was that it didn't have a proper front door. You had to wander round to the back through the car port, which we have now taken down. Having a formal entrance for visitors is important. I have added a semi-circular extension made out of glass blocks with an Iroko door and huge overhang, which looks like a giant eyelash.
The powder-coated steel beam that supports the roof was bent to radius but I found there are only two companies in the UK that bend steel. So, I was very surprised to find out that supplying this 6.5m curved steel and delivering it cost half as much as the powder coating.
Internally, all the walls and ceilings, including the gloss work, are in one colour - an off-white. There are wooden floors in most rooms and stainless-steel slatted blinds. Colour is provided by pieces of furniture and, most importantly, the people in the house.
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