Secrets of the Red Brick House

This converted electricity substation once had a close encounter with Stephen Spielberg. And now the price has dropped by £1m, it looks even more intriguing. Cheryl Markosky investigates
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The Independent Online

The Red Brick House looks pretty inconspicuous, tucked down a sleepy mews in Little Venice. From the front, a passer-by might think it is a simple flat or, at most, a humble townhouse. The only hint of grandeur is the arch over the carport and subtle electronic black metal gates that screen "us" from "them".

It's an ideal property for a captain of industry or bashful famous face. Fans are unlikely to hang out here, as its down-to-earth façade gives nothing away. But behind the unassuming exterior, there is nearly 5,000 square feet of substantial house with a Mediterranean-style courtyard garden and parking for five cars.

In fact, an acclaimed Hollywood name and a prominent businessman have already hidden successfully behind the red-brick walls of the former Marylebone Electrical Supply Company, unnoticed by the public and paparazzi. Director Stephen Spielberg lived here, as did South African gaming entrepreneur Sol Kerzner and his family.

It was Kerzner who converted the industrial space from its working Victorian origins into an exceedingly friendly and spacious family home. "He wanted somewhere to live with his family that was not in the public eye," explains James Simpson from Knight Frank's St John's Wood office, the agent selling this unusual property. "It is quite a trophy house, but also is discreet."

Its novelty value - "there aren't too many converted substations in St John's Wood," Simpson points out - and its size makes the secluded, low-built building an attractive proposition. The current owners - who do not want to be identified - thought it was worth taking a punt and put it on the market initially at £5m. As it has not yet been snapped up by a multi-millionaire, however, they have dropped the price by a cool million. Offers are now invited in the region of £4m.

Most of us are not in a position to drop £1m off the price of our own properties, let alone consider paying £4m for a house, however much of a bargain it may be. But it is remarkably easy to fantasise about how splendid it would be to live in The Red Brick House. For here is a roomy, three-storey house that makes a statement - not in a pushy, Footballers' Wives kind of way, but a perfectly intelligible, literate statement.

The entrance hall opens into a splendid reception room with wide-planked oak floors measuring more than 36ft by 28ft, with the original massive metal industrial Crittal windows admitting plenty of light. The current owners, who bought it eight years ago, inherited edgy red brick walls and black pillars, and they have boxed in the pillars and painted over the brick. But it would be fairly straightforward to turn the house back into a more industrial space.

"It is always a challenge making big spaces cosy," says the owner. "This just happens to be our taste - we thought it was a bit cold when we arrived - but if someone prefers the industrial or loft style, they can take it back to what it once was." The 1900 building is not listed, so any changes should not prove difficult.

The owners' attempts to make the house homely have certainly paid off. A snug breakfast area links to the kitchen, with old stone slabs on the floor, cream units and a whacking great cream Aga to match. A large west-facing garden room off the kitchen leads on to the substantial courtyard garden of nearly 40ft by 29ft. There's also a smaller, "hidden" garden and this is where you would most likely want to spend a great deal of your leisure time. "You can imagine having breakfast here on a Sunday morning, with freshly brewed coffee, croissants and the papers," declares Simpson. For once, estate-agent hyperbole bears a resemblance to the truth, as this space is inviting to even the most sceptical of visitors. The Stephen Woodhams-designed Continental-style garden, with its silvery leafed mature olive trees, is right out of a Merchant Ivory film shot in Italy or the south of France.

The first floor has a pleasing layout of a large master bedroom suite with sizeable walk-in dressing room, a bathroom with windows on all sides, a marble bath and shower and a balcony running along its length. The owner describes this as her "dream house" and she feels she will never replicate this bathroom elsewhere. "I will take lots of photos of it before I leave. There is fabulous pink blossom on the trees in spring that you can see while lying in the bath."

Four other large double bedrooms on this level - one currently is used as a study - provide ample space for a growing family or for someone who fancies entertaining and putting up friends. An extra is the lower ground floor, where a games room, gymnasium and wine cellar or perhaps an indoor pool could be added. The current owners have housed their teenagers here, who enjoyed chilling in their own space. Most owners tend to want to put their own stamp on a property, so as Simpson suggests, they can really do something special with this subterranean room.

For anyone who somehow feels constrained by almost 5,000 square feet of living space, there is planning permission in place if someone wants to turn the carport into an extra room or staff quarters. The roof can also be extended and extra bedrooms created.

Another bonus is that security is already in place. The Kerzners installed all manner of electronic gates, window grids and alarms during their sojourn in The Red Brick House, none of it disturbingly obvious. The owner says she has always felt remarkably safe here and for those who are abroad for a good portion of the year, this might be a good lock-up-and-leave property.

"I love showing people round this place," adds Simpson, who has two interested purchasers already coming back for a second look. "The proportions are perfect and it simply flows well. I am selling another glamorous and gorgeous house in the area for considerably more at £10 million, but to be honest, it doesn't work in the same way."

The Red Brick House is for sale via Knight Frank's St John's Wood office, 020-7586 2777

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