Seasons in style

A former print shop off a north London high street may not seem to have much going for it - unless, as Mary Wilson discovers, you're a photographer with an eye for potential

The area of Kilburn in North West London has never been traditionally seen as one of the capital's smartest - the high street has the same mix of shops, bedsits and flats, and behind the main drag are rows of identikit terraced three bedroom Victorian houses with nothing to shout about in terms of design or individuality.

The area of Kilburn in North West London has never been traditionally seen as one of the capital's smartest - the high street has the same mix of shops, bedsits and flats, and behind the main drag are rows of identikit terraced three bedroom Victorian houses with nothing to shout about in terms of design or individuality.

"Off the top of Kilburn High Road is the Mapesbury conservation area, and to the left of that is Brondesbury, where you can find property for sale for over £1m, but directly off the high road, you won't find much over £300,000," says Jean Pierre Kalebic, of Winkworth's Willesden office. However, the most northern part of the High Road has come up in the last 18 months, with grotty pubs being turned into gastropubs and several restaurants opening up. This part is also home to the Tricycle Theatre, opposite which there is a most unexpected surprise.

It's a contemporary cedar-clad, flat-roofed building overlooking the very pretty Kilburn Grange Park, which only the locals seem to know about. "The park used to belong to a stately home," says James Cant, the creator and owner of this unique property. "Now it is open to the public, but not many people use it. It is well looked after and has tennis courts, a play area and lovely trees."

James is a fashion photographer, who moved to the UK from Australia 10 years ago. He has worked for most national newspapers and magazines, including Marie Claire and Loaded. He and his wife Arabella lived previously in Willesden, in a stunning flat they bought off Oliver Peyton, who designed the Atlantic restaurant in Soho. "He had spent a fortune on this huge mansion flat and we loved it, but we wanted to create our own place so we started looking for the right plot of land," he says.

They looked all over London for three years, searching down back streets and alleys and then in 2001 they spotted a for sale sign for a commercial building overlooking the park. "The building used to be the stables of a stately home, but had been converted and had been used for the last 20 years by a printing company. I just loved the location and what I could do with it."

Their original idea was to build a photographic studio with two flats over the top, which they would sell and use that money to buy another place for themselves. "Arabella wasn't at all keen about living in Kilburn, but it was such a magical position, I managed to convince her that we should live there too, over the studio," he says.

He instructed the architects, Denton Cooke & Marshall, who usually only undertake multi-million pound commercial projects such as the ultra-contemporary glass law courts in Manchester. "But they do take on a few residential projects for friends and I had worked for them for 10 years when I had been an architectural photographer in Australia," says James.

As well as being confident that they could come up with what he wanted, he also felt that as the site had to be re-zoned from commercial into residential use, using a big-name architect would give him more chance to getting his plans through. "We got them to look at how we lived before and asked them to design something that replicated that - but with a photographic studio on the ground floor," he says. "We were also limited by the 1,700sq ft site as the building is wedged in on two sides by other buildings and the park on the third."

They also wanted a property where they would be happy living and working from as well as looking after their children - they have two daughters, aged four and eight - without ever having to leave their home. Arabella runs the photographic studio, letting it out when James is not using it. The property had to be easy maintenance and simple," says James. So the floors throughout are in polished concrete and under heated. "Timber floors wear out and I like stone, but this is more natural."

The building has been in London's Open House day twice, and James says, "Most people, who expected to see a hard edged minimal home, have commented that it felt quite warm and not sterile and cold at all."

On two sides of the living room are three huge sliding glazed panels. "In the summer when they are open, it seems as if we are part of the park," says James. "The wildlife is fantastic, and we see squirrels and foxes."

The blinds in the bedrooms are closed to keep out the light, but in the living room they are never used. "We were going to, but when the trees dropped their leaves, there was this wonderful skyline, so we never bothered. We wake up every morning to a different vista, which is why we don't have anything on the walls. The view is enough, it's like a big TV screen," he says.

At one end of the 22ft long living area is the kitchen - again, minimally white with no handles, plus a larder/storage room. The three bedrooms have white walls and walnut cupboards which help create warmth.

Concrete steps with a galvanised frame lead up to a huge decked roof terrace, which has been made so real turf can be put down. The terrace also could be landscaped and the building is structurally strong enough for another floor to be built, if planning was given.

"We have thought a lot about how the building could grow into the next generation," says James. "The top floor could be re-modelled with the walls put in different places," he says. "And you can even drive cars into the studio, which has a separate entrance to the flat."

The couple are moving because they have found another place, which will be re-built into a similar looking home, nearer to their daughters' school.

The Kilburn High Road house is for sale through Knight Frank (020-7586 2777) for £2m

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering