The home stripped bare

In the ultimate minimalist house, everyday life is totally out of sight, reports Nick Lloyd Jones
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The Independent Online

Old Etonian John Pawson, now in his mid-fifties, is one of Britain's most distinguished architects and is known as the father of minimalism. His claim to fame lies more in what he leaves out rather than what he puts in. He is the undisputed master of modern understatement, with a ruthlessly restrained style, stripping away all extraneous detail and clutter - a practice he describes baldly as "cutting out the crap".

Old Etonian John Pawson, now in his mid-fifties, is one of Britain's most distinguished architects and is known as the father of minimalism. His claim to fame lies more in what he leaves out rather than what he puts in. He is the undisputed master of modern understatement, with a ruthlessly restrained style, stripping away all extraneous detail and clutter - a practice he describes baldly as "cutting out the crap".

His eclectic commissions have ranged from residential - he specialises in Irish country houses and once designed an apartment for the writer Bruce Chatwin - through to larger projects such as the flagship Calvin Klein store in Manhattan, an airport lounge in Hong Kong, and a Trappist monastery in the Czech Republic.

Pawson redesigned the interior of this three-bedroom, Victorian terraced house in Stoneleigh Street, London W11, in the early 1990s and lived here for several years. It's a pleasant spot - quiet and residential yet within easy distance of trendy Notting Hill Gate. From the outside, there is nothing particularly remarkable about the house other than its oversized 10ft front door.

It is only when you cross the threshold that Pawson's legacy is evident. The first things to strike you are the light, the space and the geometry. The next thing you notice is the complete absence of things. No pictures on the neutral white walls, no visible taps, knobs, handles or switches, no curtains or shutters, no skirting boards and no ornaments.

"That's the point," explains the house's current owner Frenchman Christophe Bristiel. "All the messy stuff and the distracting detail has been deliberately stripped away.'

But this apparent emptiness is a carefully contrived illusion. Sections of wall slide back to reveal control panels, and all the usual detritus of modern urban living - clothes, pots and pans, cutlery, photographs, books, newspapers, TV - are likewise present and correct but discreetly tucked away in endless banks of invisible closets and cupboards which are accessed by sliding panelling.

The rationale behind all this is to achieve a sense of calm. And, according to Christophe and his wife, Meilin, who were already big fans of Pawson's work and couldn't believe their luck when they stumbled upon the house on the market six years ago, it achieves its aim perfectly. "You start noticing how the light changes at the different times of the day," says Christophe. "And we love the way the house's emptiness clears your head, allows you to concentrate your mind and avoid being distracted. The whole experience of living here makes you more receptive and alert." Christophe says it's been therapeutic for the couple's two young children: "The lack of clutter has helped instil a sense of discipline and tidiness."

Pawson used timber and stone as the main materials. The timber is from giant Douglas fir trees, grown in Germany and shipped to Denmark to be specially milled into the golden-hued 45ft floorboards that run the length of the house. The same wood was used to construct two floating staircases, each sculpted from single giant blocks of timber, and for the chunky dining room table that is being sold with the house.

Other Pawson features still in situ include the fireplaces and limestone banquette in the dining room. The house is much the same as Pawson left it. The only changes made by the Bristiels have been adding an en-suite roof terrace to the second-floor master bedroom and ripping out the self-contained one-bed flat formerly in the basement to make way for an extra reception area. They invited Pawson round to show him the changes and he approved.

The Bristiels now plan to move back to France. Apart from the tranquillity, they say the features they will miss most will be the kitchen area, with its mottled marblework surfaces and the first-floor bathroom. The bathroom's floor and fixtures are solid limestone with one chunk hollowed out as a basin, another slab serving as a bench running the length of the room, and yet further sections slotted together to create the bath. "It's so huge," says Christophe, "we recently taught our daughter how to swim in it."

Stoneleigh Street, London W11, is for sale for £835,000 through Faron Sutaria (020-7229 2404)

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