The way we live now

Architect Richard Hughes transformed his Sixties home into a very model of a modern townhouse. Now he's used his attention to detail on a new Wates development, with impressive results. By Cheryl Markosky
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The Independent Online

An advocate of modern design, architect Richard Hughes from LIME (Living in Modern Environments) Associates practises what he preaches. He veers towards the bright, light and contemporary, and provides the luxury of wide open space. This is all very well, you might protest, if you have heaps of dosh to hire a ritzy architect to build you a £2m-plus pad from scratch. But what if you own an older and less inspiring home, where, if you're lucky, space is limited to those few inches under the bed where you can jam some storage?

An advocate of modern design, architect Richard Hughes from LIME (Living in Modern Environments) Associates practises what he preaches. He veers towards the bright, light and contemporary, and provides the luxury of wide open space. This is all very well, you might protest, if you have heaps of dosh to hire a ritzy architect to build you a £2m-plus pad from scratch. But what if you own an older and less inspiring home, where, if you're lucky, space is limited to those few inches under the bed where you can jam some storage?

Surely converting an existing pokey period or so-so post-war house is a waste of time and money? Don't the words "mutton" and "lamb" spring to mind when it comes to turning something unexciting into a cutting-edge pad? Not according to Hughes, 42, who has demonstrated what can be done with a bog-standard Sixties townhouse he bought for £240,000 two years ago with his partner Monique, 38, on an estate just outside Dulwich in south-east London.

The two-and-a-half-storey house was built by Wates Homes - the same builders of Hughes's previous flat. Coincidentally, Hughes was appointed to spruce up Wates' design philosophy. "In the Sixties, Wates was very design- oriented, picking up on European influences," says Hughes. "Now the company is trying to get back into that creditable design area again."

If the work carried out on Hughes's own home is anything to go by, Wates has employed the right fellow for the job. The man who refurbished trendy Soho hangout the Groucho Club, as well as Richard Branson's place, has used the best elements from the Sixties to bring his house into the 21st century. And many of the ideas have been carried over to Wates' latest development in Teddington. "It is great if you get a commission to build a brand-new house," he says. "It's every architect's fantasy, but if you don't, you can make changes from within."

The revamp of Hughes's house, which cost around £120,000, included laying new timber flooring throughout, opening up the kitchen/dining area, installing powder-coated aluminium doors in the living room and German glass blocks between the kitchen and hallway. Hughes also forked out for Aquabelle aqueous green glass for splashbacks, brush metal ironmongery and flush panel doors. "People who didn't have much perception of modern architecture like it."

The white rendered exterior with large, horizontal Canadian mahogany doors - a detail that has been carried over to the new homes in the Teddington scheme - is particularly admired. Hughes has fashioned a French courtyard look, with a paved area, white pots and purple lavender.

It is this attention to detail that makes all the difference to the finished look of a home, and which is now beginning to surface in new developments. Fairly simple additions, such as the made-to-measure timber blinds throughout, pull everything together and do not cost the earth. "It was great doing up my own home at the same time as the two four-bedroom semis. I used similar materials in both - the white render on the outside, grey-coated powdered aluminium windows and the horizontal hardwood boarded doors."

The two new houses, priced from £1.095m, also boast a split-level living area linked by an open-tread glass and steel staircase, a glass block wall to let light into the garden-level office/study, and sleek, blue-black roof slates. The kitchens have bespoke German units, solid granite work surfaces, integrated stainless-steel appliances and underfloor heating.

Hughes has carried the clean, contemporary look into the three bathrooms in each house, with white bathroom suites, chrome furniture, Aquilisa Quartz showers and glass hand basins. Something not as evident in the Sixties, but de rigueur these days, are all the latest technological toys. An OnQ system provides wiring for telecommunications, internet and TV outlets and a burglar alarm system with an eight zone control panel, all included in the specifications.

Being able to mix and match the new with the old, the rural and the urban is what makes an architect's job interesting, according to Hughes. Future projects for LIME include a scheme by Squires Bridge near Guildford, Surrey, and the construction of two houses - one traditional and one contemporary - near Hughes's own place in Dulwich.

Hughes believes developers are getting better at working with architects to provide what people want in urban townhouses today - double-height ceilings and open-plan spaces - but he does express concern that the materials "are not always as good as the ones I would have chosen".

Some architects complain that after they draw up plans using expensive materials and the planners have approved them, developers have been known to employ other, cheaper, architects to carry out the work for less money and are encouraged to cut corners when it comes to buying products and materials. Despite this, Hughes believes the public is demanding higher standards of design.

"There is so much on TV and in the press about design these days; people are far more clued up. They are less wary about expressing what they want. And if they want to add value to their homes, they are more likely to engage the services of a good architect."

The Wates houses in Fairfax Road, Teddington are being sold through Dexters (020-8288 8288)

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