With a nod to Notts

When it comes to packing personality into your home, no-one does it better than architect Julian Marsh
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The Independent Online

In an era of bland developments and play-it-safe colour schemes, it can be exciting to find a house with genuine personality. These days too many people, worried by the prospect of resale, forget that a good home should reflect the history and interests of its owner. Not so Julian Marsh. His striking home in Nottingham, for sale through FPD Savills at £625,000, is thoroughly imprinted with his identity. Marsh, an award-winning architect, built the house in 1994. It is packed with unique features that nod both to his background, and that of the city where he lives.

In an era of bland developments and play-it-safe colour schemes, it can be exciting to find a house with genuine personality. These days too many people, worried by the prospect of resale, forget that a good home should reflect the history and interests of its owner. Not so Julian Marsh. His striking home in Nottingham, for sale through FPD Savills at £625,000, is thoroughly imprinted with his identity. Marsh, an award-winning architect, built the house in 1994. It is packed with unique features that nod both to his background, and that of the city where he lives.

The balustrades, for instance, are actually bicycle chains, stretched backwards and forwards across wheel cogs. This is a reference to Nottingham's cycling tradition - the city is home to Raleigh, Britain's biggest bicycle making company.

Then there is the lawn, which is shaped like a guitar. The reason for this is more personal. When it came to buying the land to build the house, Marsh found he didn't have enough money. He did, however, have a valuable collection of vintage guitars and amps, which he sold to fund the project. "I had 120 amps from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and about 30 guitars," he says. "I started selling these at Christie's and gave the owner the money in dribs and drabs."

Collecting was something Marsh fell into by chance. "I'd always played in bands at university," he says. "Then I was on holiday in the States and found myself in a vintage guitar shop. I got talking to the guy behind the counter, who said: "If you want American guitars and amplifiers, I'll trade you them for English models. He gave me a list of what he was looking for and it mushroomed from there."

It was to prove a lucrative hobby. "Lots of bands buy guitars for their pension fund," says Marsh. "They hold their value very well. A Les Paul Standard from 1958 to 1960, for instance, is now worth around £120,000."

Parting with his collection was not, however, the emotional experience you might expect. "I got to the point where I realised this was obsessive behaviour, so I had to stop," he laughs. "But the garden is guitar-shaped to remind me where the money came from."

The relationship between house and garden was, in fact, one of Marsh's priorities when he designed the building. "It's all set up around views," he says. "It's a sloping site, dug into the ground. You arrive at the front door, cross a bridge and walk into the upper level of a two-storey high space."

It is this large, open area that gives the living room its impact. It also allows for enviable features, such as a double-height, sliding glass door leading out to the garden. "The house would suit someone with an art collection," says Marsh. "It's like a gallery inside."

It may only have three bedrooms, but this is a sizeable property. "The bedrooms aren't huge," says Marsh, "because much of the space is given over to the public living areas." There are five reception rooms, which includes two studies and a library. "We work a lot," he says.

"The library is my favourite room in the house," he adds. It is certainly the most dramatic - a hyper-modern take on the old-fashioned reading room. He has dispensed with the traditional dark furnishings and antique armchair - replacing it with bright floor lighting and a leather day bed. Equally powerful is the exterior of the house, which looks strong and austere.

The front has few windows, which adds mystery. It also prevents passers-by checking out his taste in furnishings. It's an impressive design - so effective, in fact, that the house has won a RIBA award. It was also one of only six British homes to be featured in 100 of the World's Best Houses, by Catherine Slessor.

There are two principal advantages to buying an architect's home. One is that it is guaranteed to have a distinct style. The other is that he or she will have given serious thought to how the living space actually works. In other words, it will be fundamentally practical. This is clearly the case at Marsh House. A number of small details make everyday life easier. For example, the entrance lobby incorporates an umbrella stand, while the two bathrooms have built-in drying mats. The utility room is not simply an oversized cupboard It has fitted units and a Belfast sink. This is largely because Marsh didn't rush the project. "There were no constraints in terms of time," he says, "which meant I could stretch the budget much further. If I wanted to do something a certain way but found I couldn't afford it, I had the time to look around for other means."

His architectural practice, Marsh and Grochowski, is building a reputation for its sensitivity to the environment. Subsequently, his home incorporates some of these ideals. "I was looking to build a low-energy house," he says. "This is fairly sustainable and uses local materials. At the back is a massive wall that acts as a heat sink - it cools the house in summer and in winter acts like a big radiator." The site is in a conservation area, in Nottingham's Alexandra Park. It has the rare pleasure of being both semi rural and just 1.5 miles from the city centre. "It's sort of a lost corner of Nottingham," says Marsh. "When you turn off the main road, you think you're in the country."

These factors combine to make the house feel like something of a bargain, given today's overblown prices. And with the journey to St Pancras taking one hour and 50 minutes, a London commute is not unfeasible. "Nottingham is a lovely city," he says. "It's compact, with a tight centre. Where I work, in the Lace Market, there are some fantastic buildings." All of which makes you wonder why he's moving at all. But Marsh isn't going far. "Obviously I'm sad to be selling," he says. "But I want to go and do another one."

Marsh House is available through FPD Savills (0115 934 8020).

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