New architecture in the UK has largely been in stalemate for some time as we continue to embrace or tolerate (depending on which side of the fence you sit on) pastiche properties depicting all eras. Once in a while, though, something is built that offers a window into the future and shows what the next generation of urban homes should look like.
Not everything new has to look like a spaceship, and Hillgate Street is a juxtaposition of architectural achievement. Demure from the outside, the end-of-terrace townhouse compliantly finishes the existing street line. The inclusion of a garage is the only hint that the property offers anything different to the rest of the houses in the street. Yet the minute you step in, you fully realise what can be achieved behind closed doors.
Hillgate Street has been designed by Seth Stein Architects, a respected North Kensington-based practice with more than two decades’ experience of creating extraordinary houses around the world. Born in New York City in 1959, Seth Stein left his homeland after only a few years when his family relocated to London. Formative years spent in the centre of the city combined with two decades of development generated an interest in architecture of all eras. This impressed upon a young Stein a need to design and create his own response to the urban environment, carving out an identity and an architectural language of his own.
Beginning his working career in the practices of Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, Stein set up his own design-led practice in 1990. Today Seth Stein Architects has ten staff, based in the heart of West London. In demand for both residential and commercial work, it has completed projects such as the restoration and refurbishment of a Grade II Listed schoolhouse in East London and a 19th-century palazzetto in the historic centre of Vicenza. The development of city centre properties in Toronto, Geneva and London has provided an urban element to the portfolio, while the creation of coastal houses in the Turks & Caicos Islands, the Helsinki Archipelago in Finland and Plettenberg Bay in South Africa has led to prestigious awards, including an RIBA Award in 2009 for Pencalenick House in Cornwall.
Hillgate Street, the practice’s latest offering, is a classic example of the futuristic qualities Seth Stein Architects has become renowned for. Designed from scratch to replace a 1950s bomb infill, the site provided the opportunity to take a traditional blueprint and expand on this, digging down and building up, using the original plot to its fullest. A traditional façade cleverly hides a home combining progressive technology, advanced build techniques and materials, specialist finishes and stunning architecture in a property that has achieved the equivalent of level 4 in the Code for sustainable homes.
Free-flowing space wrapped around internal courtyards and light-filled walkways combined with contemporary gold leaf walls which, says Stein, “cannot fail in their role to promote positive light and make you look good”. The four-storey, 28m long home uses all available space. Four bedroom suites, a hand-crafted kitchen and an open-plan living and dining space are supplemented with a hidden home office, a basement media room/gym and a plunge pool to create the most modern of family living environments. Glass-floored terraces distribute light throughout and cabinetry and detailing has been elevated to an art form of its own. ‘Detailing’ is a word that’s often wrongly used. Its dictionary meaning, ‘specific, fine, artistic finishes’, implies something that’s been well thought through, yet this is often not the case. However, it is one area where Seth Stein Architects excels and at Hillgate Street the detailing could win awards on its own.
Stein’s architecture has set a precedent for the best in global living, be it in the UK, Europe or further afield. His homes are beautifully designed, superbly executed and create the kind of environments most of us can only dream of. Yet, when asked about his aesthetic and what he looks for from the homes he designs, he sums things up simply: “No matter the location, the brief, the design or the specification, in everything we do we like to be able to stand back and say, ‘It all works!”
Seth Stein Architects, Unit 115, 300 Kensal Road, London W10; sethstein.com