The excitement and pace of life in London is part of what makes it such a desirable place to live. However, everyone needs to be able to get away from this frenetic 24/7 activity. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to close the door on the city and enter a different world? Think of the hidden courtyards in Marrakech, tranquil oases amidst an almost constant melee. Gianni Botsford has designed just such an oasis in the midst of one of the world’s fastest cities.
Botsford loved living in west London but this family of four wanted a home with more room, a garden, and private outdoor areas to relax in: being an architect, he had the where-with-all to do something about it.
While living on the lower ground floor of a Victorian villa in Notting Hill, he purchased first one and then the other second floor flats above him. Knocking them together gave the architect what he saw as “a plot of land” some 11 m by 9 m, in which to create his perfect home.
Protracted negotiations with the local planning authority enabled him to extend the building upwards, creating another storey. However, the planners would not allow for a roof terrace to be added to the property. How to create that garden/outside space was Botsford’s dilemma.
The answer came in the form of a central, enclosed garden of three levels that sits within the building, surrounded by the living spaces. Designed as an atrium, with a giant opening skylight, the 7 m by 2.5 m space is planted on the lowest “living” level; it includes a swing above; before breaking out onto a roof terrace. The space brings the outside in – a garden ascending through the house.
Arup designed a new structural steel framework dispersing the weight of the building to its external load bearing walls. This allows the garden to be clad in a glass box. Light floods into the centre of the home, bathing all rooms with natural illumination. Every room has views on to the garden and as such they are connected visually through it.
In the summer the skylight above the garden can be retracted to allow fresh air to flood into the property. A white steel stairway built within the atrium climbs from the main living areas to the bedrooms and then further up to the roof. Above the second storey the roof rises by approximately another metre. The skylight is installed at this level. Below this Botsford has installed a metal grid mezzanine, so, when the skylight is fully open, this access deck becomes his outdoor terrace.
Open to the sky and bordered on all sides by the roof, it is a totally private space with fantastic views over London: high up and invisible from the road, most of the traffic noise is completely lost. This is a tranquil outdoor space in the heart of the city.
From street level, Botsford’s brave new intervention could be just a dream. The property looks similar in style and stature to all of its neighbours. Internally, however, the residence is laid out around the garden atrium. On the first level, the 11 m by 4.3 m living and dining space has three large windows looking out onto the street. While, “across the garden” there are the kitchen, WC, stair access and study. The spaces are mostly open plan but each can be closed off via large floor to ceiling doors that fold back into the walls when not in use.
The second level includes a master bedroom to the front of the property and a master bathroom, which is divided in two – a bath and shower at one end of the garden; wash basin, WC and another shower at the other end. To the rear, two children’s bedrooms are positioned either side of another bathroom.
The duplex flat is thoroughly modern on the interior. Spaces are kept clean and minimal, with all day-to-day items and clothing hidden from view in walls of discreet storage space. The garden dominates throughout, bringing a natural contrast to the strict architectural rigour of the home. Botsford has created his own light-filled oasis: a home that looks inward, surrounding and focusing on a tranquil garden; while outside London speeds along at its constant frenetic pace.