London's challenging house prices and particular property market means house-hunters – and lovers of contemporary architecture – need to get inventive in order to fulfil their desire for modern, new-build designs. Tucked away in a sleepy, residential corner of north London, Stepped House is such an example. Created by locally based architecture studio vPPR, headed by Tatiana von Preussen, Catherine Pease and Jessica Reynolds, the home is discreet yet relentlessly contemporary, as stepping inside its innocuous and fairly opaque front garden walls, quickly proves.
Commissioned by a local doctor with a passion for modern design, and who does not shy away from a ‘project', the house became possible when the client – who already owned the next-door site – bought a section of an adjacent property's backyard. ‘This unlocked the site,' recalls von Preussen, who met the doctor at an open house at Ott's Yard, the breakthrough project that propelled vPPR into the public spotlight. ‘He has very entrepreneurial thinking and loves design.'
The architects worked at crafting the volumes of the house so that there's ample space inside, natural light and room to breathe for people and plants, without obstructing any of the neighbours' views and daylight. Digging down was the only option to achieve it all, which resulted in majestic, double-height living spaces bookending the plot – a living room accessed via a bespoke metal staircase upon entry, to negotiate the big drop, and a kitchen and dining area that opens up to a generous, stepped terrace and garden. A mezzanine hovers above the dining space, offering bonus workspace for the residents but also extra room for the eye, and light, to travel indoors.
A block with private areas – three bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as storage and facility space – is nestled in the heart of the site, spread across two levels. Large openings, minimalist detailing and textured materials, such as timber and exposed concrete, offer a sense of warmth throughout. Light colours and clean surfaces allow light to bounce off them and reach every corner of the home. An elaborate and technically challenging roof made of glulam timber zig-zags over the living spaces, ensuring Stepped House feels modern, showcasing sharp looks and enticing geometries at every turn.
Sustainability was also at the forefront of the architect-and-client team's minds during the design. A ground source heat pump, solar panels to help generate hot water, and carefully planned, strong insulation make this an eco-friendly home – without compromising on any of its design flair.
A planted roof – one of the key elements that helped the team achieve planning permission on the awkward plot – and the gardens are also critical in wrapping the residents in nature, while helping to create a mini green lung for this urban site.
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Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).
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