His new neighbours were furious: they had no wish to see their flawless row of period homes marred by this newfangled upstart. But Darke, who had won plaudits for his firm's now venerated Lillington Gardens housing estate in Pimlico, got his planning permission for the contemporary home, and in 1969 he and his young family moved in.
© All pictures by Charles Hosea
The Darkes lived in the property for just over a decade, during which time the locals grew used to — and then rather fond of — the tall, slim house with its lead-clad porch and almost fanciful rear façade with a brick rotunda — a contrast to the sharp-cornered "closet wings" along the rest of the street.
In 2001, by which time the Darke family had long since moved on, a property developer bought the house and announced plans to demolish it. Those same neighbours who had objected to the building in the first place now found themselves mobilising to save it.
Led by Lady Sheila Hale, the author, they persuaded English Heritage to give the house a Grade II listing — the conservation group went further and declared it the best modern house in the country built in a Georgian context.
Now it's an architectural treasure
And so an architectural treasure was saved, but it remained in limbo. With his demolition plans thwarted by its listed status, the new owner let the house out for a decade. In 2011 he put it up for sale and it caught the eye of Simon Callender and Martina Martin.
Simon, who works in advertising, was living in Strawberry Hill and Martina, a lawyer, was based in Docklands, and they spotted the house advertised in an estate agents' window in Richmond.
"I have always liked mid-century architecture," says Simon. "I just warm to it; but because it is modernist it is a bit of a Marmite thing. A lot of people don't like this aesthetic. Everybody loves Georgian but not everybody sees the beauty in Sixties architecture."
They viewed the house and, in spring last year, agreed to pay £1.6 million for the 1,911sq ft four-bedroom property, which retained many original features, including tongue-and-groove wooden ceilings and a matching kitchen.
Martina was not without her doubts, however. "It had been let, and was generally very tatty, cold and tired," she says. "And I worried about what it would be like living with all the wood panelling, whether it would be dark, even oppressive."
Tired it may have been but one of the most interesting things about the house — which will be one of the buildings in this year's Open House London showcase of the capital's best architecture (londonopenhouse.org) — is how many of Darke's original ideas feel so, well, modern.
The ground floor has an open-plan kitchen and dining room which, if a series of folding panelled doors and hatches are closed, becomes two separate rooms.
Sixties homes are not known for their great light, but despite Martina's original concerns the house has Georgian-dimension windows and liberal use of skylights on the top floor. So with an equally liberal use of white paint it has turned out to be a very light and airy home.
And those windows have been installed with smart vents in the frames: they are hardly noticeable but can be opened to provide fresh air without the need to leave a window open.
The attention to detail is meticulous — even the airing cupboard has beautiful quality joinery and is fitted with a tiny heater to warm the clothes within. "It is little things like this that really sold the house to us," says Simon.
However, anyone who owns a listed building will tell you what high-maintenance beasts they are. In the case of the Darke House, as it is still known locally, it was not only its exterior that was listed but its original interiors, from the builtin kitchen and panelled wood ceilings to the teak bookcases in the living room and original glass doors. The couple, both 44, moved in and set about restoring these features to their early glory. Perhaps the biggest job has been the woodwork, of which there is no shortage.
The kitchen, tongue-and-groove ceilings, fitted cupboards and wardrobing in the bedrooms, and the gloriously angular central staircase all needed to be painstakingly stripped back and restained as per Darke's original concept — in order to make sure they were true to the original house the couple contacted and befriended his widow (Geoffrey Darke died in 2011 aged 82) and children, who were able to assist them by supplying his original plans.
They also had to have the lead-work on the front façade, around the windows and porch, restored, while the wilderness of a garden needed to be landscaped with a brick pathway and raised planters.
In total, the restoration works cost about £25,000, while redoing the garden added a further £20,000 to the cost of the project — they say they have no idea what the house is currently worth, nor do they care since they have absolutely no intention of moving.
With the house itself shipshape, their next task was to furnish it. Simon and Martina had a head start since many of the house's original fittings were intact, including its extremely modern-looking stainless- steel kitchen worktop, the quarry-tiled kitchen floor and the chrome Peter Nelson spotlights that feature in several rooms.
Even the chocolate-coloured mosaic tiles in the ground-floor shower room are original, while those walls that are not clad in wood are mainly exposed brick, painted white.
"I think because it was let nobody ever did that big DIY thing — ripping out everything," says Martina.
We made it contemporary
The obvious thing to do with this house would have been to start scouring antiques shops for original mid-century pieces. But Simon and Martina had other ideas: they wanted to mingle some classic pieces with cutting-edge modern design.
In the kitchen, for example, they selected classic Eames plastic chairs and Verner Panton flowerpot lights, both sourced for them by Papillon Interiors (papilloninteriors.co.uk) and both newly produced to original retro designs.
They then went to Unto This Last in Brick Lane (untothislast.co.uk) for a 21st century curved kitchen table made from slim, pressed sheets of ash veneer.
The laminate dining table is another piece from Papillon, while above it hangs a showstopping, bang-up-to-date chandelier by Daniel Becker (danielbecker.eu). These two highly contemporary pieces are teamed with rosewood slatted dining chairs, almost the only vintage furniture in the house, bought from mid-century specialist Sarah Potter (sarahpotter.co.uk).
The couple decided to keep some of their own furniture, including a living room sofa by Italian designers (antoniocitterioandpartners.it), which they have augmented with a statement mustard-coloured chair from Channels (channelsdesign.com); like many of their other buys, this new piece does have a distinctly Sixties aesthetic.
"We could have bought all original furniture but we didn't want to live in some sort of Sixties museum," says Simon. "We wanted to be true to the house, but in a modern way."
Photography by Charles Hosea