How a glass extension turned a traditional Thirties London terrace into an ultra-modern home

A Thirties semi in a terrible state became a showpiece when architect Gregory Phillips added a stunning, glass-walled extension. His message to Londoners? Your dream is achievable.

Architect Gregory Phillips uses his own home to showcase new ideas and products. “The other day I showed some clients the bathroom,” he says, talking about the en suite in the loft “to show them what an ‘immaculate finish’ looks like.”
 
Phillips shares the north London house with his wife, Sara, and their three daughters, and that bathroom is lined with grey-streaked white Carrara marble that turns out to be cheaper than fairly standard ceramic tiles. There is also a gorgeous, egg-shaped bath by Ashton & Bentley. “I usually put drinking water in en suite bathrooms, too,” he adds.
 
The very grown-up top of the house, reached by a perfectly mitred stairway in whitewashed ash, has light coming from three directions and smooth-sliding aluminium windows out to a little decked balcony with a sheet of glass as a balustrade. The master bedroom is in soft minky shades, from the colour-washed floor to the straight-grained oak bespoke wardrobes and drawers, tinted a soft grey that changes hue with the light that cascades in.
 
Yet all this glamour started life as a steep-sided loft bristling with dangling wires and nothing much else, in a wide-hipped Thirties semi, bought in a dreadful state eight years ago.

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Phillips and his wife — who has a career of book-keeping, charity work and mothering Imogen, 16, Tess, 14, and Chloe, 12 — had been living in nearby Hampstead Garden Suburb, a tightly controlled conservation area, in a listed three-bedroom house that, as the little girls grew bigger, felt like it was getting smaller. “Trying to bring in a piano was the last straw,” says Phillips.
 
It was hard to find something nearby that they could work on. When they first saw the house, they could not believe the state it was in. “It was just shocking,” Phillips says. “Every bit of renovation had been botched. There was a sort of portable building on the back with glass falling out of the frames. I was slightly taken aback by the amount of work, but it wasn’t in a conservation area, which meant we could do things to it.”
 
That fact was an important green light, he adds. “I knew I was going to do a big glass gesture at the back, and on a second viewing we realised we could live there as we did it — although I wouldn’t recommend that to most people.”
 
Phillips began his career working for now-stellar architect David Chipperfield, then set up on his own, and despite a brief detour designing hotels and Coffee Republic branches, has focused, from 2000, on top-end houses. He is known for doing a hermetic job, covering house, interiors and both hard and garden landscaping, usually with lots of glass so that inside and outside are considered together.
 
“If you put in a lot of glass you’ve got to look out at something good. My main thing is making indoor-outdoor spaces, and my passion for gardens has developed. People see things in magazines that they love, but they don’t know how to get them, because there’s just so much choice out there. But I’ve been filtering choices for people for years.”
 
Through the 10 metre-wide triple sliding door that makes a picture window right across the back of the house, the sculpted garden looks like a photo shoot. Seven cube-cut beech trees dominate the planting, with a generous, jewel-bright lawn, and hedges interspersed with other plants.
 
The effect is dramatic but also homely, a quality that repeats throughout. For even though Phillips put on the big, wide, clean-lined, almost trapezoid extension, and set a pure white lacquered Boffi kitchen in the heart of the house, everything is usable and practical.
 
There’s lots of storage space, there are bookcases and paintings, and the light, bright extension — everyone’s favourite part — is filled with comfy B&B Italia furniture. Though used for photo shoots, the house is very much a family place, full of life.
 
Phillips is an unusual architect in his preference for houses rather than big statement buildings. “I get to be the old-fashioned architect people like to imagine,” he says. “I do all of it, from start to finish. It’s very nice to be the person that says at the end, ‘Here’s your house,’ when you’ve also been the person they came to at the very beginning.” 

 
GET THE LOOK

  • Furniture: from B&B Italia (www.bebitalia.com) and Minotti (www.minotti.com)
  • White lacquer kitchen: from www.boffi.com. Phillips also likes Modulnova from www.designspacelondon.com
  • Lefka bath and sink in en suite: from www.ashtonandbentley.co.uk
  • Minimal sliding window in loft conversion: by www.vitrocsa.co.uk
  • 10-metre extension window: by Fineline A luminium (www.finelinealuminium.com)
  • Engineered flooring: European oak downstairs, ash upstairs, by Ardern Hodges at www.ardernhodges.co.uk

 
Photographs: David Butler


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