Getting extra light into London houses can be difficult. It’s usually resolved with skylights or a conservatory but South African couple Dee Lehane and Leslie Bergman built a new, light-filled, six-bedroom, four-floor home behind the elegant brick façade of a house in a Hampstead conservation area.
Dee, a management consultant in her late forties, was born near sun-drenched Cape Town, where she returns each year. Her love of light affects her views on design. “We need light, we’re used to having it,” she says. At the wide back of the house, a huge long sliding window is part of a glass floor-to-ceiling oblong box, with more glass above in a sedum roof.
Beyond the sliding doors, the walled garden has mature magnolia trees along the high back wall and a big, ancient hornbeam oak that had to be kept and dictated the design of garden and house. The perfect lawn is imitation — lawns can struggle in walled London gardens.
Inside, a front-to-back sightline gives a great view, and fresh breeze, from the informal front garden of agapanthus, astrantia and lavender.
Dee designed the interiors with her architect, Richard Dudzicki, using porcelain tiles, stained oak floors, and white and palest grey walls, finished with shadow gaps. Many fittings are Italian. Furnishings range from silvery greys to taupes, mixing linens, silks and velvets, with mirrors and some art-glass. It’s lustrous, cool, and pretty.
The main living room includes a pale grey bespoke kitchen, with a big island and American fridge. The couple love to entertain at home and also cook for son Benjamin, 13, and 10-year-old twin daughters Maia and Antonia.
The children have their own bedrooms with en suite, done in the same palette and materials as their parents’ room but softened with their own paintings on the walls, toys, and a favourite colour for throws and chairs.
“I’d done a couple of houses before this one,” Dee says, “I enjoy it.” Taking time to get things right is important to her, and the cantilevered glass-and-oak central staircase shows it. Designed by Dudzicki, it runs from the colourful basement games room to the top, skylit floor. It focuses the house, and acts as a light shaft.
In 1995, Dee came to London and settled in a flat in South Kensington, meeting Leslie when they worked at the same firm. They married in 2003, bought a house in Marylebone, and looked for an architect to remodel it: “We found Richard in a feature on his own home in Homes & Property,” Dee says. “We had similar ideas about glass and light, and we got on well.” His alterations, including a mansard roof, were on time and on budget.
With three growing children, it was time for a bigger house with a garden. The brick house in Hampstead that Dee found with Dudzicki’s help was built around 1900 and had been remodelled a few times. Westminster planners agreed to a substantial rebuild.
The front was kept, with a modern dream home built behind. Protecting the hornbeam meant using special pile drivers for the groundworks, adding cost. The house has two air-source heat pumps, solar panels, good insulation and high-spec glazing, to keep bills low.
Planning took nearly three years, before works began in spring 2012. Asbestos, found as the basement was dug, meant several more months’ delay but the two-year build finished in winter 2014.
Instead of what Dudzicki describes as a house that was “all over the place” there’s now an airy, delightful house, ideal for entertaining and a practical, warm, family home. There’s even a walk-in shower for Bruno the labradoodle, so he can’t make mud paw-paintings on the porcelain floors.
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Architect: Richard Dudzicki
Main contractor: Cosmur
Sliding doors/windows: IQ Glass
Porcelain floor tiles: Tower Ceramics
Cantilevered stair: Spiral
Textured wall in basement: 3D wall panels
American-style fridge: by Fisher Paykel
All white goods: CP Hart
Bespoke furniture: by Pierre Cronje
Bourgie table lamp: by Kartell at Made in Design
Paints: Farrow & Ball
Garden design: by James Lee