Big and blue: the striking staircase that has transformed a north London home

Creating a stylish home for a glamorous power couple is no easy task — but architect Rashid Ali is comfortable at the cutting edge.
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A boxy steel staircase painted in a searing cobalt blue, something between a go-go dancer’s cage and a sculpture at the Tate, isn’t for everyone. But then not everyone is Philip Bueno de Mesquita — the entrepreneur who set up the successful trainer brand Acupuncture in the Nineties — and his wife, fashion designer Roksanda Ilincic, whose sexy, boldly coloured designs are a catwalk favourite with everyone from the Duchess of Cambridge to Michelle Obama and actress Cate Blanchett.
This glamorous power couple bought their three-storey house new in 2013. One of a pair being built by a developer in north London, it was approaching the fit-out stage.
The staircase sat solidly in the middle of the rectangular floors and was boxed in by thick blockwork, so it effectively cut each floor in half, with small rooms to either side and lots of doors.

But the couple wanted their house opened up to create a fluid space with plentiful light and a modern gallery feel, particularly on the ground floor. So they called in Rashid Ali.
Ali, 37, who in 2011 was shortlisted for architect of the year, started out with “starchitect” David Adjaye, and so was no stranger to bold colour and striking form. When he was working with Adjaye, he had also helped design Ilincic’s previous home.
Stylish: fashion designer Roksanda Ilincic. Image: Rex
While discussing the house’s internal redesign, Ali and his clients toyed with lining some of the walls with intense blue fabric. Then Ali came up with the idea of making a visually permeable steel staircase, powder-coated in the same vivid blue.
Made of narrow steel “fins”, it would be extremely strong, but also see-through. Light would move around it in unexpected ways as the sun moved, and also as different electric lights came on, creating constantly changing effects. The steel fins were made to Ali’s 3D designs in sections by a specialist fabricator, then fitted by the developer.
Next, it had to be painted. If you have ever painted staircase spindles you will know how fiddly that can be, but Ali’s staircase had to be spray-painted in position without getting paint all over the place.
It was tricky, but he did lots of colour tests beforehand to get both the shade and surface finish perfect. With something this dominant, “nearly right” just doesn’t cut it. The stair also has built-in shelves on the sides at ground-floor level, making it practical as well as sculptural.
Completely opening up the ground floor has made the room feel much bigger, with the dramatic staircase at its core. Poured resin floors, mixed to a special pale grey; an all-white bespoke kitchen of lacquered MDF with an extra-deep, gleaming white Corian worktop, and architectural strip lighting, with LED bulbs on dimmers, complete the clean-lined gallery look.
White’s right: the bespoke kitchen units are lacquered MDF, finished with extra-deep, softly gleaming Corian worktops
Ali also replaced the “chunky” window frames and went for a narrower option. Rather like swapping heavy spectacles for frameless ones, the windows now melt into the background, while also letting in more light.
Rashid Ali’s tips
Use an architect: they create added value for their clients — not just aesthetically, where even small things can really improve your daily experience of life, but financially, too. Good design increases value. Even if a client only has a £50,000 budget, there is usually a huge amount that can be done. Detail is incredibly important, and it is what architects excel at.
Mirrors: don’t use mean little strips of mirror in a bathroom. One huge piece of mirror will enlarge the sense of space, and if you get one cut by a glass merchant, it will only cost about £100.
Lighting: I like architectural stick lights. They accentuate the space, there is no “box”, and you can add dimmers. Avoid downlighters — they are corporate and focus light too much in one spot.
Get the look
  • Architect Rashid Ali’s practice is RA Projects 
  • Flexiflow poured resin floors are by Altro 
  • Bathroom tiles from Mosa and the Japanese-style bath is available from companies such as William Garvey 
  • Sinks from Duravit 
  • Architectural stick lights from bulb company Osram 
  • Corian used for work surfaces is from Dupont 

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