The Putney Passivhaus project: how we built our hi-tech, eco-friendly home in the city

An architect and his wife needed all their planning and presentation skills to win round objectors. 

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Architect Trevor Sutters first met his wife Steffi by accident in a Covent Garden wine bar 30 years ago, when they were both waiting for people who didn’t turn up. But when it came to designing their dream home, the couple left nothing to chance.
Meticulous planning, passion for design and creative skills have paid dividends and now they have a stylish, environmentally friendly home they cannot bear to be away from.


Back when they met, Trevor ran his architects’ practice from a barge and Steffi was working on magazines. After that first encounter in the bar, they kept bumping into each other — “the coincidences were phenomenal,” says Trevor — so two years later, they bowed to fate and got married. They had two children, Charlotte and Toby, moving to Putney in 2000.

Vision fulfilled: Trevor and Steffi Sutters wanted a fully sustainable house and there is no doubting its green credentials

The couple also joined forces professionally. Steffi used her writing skills to draft design proposals, then learned about planning and project management. Using their talents to build their own home was a natural step.
They had been plot hunting for almost a decade when a friend showed them a house in Putney that was almost begging to be knocked down. Owned by an elderly widow, the detached house looked dated and the garden was so overgrown that it was impossible to judge its length.
It took eight months to buy the house, with the sale going to sealed bids, but they landed it in August 2012. “Once people hear that an architect is interested, it goes crazy,” says Steffi, who is now also a Conservative councillor for Wandsworth.

Bright ideas: the modern and practical interiors make good use of natural light

Keen to start from scratch on a new home, they put in pre-applications with planners for a new build — a crucial move if you plan to knock something down and you want to avoid a very expensive mistake. Having received outline approval, they submitted a full planning application the minute they completed the sale.
It wasn’t plain sailing. There were more than 60 objections from neighbours, including claims that there were bats in the rafters — there weren’t, but as bats are protected, this had to be investigated, so breaking ground was delayed by a season.
Planning eventually went through, with just some reduction to the roofline, and work began in late April 2013. Demolition took six weeks, the foundations four, and then the timber frame went up like a rocket. Building work was finally completed in October 2013.

Great taste: the open-plan Italian kitchen is minimalist in design and features subtle shades of white and grey

There was still no kitchen when they moved in, but the overall stress of the project was slightly offset thanks to a clever bargain they struck with the buyers of their old home. This couple couldn’t quite afford the asking price, so in exchange for a reduction, they let Trevor and Steffi rent their old place back from them during the build.
Being able to stay put with all their belongings until the new house was ready was a huge help. And despite a stressful, seven-month sprint, Trevor and Steffi say they would do it all again.
The modern house is built to Passivhaus principles — maximising energy-efficiency and reducing its ecological footprint. It is incredibly hi-tech and strong on green credentials — aspects run from a control room. There is underfloor heating throughout, as well as an integrated sound system.

Focal point: the elegant bathroom, with a free-standing tub, opens out on to the wraparound roof terrace via sliding doors

The couple have had an air-source heat pump installed to keep the temperature consistent, along with 27 argon-filled double-glazed windows at a cost of £67,000, which is a moderate sum for these huge energy-savers. A ventilation system, rainwater recycling, closable external window louvres, internal blinds and a “green” roof continue the green theme.
“We wanted a fully sustainable house,” says Trevor, “and we’d never go back.”
The interiors of the five-bedroom house are bright and modern, but also practical and unfussy, with white walls, gently tinted oak floors, oak doors of a slightly darker tone, and porcelain tiles that resemble pale limestone. The “unobtrusive” white and grey open-plan Italian kitchen cost £28,000, including appliances. “Everything was done on a tight budget,” says Steffi.

Clean lines: Trevor designed the landscaped garden with a meticulous eye for detail

With two separate rooms at the front, the ground floor is semi open-plan, and runs out to a landscaped garden designed by Trevor, who is passionate about every detail of planting and paving.
“There’s a logic to architecture,” he says. “You must organise things so they are kind to the eye, so they flow, so you don’t have to scrutinise them.”
With its lollipop olive trees, Tibetan cherries and pleached limes set behind English lavender and box, the garden has an effortless mix of formal structure and charm.

Impressive: the new house strikes a modern pose in the Putney street

That formula is replicated throughout the house. In the master suite, a moderate-size bedroom opens on to a terrace which connects, on its other side, with a huge walk-in bathroom and dressing room. The bathroom has a blue limestone floor. It is grown-up glamour, but not swanky.
From the wraparound roof terrace, the couple have a spectacular private panorama that takes in the BT Tower, the Shard and Canary Wharf. “Now, if I go up Battersea Power Station to see the views, I’m unimpressed,” jokes Steffi.
The couple love their finished home, and Trevor admits: “Wherever we are, we can’t wait to come back.”
What it cost
Price of house in August 2012: £962,000
Money spent: £730,000 including landscaping — with no architect or project management fees
Value now: £3.1 million (estimate)
Get the look

  • Architect: Trevor Sutters
  • Joinery: by Zoltan Libor (07704 035155)
  • Tiles throughout: from Capitol Designer Studio, Fulham
  • External cladding: by Russwood
  • Oak floors: by Havwoods
  • Windows: by MIS
  • Italian kitchen: by Arrital
  • Instagrufe green roof: supplied in modules from, which creates bespoke roof and vertical gardens
  • Shower enclosures: by Matki
  • Basins and loos: by Duravit
  • Sofa in sitting area: by Sits
  • Cushions: from Cargo

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