The couple, both architects, designed nearly everything in the house, in a conservation area in one of the prettiest parts of west London.
From the outside, it looks just like a regular Victorian terrace home. But it is also a futuristic spaceship full of desirable features, including a bright yellow kitchen in liquid laminate, complete with curvy magnetic shelves you can attach anywhere on the magnetic splashback, foot-activated drawers that pop out of the mirrored kickplates if you nudge them with a toe, and a huge, oval, black glass dining table that seems to balance on almost nothing but has a steel support system buried in the polished concrete floor.
It isn’t smoke and mirrors that holds up the dining table’s immense weight. It is extreme engineering, and it makes you want to throw away your own tat and start again. Because this is like going shopping in possibly the smallest, most exclusive department store in the world.
But what if they wanted to put the table somewhere else? Torquil laughs. “We’re architects, we put it in the right place.” He is right, they have. This open-plan floor of the house, giving on to a small, high-walled garden with a central apple tree and cordons of white roses, flows around the table perfectly, making a space of glorious modernity, yet one that sits perfectly in its 19th-century frame.
The house works so well and looks so good because that frame has been treated with huge respect. All the windows were replaced, to the joy of the planners, with double-glazed, beautifully made, near-replicas of what was there before, but with “anti-bandit” glass. Underfloor heating plus acoustic and thermal insulation has been put in, too, but the fireplaces have been kept open, preserving the natural ventilation the house needs to stay healthy — while the chimney breasts have been faced with shuttered concrete, which looks great.
Through it all, the old balustered pine staircase, stoutly reconditioned, climbs upwards, “like a spine”, towards what was once “a roof you could see through”. For, when they bought it five years ago, the house hadn’t been touched since the Twenties, and was near collapse. “The back extension was falling away, we had to completely rebuild it,” says Jessie.
Torquil, 40, and Jessie, 38, met while working at avant-garde practice Future Systems, which designed the biomorphic Media Centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and Birmingham’s Selfridges. They left in the early Noughties, Torquil to set up Sybarite Architects, which is currently turning a shopping mall in Beijing into one of the biggest department stores in the world, while Jessie works on top-end interiors and domestic projects.
In their four-storey home, which they share with children Sandy, nine, Isla, six, and five-year-old Aurelia, they’ve worked so closely together that only a few things, such as a sideboard with sliding doors, or the downstairs carpet in natural wools, were definitely designed by one of them — Jessie — while a futuristic orb pendant lamp made of raw fibreglass is by Sybarite/Torquil.
In a house of many surprises they have kept the best ’til last. At the top of the house, above the children’s floor, they wanted a master bedroom in the roof, with a big picture window right across the span. There isn’t much roof height up here, and the houses aren’t wide, so the room was never going to be huge.
Planners balked at the plate-glass window, insisting on something more conventional, with panes. They also, because of the steepness, demanded a curious offset stair that one almost has to hop up — but a shining white jewel box awaits.
The bed is set back under a sloping roof canopy, out of which a white TV flips down, for decadent bed-surfing while resting against leather back rests. The walls are white lacquer, with lacquer cupboards in every possible inch of space. The view from the bed runs right up a row of gardens to the sky.
And of course, one flush, shiny door leads into a Carrara marble-lined en suite bathroom. It’s a totally adult bedroom, separate from the children, a luxury-yacht hideaway hovering under the roof of a Victorian house, ready to blast off into sleep — or the next century.
Pictures by Adrian Lourie