Here’s an interesting fact: in the past 10 years, the modern house that interior designer Nick Simmons built in Holland Park — now shared with wife Jill Scholes who is also an interior designer — is the only Kensington & Chelsea new build with no basement.
“I got permission for one,” says Nick, 55, “but I like natural light, so I didn’t do it.” Given west London property values that’s rather admirable. But it was a smart move, too.
Building his own home was clearly a fantastic adventure for Nick. He made sure he used every inch of his three-storey, 1,700sq ft house, and with good spatial planning he fitted in all he wanted, without the huge expense of excavations, underpinning, tanking, flood risk, and all the rest of the costly horrors that go with digging basements in residential areas.
At the top, Nick made a master floor that enjoys beautiful views over mature neighbouring back gardens; plus a dressing room, and a mini office tucked on the landing, suggested by Jill, 52.
The ground floor has two bedrooms for two of his three adult children from a previous marriage, each with a bathroom and access to a little enclosed courtyard. There’s also a utility room, a hall, and a garage.
A SUNNY FLOOR FOR LIVING
Sandwiched sensibly between these floors is the pièce de résistance — an entire sunny floor dedicated to living. There’s a well-designed kitchen with an island, a dining area giving on to the elegantly railed terrace that runs the width of the house, and a big seating area lined out with the same oak that is used on the floor and windows, softening and marking out the area.
At about 565sq ft, this floor is the size of a one-bedroom flat, so it’s a great space. And while it is big, it isn’t echoing.
Nick worked hard at his design, building 3D models to study how everything worked, doing computerised plans of the hand-cut tiling in the hall — “the builders nearly went mad” — and drawing all the kitchen units. But detail pays off and in this case saved money, for he also project-managed the job.
THE SEARCH BEGINS
But in 2009 that was all a pipe dream, when, having just met Jill at a business event, he was on the hunt for a plot. This was his priority and he didn’t see Jill for another year. She hadn’t got a business card with her when they met but as a football fan, Nick remembered her surname because it was the same as that of former Manchester United midfielder, Paul Scholes.
That September Nick spotted a 1969 house for rent and went to view it. “In minutes, I wanted it.” With a warren of five poky little bedrooms, it had been let to students for years. Even though the agent said it wasn’t for sale, Nick asked him to make an offer to the owner. To his utter surprise, she accepted. Suddenly, he was in business. He took a punt though, because though he intended to tear it down, he didn’t check with the planners before buying it.
He contacted Jill, who found him an architect to draw basic plans to submit to planning. The planners were in favour of a new house as long as it was the same size and built of hand-made brick with a slate roof. It could have dormers and a terrace, like the existing one. No neighbours complained, and apart from adjusting the garage size and making a disabled-access loo, plans went through in spring 2010.
MINIMAL MAINTENANCE MAN
Jill’s interior design associate, Emily Bizley, helped Nick with spatial planning. Nick then hired Emily’s husband, architect Graham Bizley, to draw up working plans.
Graham accepted that his client was leading the design, and Nick’s perfect team was formed. “Emily and I called him ‘Minimal maintenance man’,” Jill smiles. “Every surface had to be hardwearing and easy to clean: oak and ceramic floors.” Nick interjects: “No luxury, no frippery, no dust-gathering ledges. I do the cleaning.”
He wanted big, single-pane windows, which let in wonderful light. He also specified slim, opening oak shutters, fixed on stays, that let air — but not people — through. “I’m very security conscious.” Jill designed the elegant terrace railing, hand forged like the stair rail, while Emily designed the terrace itself.
“But we nearly fell out over the bath,” Jill laughs. She thought a clawfoot would look best but Nick knew it would be hard to clean behind and went for a curve-edged one fixed to the wall.
After six weeks of demolition, and foundations laid in November 2010 “it took exactly a year to build”, Nick says. That’s fast, but he was on site most days.
Their house complete, the couple wed in 2012. Few of us can offer our new spouse a house we’ve designed ourselves, with their help, particularly one as well-considered and comfortable as this.
What a great start to a marriage.
WHAT IT COST
Sixties house in 2009: £1.3 million
Total cost of build and interior design: £500,000
Value now (estimate): £3.1 million
GET THE LOOK
- Architect: Graham Bizley at Prewett Bizley
- Interior design: Emily Bizley and Jill Scholes
- Builder: JS Construction
- Joiner: KD Joinery
- Handmade bricks: Vandersanden Group
- “Bilder” ceramic floor tiles in hall and shower: from European Heritage
- Oak engineered flooring: FPS Flooring
- Johannes Potente steel lever door handles: All Good
- Lamp Room Grey paint in hall: Farrow & Ball
- Grey paint in master bedroom: Dulux shade 20YY490718C1
- Ply pendant lamp: SCP
- “Form” back-to-wall bath: Laufen