This newly built house is located in the hilly conservation area of Hampstead village in north-west London.
The project, commissioned by a developer with the intention of selling it to the luxury market, comprises a 5-storey house of 800m2, with an inset garage, 160m2 garden, and an indoor pool / spa.
From the street, at the top of a narrow lane, the house has a still and understated elegance, in brickwork and glass, that blends quietly into this historic corner of London (former inhabitants include the painter John Constable and writer Daphne du Maurier). But stepping inside is to enter into another world, as if by a clever twist of the hand in origami, a cottage has been transformed into a castle.
In warm earth tones, which range from honey through to bronze, and austere but luxurious lines, the interior contains the unique signature of architect Claudio Silvestrin.
The materials and colours are kept to a minimum: yellow-ochre porphyry on the walls (sourced from the Italian Dolomites), oxidised brass with a bronze finish (on handles, surfaces and railings), yellow-ochre porphyry, and oak on the floors. The simplicity invites touch, and the textures play with the senses: on one of the spiral staircases, natural untreated leather is juxtaposed to porphyry stone, white plaster and limestone, like an abstract composition – a sequence of quiet variations that might be compared to music. In the same way, there is a constant dialogue between the straight and the curved line, made sensual when they interact with the movement of the body.
There is also a dialogue between light and dark: subtle entry-points of light cast patterns of pale to golden energy on the ceilings and walls, and vertical window slits provide tantalising glimpses of trees and sky; while expansive curved windows and glass balconies are open to intimate views of the garden and more dramatic views of London, reaching to the Shard.
In one room, at the top of the house, a sequence of 3 oak steps in front of a window seems to invite both contemplation and spiritual meditation – a touch that is characteristic of Silvestrin's work. The feeling is of a calm, serene, almost monastic space; and to achieve this simplicity, technology is mostly hidden. There is no ornamentation of any kind.
At the same time, there is drama: a stone staircase of 42 continuous steps leads down to a pool and spa, into which only a little concentrated light is permitted, giving it the feeling of a cave or other secret, ancient site.
A place of luxury, in terms of modern comforts (there is also a private cinema room), the house is also a demonstration of Silvestrin's philosophy that extreme simplicity, with a perfection of line, material and orchestrated light, results also in a luxury of thought and spirit, and a connection to something beyond words, that is timeless and essential. As the poet John Keats, one of Hampstead's most famous residents, wrote: 'Touch has a memory.
Claudio Silvestrin was born in 1954, studied under A. G. Fronzoni in Milan and at the Architectural Association in London. His interest in philosophy, his vision, his integrity, clarity of mind, inventiveness and concern for details is reflected in his distinctive architecture: austere but not extreme, contemporary yet timeless, calming but not ascetic, strong but not intimidating, elegant but not ostentatious, simple but not soulless.
The work of the practice encompasses real estate developments, newly built houses and resorts for private residence, art galleries and museums, restaurants, luxury retail stores and furniture design. Clients include Giorgio Armani, Illy caffé, Anish Kapoor, Calvin Klein, Victoria Miro, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo for whom he has designed the museum in Turin and the internationally acclaimed hip hop artist and producer Kanye West.