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House of the Month: A restyled 70's house in Redbourn, Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 14:15 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:44 20 February 2013

A glass and steel walkway leading from the top of the stairs was added to avoid having to add a corridor to reach the master bedroom

A glass and steel walkway leading from the top of the stairs was added to avoid having to add a corridor to reach the master bedroom

John and Heather Collins restyled their 70s house in Redbourn into a stylish contemporary home, as Pat Bramley discovers

PULLING into the drive, youd guess that the yellow brick house with its large clear paned windows was built about 40 years ago when the prevailing Scandinavian take on architecture made houses on pre-war and post-war estates look pokey and dark by comparison.


For almost a decade, houses like Pippins in Aubrey Lane, Redbourn, had the light and airy, streamlined no-fussy-bits Swedish style which swept the board when accolades were handed out by the architectural appreciation society. But then fashions in domestic design changed again and neo-Georgian square paned windows and period character became the be-all and end-all and 1960s and 70s architecture was written off as boxy.
From the outside, Pippins still looks like an early 70s house even though it has been extended. Inside, its a different story.


The interior has metamorphosed into a contemporary living space for the 21st century to a degree that would be appreciated by the original designer.


The transformation took 18 months but not until new owners John and Heather Collins had lived in the first house that theyd bought together for a year.


Theyd been looking for the right property to do up for ages when they finally found Pippins in 2002. John explains, We were looking for a house on its own individual plot, not one on an estate and it needed to be within easy reach of everywhere because at the time I was driving all over the country for my business. His plant hire company has a nationwide network of corporate clients building motorways and major commercial developments. Heather chips in, The previous owner was a lovely lady who bought the plot in the 70s. The house was built for her family her children grew up here. Her sister bought the neighbouring plot, she still lives in the house next door. Thats what makes the road interesting. The land was split up into plots which were sold individually so all the houses are different.


Pippins was dated but it had a nice ambience about it, John says. It still had the avocado suite in the bathroom, Heather adds. It was a family home. The owners were happy with it as it was.


It was exactly what the Collins had been looking for. Its in the Green Belt. Its set back from a main road but its sheltered by trees, you dont hear the noise. The views over countryside at the back are protected the outlook wont change.


John is a quantity surveyor by profession and hed refurbished a house for himself in the past. However even though he project managed the work on Pippins in between running the plant hire business and Heather had a major input in designing the interior, they hired an architect to collate their ideas and draw up the plans.


Id never done anything like this before. I absolutely loved it, says the novice designer whose first project has the sure touch of a professional. We lived here for a year to get a feel for the place before we got the builders in. You dont even know where the sun sets until youve lived in a house. I went to hundreds of design exhibitions. I got all the magazines. I had a folder stuffed with ideas from magazines.


The year and a half it took to complete the majority of the work was a nightmare, Heather admits, and not because the team of builders they hired werent good craftsmen because they were. It was a nightmare because we lived here while the place was being torn apart, she says, wincing at the memory. There was dust everywhere, in my hair, in my clothes, everywhere. We had a sink and a washing machine plumbed in in an alcove in the living room to make it just about habitable while the kitchen was being gutted and the extension was being built but Id never live in a house while it was being renovated again. It was a big mistake.


The footprint for the new two storey extension filled in the gap between what had been the end of the house and the previously detached garage. On the ground floor, it created a breakfast room with glass doors onto the patio; it also gave them a utility room with a door through to the newly built integral double garage. Upstairs, the new master suite with dressing room and en suite bathroom is five-star hotel standard.


The main challenge at first floor level was how to reach the new master suite without carving a slice off the existing four bedrooms to make a corridor. They didnt want to lose space from the rooms.


John recalls, When I was looking for a solution I realised I could make a walkway in the ceiling space above the main living area using glass and galvanised steel. Id used galvanised steel for a similar structure before when I was working on a contract for a water company we used it because they didnt want rust problems.


I asked a chap I knew from my days as a quantity surveyor to knock me one up. Glass walkways are quite common now but they werent then. Ours was one of the first. You see them in offices and hotels but not often in houses.


The glass gallery custom made by the Peterborough company D & B Darke above the living area and the new glass staircase with wooden treads which has replaced the original open tread staircase symbolic of 60s houses are the features which elevate the contemporary interior from oh-yes-very-nice to wow Hollywood in Hertfordshire.


Heather had a personal major triumph with the kitchen. I had it planned in my head. I didnt want a whole bank of units all round the walls. I wanted it to feel like a room rather than a kitchen.


She tracked down the units she wanted on the internet. Pronorm is a German manufacturer, a sister company to Poggenpohl. I designed the layout and Pronorm has a kitchen design company up north which built it and fitted it. Some of the units are soft grey in a matt finish contrasting with others overlaid with glass, giving them the sheen and colour of opal.
Grey slate for the floor in the kitchen came from a company which supplies commercial buildings, hotels and offices, so its hard wearing. Most of the integrated appliances are Neff other than the Kuppersbusch freezer and fridge.


All the walls throughout the ground floor are white. The floor just about everywhere except in the kitchen is walnut. A plumber recommended the supplier. Its brilliant to maintain.


Soft furnishings are predominantly muted tones of grey. I love grey and
I love matt finishes, Heather says emphatically, pointing out how
her favourite theme for the dcor and furnishings is repeated in different guises.


A chance meeting with Asian artist Paresh Nrshinga in an art gallery inspired the accent shades of red and purple. She says shes not a connoisseur of art. I like what I like. He came round to the house with a selection of his work and we chose the canvases that were appropriate to the space. Ive picked up the colours in cushions.


Today the cushions on the pale BoConcept sofa facing the wide flat screen TV in the breakfast area are ruby red. The Habitat sofa unit in the galleried living room has cushions the colour of a ripe Victoria plum. Tomorrow they could be pillar box red.


Among Heathers statement buys is the contemporary upholstered red chair and footstool by Ligne Roset bought from a shop in Tottenham Court Road I liked the colour.


Shes also pleased with the two transparent chairs from Phillipe Starcks Ghost range at the dining table are they comfortable? She shrugs. Its the style which sold them to her.


Clever lighting, she says, is vital when you are redesigning the interior of a house. They commissioned Prewer and Orsborn from Hockliffe to create the scheme for Pippins. Were particularly pleased with how they lit the gallery.


Upstairs, the walls are emulsioned with shades from the Farrow & Ball chart. The new shower room for the guest bedroom, the refitted family bathroom, the downstairs cloakroom and the glamorous bathroom in the master suite, all are drop dead beautiful with gorgeous tiles and suites from the upmarket Duravit range and sculptural Philippe Starck taps.
John fears people are too preoccupied by how much improvements add to the value of a property. Id say, think more about "Is this where you want to live?" Its about your lifestyle. Spend money on things which appeal to you, not just because it will add value.


Funny he should say that because having put so much love and effort into making Pippins a home that fulfilled their dreams, theyre back in the hunt, looking for somewhere which needs doing up so they can do it all again.


Ive loved doing this so much, I want to do it one more time, Heather confesses. Id like a bit more land (they have a third of an acre at Pippins) and a slightly bigger house and John would like a larger garage.


Pippins is for sale through Fine & Country in Berkhamsted with a guide price of 850,000. www.fineandcountryberkhamsted.com

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