The Sunday Times: Beyond the Brochure: A blank canvas in Notting Hill
Sat 27 Apr 2013
This all-white architect's home was once an art gallery - it's perfect for hanging a Pollock
There are two things a woman should never tease a man about, and one of them is his driving. But, as I squeeze my way into a narrow lane off Notting Hill Gate, in west London, and find a parking space opposite the Dreamtime Gallery, I spot a familiar Range Rover parked a couple of spaces down. Which is puzzling, as I know that the doors on the front of the building fold back to reveal a garage, and I have seen photos of the Range Rover parked snugly within.
So I can't resist a dig at Richard Found, owner of both Dreamtime and the vehicle eating up meter money outside. I guess, I say, what with the other parked cars in the cramped lane getting in the way, you simply couldn't manage the manouvre into your own private off-street parking? Not a bit of it, apparently. He could have don it, easy, no problem. He just, er, didn't feel like it.
Perhaps it was because I was coming round, and he wanted me to appreciate the pristine garage without the distraction of a vehicle inside. The rest of the house, after all, is totally empty. Found has very definite views on what constitues a desirable interior, and I get the impression that even his version of fully furnished is on the spare side.
Then again, perhaps I should listen and learn, because Found is a 'starchitect', which means his name and reputation are known and revered among people who know and revere such things; he is also an architect to the stars, with clients including Jamie Theakston and Claudia Schiffer, as well as others whose identities he protects with the determination of a mother bear shielding her cubs. When it's not creating perfect houses for houshold names, his practice, founded in 1997, designs upmarket shops and has even been called in to consult on aircraft interiors (first and business class only).
He had planned for Dreamtime to be his London family home, but that didn't work out when it looked like they'd have to install his mother-in-law in the windowless basement, so he let it out and now it's on the market.
So what do you get for nearly 4.5m? Well, there's the garage, of course, not to be sniffed at in the congested warren of lanes and double yellows in this corner of the capital. More than 2,000 sq ft of living space, as well as a decked roof terrace, is arranged over the three floors of this former pub turned art gallery. It already had permission for residential use when he bought it in 1999, Found says, but the art-gallery vibe is still strong: the smooth white walls of the main living area cry out for a large expressionist canvas or two.
The lack of stuff getting in the way makes it easy for him to show off a few of the signature features that grace the homes of his wealthy customers, though he points out that he's not "prescriptive" and lets clients "collaborate - you don't have to have Corian".
You do here. The worktops in the first-floor kitchen off the 32ft living room are white Corian (a blend of acrylic and minerals that forms a rock-hard material), as are the cupboard doors, to make them more hard-wearing. Isn't that terribly expensive, I inquire. "Yes." So don't even ask how much the 10ft-long white Corian sideboard-type arrangement that hides the stairs from the room cost.
The maple-floored living room is flooded with light from the "clerestory" - that's windows above eye level. Natural light is one of Found's desirable features; it also filters in through the white roller blinds that block the view onto an ugly commercial building across the street through the four large windows.
Natural light is in short supply in the large basement, which has a wet bar and an ensuite, but just a tiny funnel up to the pavement lights. Still, a publican's cellar can be an architect's home cinema, I guess.
There are two bedrooms on the ground floor behind the garage, where the bathrooms reveal a few more of Found's tricks of the trade. He explains how he always uses the largest slabs of stone he can - these are 80cm squares of grey linmestone, and combine the twin challenges of being more expensive than regular sizes and more difficult to lay. "Every detail and every junction had to be considered."
In here, we also find one of his favourite features: the no-skirting-board look. "It's cleaner visually, but the plasterer has to do a good job, I insist on a 5mm 'shadow gap' above the floor."
It's not terribly practical, and he warns any client thinking of going for this option that they will need to redecorate every couple of years if they can't trust their cleaners not to knock into the plaster with a mop or Dyson. I struggle to banish a disturbing image of Claudia Schiffer communicating this message to a cowering and uncomprehending eastern European domestic via the twin media of mime and shouting.
So who does Found think will want to buy this house? "A professional couple, recently married, a child on the way..." he hazards. A starter home for 4.45m? How very Notting Hill.