Appearing on Grand Designs in 2011, Paul and Penny Denby demolished the Kent home they had lived in for nearly two decades to make way for this striking glass-fronted self build home.
Image: Paul and Penny’s house is on one of the smaller plots in Keston Park. They were not allowed to remove any trees to build their new house so it has been positioned diagonally across the site, which also takes advantage of the view of trees stretching into the distance. Photo: Jefferson Smith
Paul and Penny Denby had been living in a house in Keston Park, a Utopia-like pocket of woodland just outside London developed in the 1920s by Frederick Rogers, for some 20 years before addressing the issues they had with their property. Although it had plenty of light, with windows on three sides, it had a boxy layout, and a small kitchen with limited connection to the dining room.
‘We moved in, thinking we’d make it a more usable space, but the more we looked, the more expensive it got to do,’ says Penny, and given the house had already been extended twice, they felt another wouldn’t solve its problems, so they decided to wait until they had the time and funds to build from scratch.
Watch the episode: Bromley, 2011
A new look for Keston Park
Image: The curved bedroom wing has specially designed fins to shield the balcony and windows – a clever way of getting round a planning restriction preventing the house from overlooking the neighbours. Photo: Jefferson Smith
Paul and Penny didn’t want another mock-period house, similar to the ones developers were building all around them, so they approached an architect to see what could be done. After a failed first design, which Paul and Penny thought was too boxy and out of keeping with the local area, a chance meeting with James Engel from Spaced Out Architecture Studio, set them on the road to a more suitable design.
The result is still a departure from the local style, but in keeping with its roots, as James explains: ‘Le Corbusier built Villa Savoye in the late Twenties, at the same time they were building chocolate-box houses in Keston Park, so this house pays homage to early Modernism. Personally, I think it’s very much a Keston Park house.’
The house also takes inspiration from Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, particularly with the glazed facade, which reflects the green of the surrounding trees, and the blue of the sky, so that the house blends in with the environment, despite its size.
Image: None of the internal walls are supporting walls, rather like a modern-day barn. This means that the layout can easily be altered. Photo: Jefferson Smith
Of course, the local council didn’t see things the same way, and the house became a political hot potato, not opposed so much by the local planners, as by local councillors. They called for the decision to be made by committee, dragging Paul and Penny through a number of stressful meetings at the eleventh hour. ‘The decision came through on a Thursday, and the builders started on Monday. If they’d said no, it would have been a disaster,’ says Paul.
And more trouble was on its way. When they demolished the house they realised that, despite testing around the house, the ground directly beneath it was unstable, and needed securing, which cost about £30,000.
The glass house
Image: The master bedroom faces south-west, with a direct view across a line of trees at the boundary of neighbouring houses, which creates the feeling of being in a home set in extensive grounds. Photo: Jefferson Smith
After that, though, building work progressed smoothly, taking just over a year to finish, and in a rarity for Grand Designs, the glazing arrived without a hitch. It’s even more impressive considering they used a super-performance glass for what was, at the time, the first time on a residential project in the UK. An advanced mirror film in the glazing unit reflects heat, ensuring it doesn’t get too hot in summer, or too cold in winter. It also reduces condensation, and cuts noise transmitted through the glass by up to 20 per cent.
It was an important investment, considering glass is such a key element of the house. ‘I was very keen on the well-being that light brings,’ says James – especially as this is a house not just for Paul and Penny, but also for Penny’s mother, Jean Willstrop, who has her own self-contained flat upstairs. ‘So many studies have been done that show the impact of light on your health, so it was crucial.’
Interestingly, the house has windows on only 40 per cent of its surface area (compared with about 20 per cent for a traditional house), though it looks like much more because they are concentrated on the front and back (the side walls, which make up a big proportion of the surface area, are virtually blank). It means the house feels a lot bigger than it actually is. The open-plan living-dining-kitchen space and its 6m-high atrium also help in this respect, as does the huge curved wall, which subtly draws your eye from the front to the back of the house.
Read more: 7 creative, circular self-build homes
Image: The central space features a six metre-high atrium that makes the house feel much bigger than it actually is. Photo: Jefferson Smith
You could say this central space is the glue that binds the rest of the house (which has six bedrooms, including Jean’s), with corridors leading off to the bedrooms, bathrooms, a study, a library, and a TV room – all of which enjoy cinematic views of the surrounding woods.
‘This house was fundamentally about letting them live in the landscape they love,’ says James.
And what were the reactions to this home? ‘Most people liked it. Some people said they wouldn’t want to live in such an open-plan space, but they appreciate that we did,’ says Penny.
Image: There are three bathrooms and three en suites in the house, all with high-level windows letting in plenty of light. Photo: Jefferson Smith
But of course, the most important critics are Paul and Penny themselves – and they couldn’t have been happier with the build.
‘On a bright sunny day, the reflections on the glass are so crisp that the house almost disappears when you’re looking from the street,’ says Paul. ‘And in the afternoon, as the sun is going down, we have fantastic shadows of the trees on the wall,’ adds Penny.
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