Bromley modernist mansion, Grand Designs 2011

The Grand Designs Modernist mansion in Bromley

These self-builders swapped mock-Tudor for a Modernist-inspired home surrounded by trees

By Luke Tebbutt | 16 October 2020

Paul and Penny Denby demolished the home they had lived in for nearly 20 years to build their Grand Designs home in Bromley. Appearing on the show in 2011, the striking glass-fronted modernist house was formerly a mock-Tudor property that just didn’t suit their needs.

The couple 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 just shy of two decades. Although the property 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. Additionally, 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.

Bromley modernist house in Keston Park surrounded by trees

The couple didn’t want to rebuild in a mock-period style. Photo: Jefferson Smith.

Grand Designs home in Bromley

Paul and Penny didn’t want another mock-Tudor 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 the couple 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 their Grand Designs home in Bromley.

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 modernist house also takes inspiration from Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. This is 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.

Curved bedroom wing with fins to shield the balcony and windows

The curved bedroom wing has specially designed fins to shield the balcony and windows. Photo: Jefferson Smith

Planning problems

Of course, the local council didn’t see things the same way, and the modernist house became a political hot potato. It wasn’t really opposed by the local planners, but by the 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.

However, 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.

Read more: Planning permission: how to improve your chances of success