This award-winning contemporary home on the edge of Blackheath combines eco-friendly principles with cutting-edge design. Nikki Spencer finds out more
It still feels like we are on holiday,’ declares Philip Cooper as he and his wife Caroline and their miniature schnauzer dog, Eric, greet me at the door of The Pavilion, their newly completed award-winning eco home. The moment I start to climb the dark wood staircase to the huge open-plan upstairs living area, I can see exactly what he means.
Voted the UK’s Best Eco Home by the Guardian readers earlier this year, their split-level four-bedroom modernist home is stunning. Even on a winter’s morning, with traces of rain still on the terrace, light streams through the sliding glass walls into the massive L-shaped room. It’s easy to understand why over 450 people eagerly queued up to look around at Open House London back in September.
Architect Philip and interior designer Caroline have been living and breathing this project for years and they still seem to be pinching themselves that their dream of building a 21st century environmentally friendly home has finally come true. And they didn’t even have to leave their beloved corner of Blackheath. Back in 1991, Philip and Caroline bought their old home, the Grade II* listed Pagoda on the edge of the heath. Famous for its distinctive gabled, Chinese-style roof with dramatic upturned corners, it was originally created as a garden pavilion for the Duke of Montagu in 1767 by Sir William Chambers, the designer of Somerset House and the Pagoda at Kew.
They spent years restoring it to its former glory, creating a beautiful family home in which to bring up their three children, Sam, Will and Jess. About five years ago, Philip and Caroline decided to embark on one last project – creating a contemporary home for their retirement, designed by their son Sam, who followed in his father’s footsteps and now runs E2 Architecture + Interiors. Unable to find a plot locally, a friend suggested building at the bottom of their garden.
The idea was to create a building that is sensitive to its location in a conservation area and the adjacent listed building, and after two years of fastidious planning the proposed project eventually won the support of English Heritage, The Georgian Group and The Blackheath Society. In 2010 they got planning permission and work started in 2011, finishing earlier this year.
‘It has taken a lot longer than we thought,’ admits Philip. ‘The building is at the forefront of modern construction but sadly the first building company wasn’t quite up to the job, then AN Halpin & Co took over and they were great. It also took us a bit longer than we hoped to sell The Pagoda.’
The Pavilion is one of the first private houses to achieve Level 5 on the Code for Sustainable Homes. Environmental features include a biodiverse green roof, rainwater harvesting and super insulation and triple glazing. Their energy comes from a ground-source heat pump and roof-top solar panels and the surplus they produce is sold to the national grid.
Caroline, who set up her own interior design practice, Caroline Cooper Interiors, after training at Chelsea College of Art, has combined cutting-edge design with treasured family pieces to create a home that is practical yet elegant and comfortable. While the guest bedrooms are downstairs, the master suite is at the far end of the living area, overlooking the multi-levelled landscaped with its contemporary pools, metal floating steps and grasses. ‘I love the fact that we are high up. It almost feels like being in a tree house,’ says Caroline.
Feature walls of purple polished plaster have the added advantage of being waterproof, meaning there’s no need for tiles in the open bath and shower area. The room even has its own ‘secret garden’ complete with a Buddha, hidden beneath an old yew tree.
‘I’ve waited 50 years for this,’ says Caroline as we walk into a large dressing room with a huge antique mirror from a junk shop in Peckham that beautifully contrasts the modern Italian basins and light fittings.
A skylight adds extra light to showcase their substantial collection of art, acquired over the years from galleries, exhibitions and friends: ‘We had this picture in The Pagoda but it was never as lovely as it is now, it’s positively glowing,’ says Caroline.
In the living area, the large Macassar ebony dining table was custom made for The Pagoda, but with the recent addition of some chunky white Italian dining chairs it works perfectly in its new setting. A large Chinese wedding cabinet, which was previously used for storing CDs (they now have a built-in Sonos sound system), has been customised for glasses and cutlery. ‘I am a Sheffield girl, so I have to have a proper cutlery drawer,’ says Caroline.
The glass walls fold away to create an almost-alfresco dining area, with the same grey porcelain floor tiles running throughout to enhance the sense of bringing the outdoors in. The custom-built kitchen, by Kent-based Chamber Furniture, combines sleek white units that ‘disappear into the walls’ with a concrete breakfast bar. Caroline added a touch of colour with three red glass pendant lights from Dulwich-based designer, Tom Kirk. Cleverly hidden away behind closed doors is a large area for baking with cookbooks, ingredients and equipment, and a washing-up area with a window overlooking the garden (‘I can just fill the sink up with dirty pots and close the door!’ says Caroline).
Intelligent technology by Gira controls everything from the blinds and lights to their music selection and the underfloor heating. Everything is operated via a central panel in the living area, which can also be accessed remotely.
The house is hugely impressive, and Philip and Caroline are looking forward to their first Christmas in their new hi-tech surrounds: ‘Our children and grandchildren will be here to experience our first open-plan Christmas at The Pavilion, although we’re not sure where to put the tree!’