It has been filmed by the BBC and featured in countless magazines, so what makes Bower House so special? Islington architect Dominic McKenzie invites us into his own home to show us

First things first Dominic, let’s talk about Islington – how long have you been in the area for now and why was it the perfect place to set up your practice?

I’ve been in the area for over ten years now. We moved into our house in 2002.

Angel was very appealing as it was very central, but also a bit east – as Hoxton and Shoreditch were already happening back then.

What do you make of the architecture in the area?

I live and work in Barnsbury, which is a beautiful part of Angel. The quality of the Georgian architecture is really exceptional – the squares and streets are some of the finest in London, and there are a lot of architectural lessons to be learnt here. Plus it’s very quiet and leafy. I think it’s hard to beat.

Is the Bower House project – your home and pictured here – typical of the work you undertake?

Bower House was a house I designed for myself and my wife ten years ago. So it was my first project in the area and has led on to a lot of the work we are doing today.

What was the idea behind the design?

The Resident: Inside Islington architect Dominic McKenzie’s homeInside Islington architect Dominic McKenzie’s home

The key idea in Bower House (and indeed in much of the work we do) is to connect the house to the garden – hence the name Bower House. A bower is a quiet, secret part of a garden and it seemed very appropriate here given the quality of the rear garden. There is a large ceanothus tree in the back garden, which turns bright blue with the blossom in spring. I wanted to celebrate this and to bring some of this magical garden quality into the house.

In fact the house was already called Bower House before we moved in – one of the previous owners was literally called Mr Bower, we still get post for him now and again! And the name Bower House was already written under the paint on the shopfront, but in a more pragmatic Helvetica. So I reused the name as it seemed so relevant to my design intentions for the house.

Looking at the finished design, is there one particular USP in its look?

Whilst the historic Georgian houses are fantastic, beautiful and functional works of architecture, one of their shortcomings is that the original rooms tend to be rather small with small windows – especially to the rear. Instead I wanted to create a large dramatic, light filled room that would both connect the existing rooms to each other and to the rear garden. So this led to the creation of the double height rear extension, which is glazed from top to bottom. Once this decision was made the next question was how big the doors in the glazing should be? We thought it would be fun and dramatic if the doors opened all the way to the ceiling rather than just stopping half way. So I guess the project’s USP are these massive, five metre high French doors that allow the rear of the house to be entirely opened up to the garden.

I love that whatever level you are on, you can experience the effect…

That’s exactly right – the rear extension is not massive in terms of square metre area, it only extends about 3 metres from the back wall of the house – but what it does is connect all the existing rooms together and to the garden, making the existing house feel much bigger. The glass balustrades at the back of the ground floor living room allow you to lie on the sofa at the front of the house and have a view straight out to the garden. Similarly when you are cooking at the kitchen island in the basement you can also see out to the garden.

How would you sum up the look of the kitchen and dining area?

The kitchen was another fun idea I thought we should try. At the time when I designed it ten years ago you saw stainless steel kitchens everywhere, but I thought why not try brass which you see used for counters in French bistros?

The kitchen island forms the centrepiece of the front room in the converted basement. When you come from the staircase into the room, the island appears like this incredible glowing block of gold, because it’s lit from above with downlighters. It’s a real wow factor moment. We recently had the BBC filming at Bower House and they concentrated specifically on the kitchen, ignoring the huge doors and double height space which is saying something!

How many bedrooms are there – and do they all have a typical look?

There are four bedrooms in the original house. They have a fairly typical look. Then there is the master bedroom, which is housed in the mansard roof extension at the top of the house and is another unusual and bespoke room. It occupies the entire top floor of the house, is lined with tongue and groove cladding and has a walk-in wet room / shower area at the back of it.

You mention the wet room, how did you factor that into the existing layout of that room?

Here the whole top floor, which is a new extension, was set out higher than it needed to be to allow a flush walk in wet room. The wet room is lined with sustainably sourced hardwood decking, which conceals a full width recessed shower ‘tray’ below it that catches the water. The timber decking gives a really nice natural feel to the room – it looks nice and also feels nice under your feet!

There has been a lot of interest in Bower House in the media and the likes of Open House London, not to mention other projects of yours. What does this recognition mean to you?

Yes it was on the BBC’s £100K house recently (in their inspiration section – it is not really a £100K house!). They came and filmed last summer and it was aired in early autumn. Before that the house has been featured in Living etc. (my wife Saskia was on the cover) and Vogue Living, Elle Decoration, Grand Designs magazine… The recognition means a lot to me and can also lead on to more work which is great – now and again I meet people for an initial consultation meeting and half way through they bring out a cutting they’ve kept from a magazine two years ago!

Going forward Dominic, what would you look for in a project?

A decent budget ideally, a client who likes our work and trusts our opinion and hopefully also has a keen interest in design generally. The creation of a great project is a collaboration between a good architect and also a good client. There needs to be a feeling of respect and trust, and a collective ambition to try and create something together that’s really special.

Interview by Mark Kebble / All photos by Will Pryce

Contact Dominic McKenzie Architects by calling 020 3302 0794 or see more at