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ELEVATION

HOW SUSTAINABLE THINKING  CAN OFFSET MODERN LIVING

{GORDON & SARAH DYCE : HILL HOUSE}

One of our favourite things is spending time up here with the lights off just watching,” says Sarah Dyce nodding towards the immense window view of London from the upstairs kitchen-lounge windows of newly built Hill House. Her husband Gordon, leaning back on the sofa by a sculptural circular fireplace is in total agreement: “The view of London is just magical and when it’s clear we can also see the lights stretching off to Kent.” Wherever fireworks are lit across London, this is the place to enjoy them, especially on New Year’s Eve.

From their new house on Canonbie Road you can see the Millennium Wheel and Battersea Power Station over to the North London hills one way, and towards the North Downs in the other – views which Sarah uses to destress during tough Zoom meetings in her new office. 

This room also doubles as a guest room, sewing space and rather wonderful gym. There’s no Peloton, instead keen dancer Sarah drapes an immense length of silk from specially fitted ceiling hooks so she can practise aerial acrobatics. As an added bonus this window allows her to also keep a discrete eye on what’s going on in the kitchen with Lucas, 9, Hayden, 7 and Clara, 5.

Kitchen dining space with window seat beyond

Pendant lights over the main stair  

 

“It was a crazy house, but it had potential and we decided at once to work with an architect we knew, and that was Joe.             
Sarah Dyce

↑  First floor sitting area with views east

↓  View of the rear of the house

The couple, who have busy jobs – she’s a tax partner and he works in the pharmaceutical industry – moved into the house they built in late December 2021. But they’ve lived in this spot since 2014 when they moved, with one young child, from a rented flat in Islington. Besides the view, the big draw of this tired 1930s bungalow was just-about-to-expire planning permission for a big new house. 

“It was a crazy house, but it had potential and we decided at once to work with an architect we knew, and that was Joe,” says Sarah. It says a lot that their friendship hasn’t been tested by the challenges of a new build. “We’d watched a lot of Grand Designs, so we learnt we’d go over budget, but Joe made us have a contingency in place. He also explained the importance of getting a builder in early with such a complex build.”

Joe contacted the original architects, then adapted their plan so there was less glazing to overheat and exciting eco-credentials above and below the building. He also found a way to join the house and ‘garage’ with an entry hall that links the upside down living with its four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a play room. The entrance is already working
brilliantly as a winter play space for the children and has the potential to host post-pandemic parties. 

Joe, who has builders working in his home at the moment, feels lockdown was an especially tough time for his friends to be building. “Material costs were all over the place and it was difficult to get hold of things. Then there were complications with the decision on renewables for heating and cooling the house coming in quite late and how they would integrate.”

Perhaps the most hairy moment was right at the start when the couple had to knock down their bungalow’s front wall in order to meet the planning permission timeline, because the finance wasn’t quite organised.

The main family living space

But Sarah sees it in a more positive way: “It’s such an opportunity when you are building from the ground up. We rented nearby and were in lockdowns while we were in build, so our house was a much-needed distraction. Site meetings became our social life! The team, Joe, and also Dan and his builders from Beam Development were absolutely brilliant. You hear absolute horror stories, but we were only slightly over timewise. It was 15-16 months rather than 12-13 months.”

Beneath Sarah’s home office with a view is a spacious utility room for laundry and two large plant rooms. For eco-fans this is the heart of the house.

Gordon, who has apps on his phone to measure his home’s energy use and an array of kitchen gadgets, says: “Using renewable energy was important to us, we wanted a big comfy house, but not one with a massive environmental cost. I like my mod cons and sustainability was a way of offsetting this.” Joe recommended using the latest technology to enable the family to heat and cool the house to zero carbon standards. In the plant room there are tanks, cylinders and pipes which connect to the three main parts – photovoltaic thermal (PV-T) solar panels on the roof which collect electrical and thermal energy; an earth energy bank (also known as an EEB) under the house which is used to store thermal energy (in hotter months so it can be used in the winter) with a heat pump for hot water, underfloor heating/cooling, and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and pre-conditioning of the air via a 42m long earth tube.

In February the house is cosily warm – Sarah’s in a short-sleeved top and there’s a shoes off at the door habit which gives everyone full benefit of the underfloor heating. 

Although snagging still needs to be collated (this is an important part of an architect’s service); workmen are busy in the garden; furniture needs to be sourced and photos hung, Sarah says the family felt at home at once. 

“We’ve just had two of my old school friends and their families to stay for the weekend and it was lovely,” she says beaming. Both sets of grandparents stayed in the first week they moved in, enjoying the comforts of an upstairs living space with its cushioned window seat, kitchen with a long table that can seat 14, bar area and two sofa gathering spots, one around a fire and the other a giant flatscreen TV. 

Sarah and Gordon both grew up in peripatetic families, constantly moving house as youngsters, and through building their own wow house it looks like they’ve found a forever home in Forest Hill perfectly suited to their busy lives.  
“It’s fair to say that Sarah and Gordon really like entertaining,” adds Joe drinking a coffee in what only a few months ago was a muddy building site. Now Hill House is a unique place for Sarah and Gordon, that can switch from grown-up space for martinis by the fireplace to family home with ease – and all in the most eco-friendly ways possible.

Disappearing corner windows opening to a sheltered courtyard

The same windows, seen from inside

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