There are those who see their homes as fortresses of reclusive privacy, who prefer to play out their domestic lives in secret behind lace curtains and privet hedges.
Arriving at the front door of North London architects Andy and Aurore Down, you sense that they are not of the privet persuasion. Next to the door, where the wall should be, is a giant glass panel, giving a ringside view of a family hallway.
It helps, of course, that the Highgate crescent where they live is exceptionally quiet, with little through traffic. But, say Andy and Aurore, ÒweÕre not bothered if people want to look in.Ó What is more important is to keep a sense of continuous space between inside and out - the grey-white pebbles, bamboo and cherry tree of the front garden complimenting the simplicity of the limestone floor and African sculptures in the hallway.
The principle is carried on to even more dramatic effect at the back of the house, where the basement and ground floors have been replaced almost entirely with glass Ð only the upstairs bedroom level retains the brick of the original1928 Ôgarden suburbÕ architecture.
The house was a relative bargain due to structural unsoundness in the basement. This had been excavated at the time the house was constructed: deep foundations were needed in the boggy ground the road was built on, mostly landfill from the nearby Archway viaduct.
Given that major work had to be done on the basement anyway, Andy and Aurore made the courageous decision to transform the house entirely and convert the cellar into their homeÕs main living space. What first attracted them to the property was the width: while Victorian houses usually have a frontage of around five metres, the homes of the 1920s were more generous in this respect and the Downs had eight metres to play with. ÒWe ended up taking the house back to the brick and changing everything Ð doors, windows. Ò
The conversion increased the footprint of the house from 1800 sq ft to 3000 sq foot, and involved opening up almost the entire basement and first floor area, with the loss of two load-bearing walls across two floors. This in turn meant an awful lot of steel Ð six Ôpicture framesÕ in all. The back wall is made up of double-glazed soft coat low E glass panels, 2.6m x 2m.
The border between inside and out is marked by a water feature over a metre. The crossing to the garden is made by metre-square stepping stones Ð the same Bulgarian limestone tiles as the interior floor and exterior patio. The garden reaches its original level not via a conventional terrace but by an undulating grass slope.
Such a radical transformation inevitably led to battles with the council planners, and many compromises had to be reached. ÒWe are now experts in the area of Ôpermitted developmentÕ, says Andy ruefully.
The view outside is tranquil and simple Ð grass flanked by white walls and grey pebbles, dotted with silver birch, cherry and white flowering bushes. ÒI donÕt like gardening, so itÕs very low maintenance,Ó says Aurore.
Andy and Aurore met while studying architecture at Dundee University, and run a joint practice. They admit to having been Òtypical architectsÓ over the project, indulging themselves in somewhat impractical yet aesthetically pleasing design features they would not perhaps inflict on clients. Despite the occasional design whim, they feel that the alterations they have made to the house are in tune with the needs of modern families.
Kitchens were often pokey, out-of-the-way places, for servantsÕ exclusive use, but in the 21st century they are the most-used rooms in a house. So it is obvious that it should also be the room most easily accessible to the outside.