Ditton Hill House | by Surman Weston

Immortalised by the BBC’s ‘The Good Life’, Surbiton in Surrey is known for its almost stereotypically suburban character. In fact, says architect Percy Weston, the area as “about as suburban as it gets”, and so when his practice Surman Weston was appointed to design a house on Ditton Hill in the heart of the neighbourhood, it looked to the site’s surroundings for inspiration. “We wanted to design a building which was sympathetic is some ways to the local vernacular but would also be a modern building all of its own”, he says. 

Owing to the client’s desire for something contemporary and industrial, but “more than a simple, minimalist open-plan box”, the detached house takes references from the mock-Tudor architecture common to the area – in this case modernised as a steel frame construction infilled with slurried brick panels – as well as Surbiton’s celebrated train station, known for its distinguished white Art Deco facade. 

To the front, the A-frame elevation – with its sing le window and discrete doorway – gives the impression of an archetypal house drawn by a young child, creating a traditional and simple first impression, while marrying together these two prominent suburban styles. It is “solid and monolithic”, says Weston, whose aim was to maintain the occupants’ privacy while using texture and pattern to break up the building’s mass. 

To the rear is an entirely different story. Visibly split into two levels –the lower fully glazed and the five-metre-high upper floor and ‘loft space’ shielded by a perforated brick screen – the back of the house faces a large private garden and is thus more open and connected to its surroundings.

“Different rooms have slightly different views and relationships with the garden”, says Weston. “On the ground floor, the windows give a panoramic all-encompassing view of the garden. On the first floor, the brick screen and opening on the balcony are designed to emphasise the view of the treetops and the sky. The perforated brick screen mediates between the bedroom, the balcony and the garden, while also providing privacy for the client.” 

The ground floor accommodates a discreet kitchen, living/dining area, reception room and study. Large sliding doors open the flow between spaces without succumbing to full open-plan living. Two first-floor bedrooms have en-suite dressing rooms and bathrooms. While the cellular arrangement is relatively conventional, the architect has added interest through volume, daylight and materials at every point of the journey through the house. 

The industrial aesthetic is announced by a theatrical top-lit triple-height entrance hall designed as an ‘internal courtyard’, with exposed blockwork walls and rough concrete screed floors to reverse traditional ‘domestic’ connotations. 

Further into the house, the highly-textured exterior is brought under control with a more contemporary character. Living spaces have a warmer palette of timber floors and plastered walls. Exposed metal ceilings add texture and act as a modern take on exposed timber beams, suggests the architect. 

The light encountered in the entrance courtyard entrance is reproduced in the bedrooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms housed within the ‘loft’, where top-light provides an ethereal, church-like quality. These calm spaces are the culmination of a spatial journey characterised by variety, sophistication and a quiet playfulness. 

This article was originally written for Architecture Today
Photos | Johan Dehlin