1960’s Eco Living – The Journey
Our first home together was a 1960’s one bedroom flat in the heart of Covent Garden, London. A block of 70 flats which sat above Cameron Mackintosh’s New London Theatre on Drury Lane. Our neighbours were longstanding residents of the area, people who had worked all their lives in the fruit and veg market or in Theatreland. They had been rehoused in the block by the local authority and told stories of how wonderful it had been to move in and have their own private bathroom, fitted kitchens and the very effective communal central heating system. Large wall to wall windows, typical of the era, flooded the entire property with natural light and twice a day the place was filled with sounds of ‘Cats the musical’! The flat was decently sized and most significantly, was devoid of fuss and ‘features’, we loved the blank canvas and simplicity of living this 1960’s home provided.
Following Covent Garden, we tried several years in a Victorian terrace in Peckham but ultimately, we were drawn back to the clean lines and open space of 60’s living after a visit to our interior designer friend’s new home on the celebrated Austin Vernon & Partners’ Dulwich Estate. Within days of this visit, we had tracked down a run down 1960’s townhouse in Twickenham and several months later moved in with our young daughter and rental van full of belongings.
Now at this time, we also decided to combine husband and wife forces and start our own architectural practice – 50 Degrees North. Our aim was to establish an approachable practice with a sustainable ethos, especially suited to meet the needs of homeowners and developers running small to medium sized projects.
As it turned out, the renovation and eco upgrade of our newly purchased town house became the perfect showcase for the practice. We were able to use the scheme to demonstrate how a typical 1960’s house could be brought bang up to date – given a total top to toe eco overhaul. We wrapped the building in insulation, refitted with great looking high performance aluminium / timber windows, stripped out the gas supply and replaced it with a carbon neutral wood pellet burner and solar panels to feed the newly installed underfloor heating and hot water tank. All the bathrooms were fully tiled to increase thermal mass, floors were covered in renewable timber and cork, low water use taps fitted and a top quality kitchen installed (which, as hoped for, still looks totally unscathed after 10 years of small children cycling round the island!). Low energy compact fluorescent lighting was installed throughout, with electricity cut-off switches in every room and an electric car charging point at the front. The project was the winner of the 2008 Green Guardian award and my dad, Bob Harris, won the 2008 Federation of Master Builders National and Regional Awards in the Energy Efficiency Category, for his involvement. The scheme generated a real buzz in the media which was another key ojective of the mission and also lead to architectural tour groups becoming quite the norm for some time!
Fast forward 10 years and we are still very comfortable in our pioneering eco house. We have welcomed 2 more children to the nest, our business has steadily grown from the two of us working from the bedroom, praying that the phone will keep ringing, to our lovely team of 6 based in a real office by the river in Richmond.
As a family, for five generations, we have holidayed every summer on the South Coast. Of all the places we have decamped to, the Witterings near Chichester in West Sussex has alway been our favourite destination. With its railway carriage beach homes, which over the years we have seen gradually embelished and more recently replaced, its parade of shops where my mum, as a child, bought treasured dolls clothes at Jenny Wren and where my own children now spend their pocket money at Shells toy shop, our restorative ‘all weathers’ walks along the beach, blowing the cobwebs away and followed by slap up meals at the gingham covered tables of The Boulevard – It’s just a fabulous place to relax and recharge and be together.
For years we have talked about the idea of buying a place by the sea but have never really been quite ready or perhaps brave enough to take the plunge. However, this all changed in July last year when we zoomed down to West Wittering to view a 1960’s bungalow which had been empty for the two years previous. It had a managable south facing garden, the sound of the sea and tonnes of potential. It was the one.
After 10 years running the architectural practice and with hundreds of completed projects, we have built up a huge knowledge and expertise in the field of residential architecture. We were itching to have another stab at putting our ideas into practice, grabbing another chance to demonstrate the wealth of eco opportunity 1960’s housing provides. But this time, doing it with all the experience behind us and with a bulging address book full of the great consultants and suppliers we have worked with over the years.
The decision was made, the time was right.