The sky was literally the limit for architecture firm Michaelis Boyd’s latest project. At the heart of the recently refurbished Highgate, London, home, on which founders Alex Michaelis and Tim Boyd worked closely with interior designer Simone McEwan of Nice Projects, is a new staircase with semicircular landings on all four fours. From above, a supersized glass roof opens the house to the clouds, bathing the curved steel structure, shimmering tadelakt plaster walls, and reclaimed 18th-century oak treads in nothing but light, even on gray days.
“It illuminates the house on every level and in every room,” says Michaelis. The larger-than-life skylight, surprisingly, only took a day to install (the only tricky thing was blocking off half the street so they could bring in a crane). The ground-floor living room wall was removed and replaced with Crittall steel-framed windows that offer views of the lush garden. “All our spaces begin with light, form, and flow,” he adds.
The radiating stairwell (which one of the architects’ other clients charmingly dubbed the Michaelis Void) instantly created the bright and airy feeling the homeowners, a young family of five, had asked for. But the architects and the designer didn’t want to lose the old with the new either. “It was less about taking things out than reinstating the period features sensitively,” says McEwan—and that included bringing paneling back into the formal areas but putting a spin on things with a hidden door.
“It’s another moment of surprise, from traditional to modern.” Michaelis and his team brought in a range of molding samples and held them up so their clients could visualize the addition, while elsewhere they installed a slow-burning Danish stove (it takes one log a day) to bring the cozy, old-world vibes full circle.
The secret pass-through leads to a totally new part of the home: a former garage that now functions as a game room, earmarked by inky blue-green walls (ideal for movie watching) and veneered concrete flooring. (The space also acts as a side entrance and mudroom for the family.) “A connection to nature is the starting point for all our projects, so upon entering, the windows frame the vista straight onto the landscaped garden, bringing the outdoors in,” notes Michaelis. The bifold doors echo those used in the dining room extension, creating continuity between the back elevations of the two buildings.
The nearby powder room features yet another skylight, but this time the glass acts as a spotlight on color, specifically Plain English’s Boiled Egg yellow hue, “which helped turn an otherwise dark space into something bright and playful,” notes McEwan.
The designer chose airy, lantern-like light fixtures for the rooms to complement the new wave of sunshine streaming in from all around. But she notes the magic is also in the sconces: “We wanted to ensure they would not be too dominant in the rooms yet give soft, warm, glowing light.”
Without losing views of the backyard but still creating a sense of separation between the dining area and kitchen, the architects opted for a half wall. The structure ultimately offered the chance for an extra-long built-in bench. “It allows it to run longer and seat more people—practical for entertaining,” says Michaelis.
Upstairs, the kids’ spaces feature a space-saving element. The architects came up with custom cabinetry that spans into the grooves of the ceiling eaves so there’s still plenty of floor space to walk around or pull out desk chairs.
As a nod to the homeowners’ Australian roots, Michaelis Boyd built a modern wood pergola area with a barbecue out back. In the distance, a separate photography studio that looks like an unassuming shed offers a quiet space to work, away from the bustle of the house. The structure is clad in charred wood, so it fades into the backdrop of the old yew tree and lush planting by Rich Landscapes. “It’s also a nod to the vertical slats of the modern passage that links the garage and house, so the new elements all tie together nicely,” Michaelis points out. Minimal metal-framed glazed doors and a sliding corner window further brighten the space, but there are shutters on hand that easily transform the getaway into a proper darkroom. Back in the main stairwell, though, it’s a different story.
Photography by Taran Wilkhu; Architecture by Michaelis Boyd (Project Architects: Tala Safavi and Matthew Sanders); Interiors by Simone McEwan; Landscape Design by Rich Landscapes; Construction by Chelsea Construction Company, Michael Barclay Partnership, and CBG Consultants; Lighting by Kate Beard Lighting.