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My Favourite Building - Stonethwaite, Liverpool

15 Oct 2004

Stonethwaite, a brand new house in Liverpool’s Grassendale Park, has captured the heart of design champion for the city, Beatrice Fraenkel.

I have just discovered my favourite building. It has only been in existence since the beginning of this year and now I have found it I have a quiet feeling of satisfaction. To explain – I live in an area of South Liverpool called Cressington Park. This can best be described as a Victorian Gated Community. (A Victorian Wimpey Estate?) A Park Keeper’s Lodge flanks the entrance to this private estate. The roads run down to the River Mersey and the houses themselves were built from the Victorian period to the present day, each plot being a minimum of an acre protected by Park covenants. The Victorian properties are a mix of mainly substantial, brick, three-storey detached and semi-detached villas, and over time garden plots have been sold and built on – but maintaining the plot sizes – creating a mix of architectural styles.

Adjoining Cressington Park is a similar but slightly earlier development called Grassendale Park, where the houses are more Georgian in style. Many are stucco, and very substantial. Both parks are designated Conservation areas, many houses are listed, and the trees, which are a key feature of the parks, are all protected. The frontage of both parks joins together and looks out over the River Mersey across a private esplanade.

Many of us moved into the parks at a time when the previous generation of owners was leaving behind homes that needed a considerable amount of work. We wanted houses with space, big gardens, and the opportunity to create something unique in which to bring up our families. The privacy and community feel of the parks made it extra special, and those of us who moved in around the same period built up a network of friendships that has remained.

At some point, the assets of my big house will become a liability, as it did to the couple, Peter and Carroll Barlow, who commissioned Stonethwaite. Not having ever seen a contemporary house in Liverpool that I could envisage wanting to live in to replace mine, and not wanting to leave the area and community, I was wondering if I would ever find a “role model” to give me some encouragement that high-quality, contemporary, domestic architecture was alive and being commissioned in Liverpool. I have found it.

The house I have fallen in love with gives me exactly the feel of space, privacy and character that I have from my Victorian house, but it is an absolutely contemporary piece of architecture.
In design terms, it incorporates energy saving features such as solar water heating, rain water recycling and a large thermal mass for levelling variations in internal temperature. Externally, the design of the frontage adopts a relatively restrained approach, in keeping with the neighbourhood, while the rear is more radical. The landscaping involves fluid lines, bold colours, modern forms and changes in level. The materials inside are stainless steel, oak and glass, and outside it is Prodema lignum board and rendering with a front glass canopy. Decidedly and confidently contemporary. The clients’ requirement that the house and garden be integrated is a key feature in creating an open, light and spacious feel – and inside the house the proportions and spaces relate in a manner that make every part of the house feel both private and cosy but open and airy – a very interesting and satisfying combination.

Martyn Coppin, Andy Burton and Mike Pittman, of Brock Carmichael Architects – a firm very much associated with commercial buildings – designed the house. I wonder if the bringing together of commercial expertise and domestic scale has not had a powerful influence on that sense of scale and space I find so appealing. The final word is that, although I keep describing the building as a house, its very essence and spirit is that of a HOME. And I covet it!

Councillor Beatrice Fraenkel is Design Champion at Liverpool City Council

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