Gus Alexander heads to Portobello Road, Notting Hill, to take a look at a swanky residential scheme that is a testament to the very hands-on approach of its architect

It is quite unusual to see speculative residential schemes that demonstrate as much ingenuity as the pair of houses just being finished at 61-63 Portobello Road in Notting Hill, west London. Okay, so it’s being built in a part of London where people pay £600,000 to excavate enough of the pavement to accommodate their Filipina maids. But, irrespective of that, this little scheme has been extremely well worked out, and makes exemplary use of a cramped site.

The development works so well because the site – a former double-fronted shop – has been excavated and the new upper floors set back so as to offer decent natural lighting to the two bedrooms that are in the basement.

A 21st-century version of the semi-detached townhouse
A 21st-century version of the semi-detached townhouse

The structure, a rather ambitious double-steel cantilever that springs from a shared central wall, offers the opportunity to glaze the top-floor living rooms on three sides, and the splayed ends of the houses allow the provision of little terraces in what would otherwise be a pair of light wells.

“The planners were enthusiastic about our approach,” says the architect Alan Power, whose practice is based around the corner – “which makes a change.”

He suggested that the building work be split into two stages: the grunt work (that is, all the digging, propping and concreting), which was carried out by Wimbledon contractor LRR, and the completion work, which Power’s practice organised on a direct labour basis.

Power explains: “This sort of construction is nightmarish if you don’t know what you’re doing. I thought it would be less trouble to do it myself than trying to stop some building firm who’d underpriced a tender from screwing up both the building and my relationship with my client.”

The developer, a small firm based in Devon called Mandeville Estates, had had enough experience of the latter course of affairs to take up Power’s suggestion. It employed a site agent directly, and all the other work was completed in little packages. “More work on site for us,” says Power, “but it’s not a problem if you are based locally. Half an hour discussing the element with the workforce is more effective than three hours explaining what you want to a manager who doesn’t know what a glazing cramp is.”

Although it is probably not the fastest way to procure this sort of work, Portobello Road now boasts two stylish houses, available for £2m each, or £3.75m for the pair, and at a build cost of £1800 per m2 it looks as if all concerned are making a reasonable margin out of it.

Project team

Developer Mandeville Estates
Alan Power Architects
Price and Myers
Structural steel work 
Metal finishes 
Whitten Metalwork
Mott Graves