WHEN award-winning architect Sir Terry Farrell launched his own practice back in the 1980s, he was looking for a London property he could transform into fabulously distinctive offices.
He found just the place in north-west London’s Old Aeroworks — formerly the home of the Palmer Tyre Company, which produced wheels, tyres, brakes and gun turrets for the Spitfire, Hurricane, Wellington and Lancaster bombers. They were of such high quality that when the Germans shot down a British fighter jet in World War II they cannibalised the superior tyres for use on their aircraft.
When the factory closed in 1984, Sir Terry — considered one of the world’s most influential architects, planners and urban designers — bought and redesigned the yawning warehouse, with its distinctive, pitched corrugated steel roof and large skylights; opening up the space with a vast central staircase of industrial steel mesh, and pillars. (The rest of the building became apartments.)
Just a few years later, when it had become too small for his burgeoning business, he redesigned the space again — this time as a singularly sensational private penthouse, over three floors, with a stunning roof terrace.
‘I love the pitched glass, all the light that floods into this property. I call it my “soft loft”,’ says Sir Terry, who has lived here for more than 20 years. ‘I also love the fact the building has a history, a narrative, a real story to tell. The greatest challenge was transforming it into a contemporary home with insulation, new windows, central heating and air conditioning in the master bedroom. I also selected materials I felt reflected the building’s industrial past.’
The result is an extraordinary 3,417sq ft home which blends metal (stairs, grilles and bespoke screens and radiators) with warm woods (wide-slabbed engineered oak floors and dark-stained wooden bi-fold doors into the vast master bedroom) and vividly coloured sofas, rugs, throws and artefacts. Birds of paradise teals, pinks, oranges and greens soften the heart of this otherwise hard-edged former factory space.
At the heart of the penthouse is the cavernous staircase, where four industrial steel pillars on the central platform support giant pots holding flourishing fig trees. Two vast ceramic bowls (vintage former hand-washing bowls used in a laboratory) sit nearby, now full of water and home to some very contented Koi carp. Along one side of the staircase frame is a cactus garden. Above that hangs the skeleton of one of two collapsible canoes.
Everywhere you look there are nods to the building’s industrial past and its former function. Twenty-five model planes, made in the 1950s, with working petrol engines, echo the Spitfires and Hurricanes for which Palmer made brakes and tyres. Sir Terry’s favourite is the replica of the Fokker Triplane flown by the Red Baron in World War I.
There are models of Sir Terry’s own much-heralded work too, which include Embankment Place, the Home Office HQ, and Millennium projects such as Bicester Eco Town, Newcastle Quayside and Manchester’s Northern Gateway. In Asia his firm designed KK100 in Shenzhen which, at 1,449ft, is the tallest building designed by a British architect, as well as Guangzhou South Railway Station, one of the largest railway stations in Asia.
Here, in his home, the space is arranged in ‘zones’ over three floors. In both the master bedroom — an incredible 35.5ft x 16ft — and the main living area, there are playfully designed steel balconettes (‘great for musicians; it’s a fantastic space for parties’) which perch like silent watchtowers at either end of the rooms. The two other bedrooms — one of them currently an airy study — are located on an upper floor and accessed by stairs tucked furtively away on either side of the main living area. (One has shutters which when open allow a peek into the living room below).
Above the dining room table are three ribbed glass former factory lights, while the kitchen boasts clean lines, warm wooden cupboards, integrated appliances and a stainless steel worktop. On the lower floor there’s a compact gym and a guest loo. A lift takes you from this floor to the ground floor, where the foyer is adorned with old prints of Palmer Tyre Factory. A plaque outside, proudly mounted on the building, remembers its important origins.
So why is he selling this unique property? ‘It’s time to downsize — and to move away from the shop,’ Sir Terry says. ‘When I came to live here we moved the offices next door. So I’m literally on top of the shop. We are moving to an apartment in Marylebone. I’ll be redeveloping that.’
Some of the giant artefacts and fittings in the penthouse will be available for a new owner to buy, but the aeroplanes are definitely moving out — to the archives of Newcastle University, Sir Terry’s home town.
■ Old Aeroworks in NW8 is on the market for £2.5million, arlingtonresidential.com
Other prestigious developments….
SIR Terry Farrell is a British architect and urban designer who has created ground-breaking buildings across the world for the past 50 years.
In Asia his firm designed KK100 in Shenzhen (pictured above), the tallest building ever designed by a British architect. The 100-storey, 441.8metre tall tower forms the centrepiece of an innovative, high-density eight-tower urban regeneration, including grade A office space and a six-star hotel, and is crowned by a soaring glass and steel structure housing a sky garden. In Beijing, he created Beijing South Railway Station, (below) set on a 31-acre high speed site, which serves as a ‘gateway to the city’ for 285,000 passengers a day. Sir Terry created a new model in railway station design, designed to make passenger traffic flows direct and highly efficient.
His firm Farrells also has many projects based in London, including Lyons Place residential development on Edgware Road, made up of 76 apartments and townhouses, of which 46 will be affordable.
Built on the site of a 1930s petrol station, the scheme is enhanced by three large-scale, vintage-style petrol pumps creating a memorable, and playful, landmark for the area. By the Thames, on Lots Road at Chelsea Waterfront, Farrells has a mixed use development — including Lots Road Power Station which is to be refurbished. It includes two towers of 37 and 25 storeys, low-rise apartments with gardens and 400m of waterfront.