Alireza Sagharchi on mixing the classical and the modern
Words by Jake Russell
Discussing contemporary classical design with one of the King’s favourite architects
80 Elm Park Road is an Edwardian house in Chelsea, which was sensitively extended by Stanhope Gate Architecture. In the first of a series of three articles, Alireza Sagharchi, the architecture firm’s Principal, spoke to Russell Simpson about this unique property.
No.80 Elm Park Road
Near the northern end of Old Church Street lies a cluster of Edwardian houses built in the Arts and Crafts style.
No.80 Elm Park Road is a four-storey property with leaded windows, and russet-coloured brickwork. Stepping inside, the entrance hall drops down into a large reception room, with an even larger kitchen and dining room below, while the double-height extension gives views over the garden.
This design was the work of work of Stanhope Gate Architects, who specialise in combining classical principles with modern living, to create buildings of timeless beauty. As the firm’s Principal Alireza Sagharchi explains: ‘It’s an interesting juxtaposition, because you come into this modest terrace and then you step into the back and see this double-height window, which lifts your heart in a way.’
The King’s Favourite Architect
Alireza founded Stanhope Gate Architects in 2002. Over the years, they have been responsible for country houses in the home counties, sporting lodges in Scotland, apartment buildings in Hampstead and Mayfair, hotels, chalets, and villas around the world. What’s more, Alireza’s work has won awards for creating inspiring examples of contemporary classical architecture and traditional urban design.
One of Alireza’s projects was Viscri, the house in Transylvania belonging to King Charles III, which is now a training centre for his Romanian Foundation. A long-standing supporter of Alireza’s work, the King has written: ‘It goes without saying that Alireza is a meticulous architect … Not all architects are able to create spaces and buildings that are comfortable as well as striking, sensuous in decoration as well as convincing in architectural detail.’
A Family Home
For Stanhope Gate, knowledge of how clients inhabit their houses is what an architect must really understand. With Elm Park Road this meant appreciating the family nature of the home.
The property had been adapted piecemeal over time, meaning the main staircase was opposite the entrance, interrupting the view through to the garden. In addition, the main reception room had low ceilings broken up with beams and a single-story conservatory beyond. The client asked for the house to be adapted to suit modern tastes, but in a proportional way, without overdeveloping.
Given the property’s shallow plan, Stanhope Gate decided to make the garden visible from the moment you entered. Therefore, the layout was changed to place the staircase on the opposite side of the building, allowing for a vista through the entrance hall and main reception room. In addition, a lower ground floor was dug below the main reception room, with a double-height extension connecting the two floors via an internal atrium. As a result, the ground-floor reception room ends with a balcony, looking down on the lower ground floor, with its kitchen, dining and seating areas.
‘Often there’s a perception that, if a building is all glass, it’s more transparent. But this creates an absence of architecture!’
A Victorian Conservatory
Instead, they designed a pavilion for the extension with classical details such as colonettes and pilasters, made from metal rather than brick to resemble a Victorian conservatory. In addition, the roof was kept flat, so as not to compete with the rest of the building.
However, from the inside the effect is impressive: a generous pair of south-facing rooms with a strong sense of interconnection, filled with light from the garden. ‘Once you enter the main space you are fully aware of what happens on the floor below,’ Alireza summarises. ‘That was the major move which unlocked the house for us.’
The Art Of Refurbishment
Stanhope Gate’s homes incorporate the latest technology, yet retain the classical iconography – the design and layout and decorative details. For Alireza, these traditional principles are better suited to contemporary habits than the machine-like approach of their Modernist equivalents. ‘Some people think modern living is about modern accoutrements, but it’s not. It’s about how you take the transient technology and superimpose it into the house without changing its character – that’s the art of refurbishment.’