Segal HouseThe London Residence of Matt Gibberd & Faye Toogood
"We were interested in the architectural quality of the building, and in safeguarding it properly. We very much want to pass on that spirit to the next keeper of the house.”
The Modern House deals in some of the most architecturally significant and beautiful homes in the UK, from mid-century masterpieces to Georgian manors with considered interiors. Now that the aesthetically minded estate agency’s co-founder, Matt Gibberd, along with his wife Faye Toogood – a furniture, interiors and fashion designer – are selling their own home through the agency, you could say the pressure is on.
“It is a slightly unnerving process,” laughs Gibberd. The house is the former residence of Swiss-born architect Walter Segal, who built it for himself and his family in 1966 on North Hill, in London’s Highgate, overlooking the distant trees of Hampstead Heath. Segal first constructed a semi-permanent, self-build structure at the bottom of the garden, to live in with his family while the rest of the house was completed. Using only mass-produced materials, and avoiding traditional brick laying and plastering techniques, the garden house cost £800, took two weeks to build, and went on to inspire the influential Segal Method of self-build residential architecture.
Gibberd first came across the home while carrying out a valuation for the Modern House: “It was a very odd scenario, because I had to walk around with the owner while thinking to myself, ‘this will make the most perfect family home for us!’” he says. “At the end of the meeting, I had to be honest and admit I didn’t feel comfortable giving a value for the house, because I genuinely wanted to buy it from him.” An independent valuation and six competing bids later, the house was theirs. “The owner recognised we were interested in the architectural quality of the building, and in safeguarding it properly. We very much want to pass on that spirit to the next keeper of the house,” says Gibberd. “There is a limited number of great modernist houses in London, so we want to protect and celebrate them.”
The house is inconspicuous and modest, tucked between 19th century homes on either side. There is no obvious entranceway, and much of the front of the house is hidden behind an unassuming garage door. As one enters, a process of discovery begins, as the home gradually reveals itself. “You step through a portal into a small, covered entrance way, which leads you to the front courtyard, planted with jasmine,” says Gibberd. “From there, you begin the journey through the house, which culminates in a view over the sloping garden. When you arrive there, it feels as though you have been completely transported.”
For Faye Toogood, it was the building’s connection to the landscape that immediately caught her attention. “When I first stepped into the garden, it felt magical. It was a hot, early summer’s day, the garden was filled with late spring flowers – it felt like sitting in a meadow. For that moment, I was transported out of London,” she says. Upstairs, in the pine-panelled master bedroom, a wall of glazing looks out onto the garden, and an acer reaches up to the window. “It feels as if you are in a tree house,” says Toogood, while Gibberd adds: “I haven’t seen glazing in a bedroom like that before – its sense of elevation, and the entirely transparent view over the landscape that it provides. When we lie in bed in the morning, we watch birds as they rest on the acer’s branches, as if we were deep in the countryside.”
Before moving in, Toogood and Gibberd carried out an extensive renovation of the house. “It was previously inhabited by an elderly couple who probably didn’t embrace the era of the property,” says Toogood. “I wanted to make sure we restored the parquet floors, and enhanced the pine panelling and exposed pale bricks that were already there. We added a new kitchen and bathroom, and ripped out some of the 80s interventions that had occurred. We used a thick, polished concrete worktop in the kitchen, and made cupboards out of aluminium, coated in car paint. In the bathroom, we introduced a bespoke concrete sink, and a bath made of Portland stone composite.”
Having relocated from a late Georgian terrace in Canonbury, painted in dark blue tones and furnished with moody English antiques, Toogood soon realised their old furniture had to go. “It just didn’t work,” she says. “We had to minimalise the palette, take away any colour, and embrace the raw, natural materials of the home.” Yet, although pared back to a monochrome palette, there is a soothing, textural interest to the space. “The materiality of the home provides its atmosphere: the way the lines of the parquet floors echo those of the timber ceilings, and how Faye’s tapestry on the wall contrasts with the texture of the grey brick behind,” says Gibberd. “Her textiles are laid on the sofa, and her furniture is interspersed throughout the living space. All these components have an interesting patination to them and combine to create something that feels layered, despite not being colourful.”
Although she found it difficult at first to let go of the old items of furniture – going against her tendency to hoard – Toogood now simply feels relief. “It is always interesting to see what survives these edits,” she says. “What goes is anything remotely fashionable or particular to its period, and what stays are objects that have been given to you, or found – we kept a lot of found stones and rocks, and got rid of a funky blue vase,” she laughs. Although they do not yet know what kind of space they will be moving to, Toogood expects this decluttered style of living to endure. “We are both very busy people, with a lot on our brains, and we need a sanctuary, a place where we can mentally unload,” she says. “Sometimes, when you need inspiration, the last place you should go is a gallery or a museum. You need to sit in a field in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, our house, the rooms, the space – they need to provide that for us.”
The home is indeed calming, but it is lived in as well. “All the elements that are ‘minimalist’ or neutral or clean, are actually not that clean if you look closely,” says Toogood, “they are used.” Gibberd adds: “The bean coffee table is my favourite piece of furniture that Faye has designed. We sit on the sofa and rest our feet on it, and the kids bounce off its rounded edges and slide over the top – to them, it’s an adventure playground.” Next to the table is a Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer, upholstered in an unusual, biscuit-beige tone. “It is an old family heirloom of mine,” says Gibberd. “It is faded and worn, and the armrest falls off every now and again. At one point, gaffer tape was holding it together, before Faye’s sister, Erica – who is a fashion designer and pattern cutter – was able to stitch it back together for us. That’s what we like about it – the people we love the most in the world have sat in it for many years and given it its character. I think people often make this mistake with contemporary design: that it must somehow always be pristine,” he says. “Take something like the Eames House, or Kettle’s Yard,” adds Toogood. “They’re not overly precious spaces; they have cracked plates, and covers that have been through the wash. They are so layered and lived in and loved. You can’t replicate that.”
Gibberd and Toogood are hoping to move to Hampshire, where they can be closer to Toogood’s parents, and enjoy more access to green spaces for their young family of three daughters. “I think North Hill will be quite a hard house to move on from,” says Toogood. “It has amazing light, a comprehensive space, a unique garden; and certainly when you move out of London, your choice in terms of architecture becomes somewhat restricted. I have no idea if we are going to end up in a disused barn, an old church, or a Georgian house again.” “We don’t have a preconceived notion about what is next,” agrees Gibberd. “But buying a house is an emotional decision. I strongly believe that. You have to have an emotional response when you arrive and walk through the house. That is what we had at North Hill, and we need to have that feeling again.”
There is another layer of emotion to this move for Gibberd and Toogood: a sense of missed opportunity. Planning permission has been successfully granted for an extension to the original Segal construction, designed by the architect Jonathan Tuckey, a specialist in working with existing structures. “We have been really excited about this project,” admits Gibberd. “Jonathan has come up with a clever plan for the extension: a solid mass in the landscape that is rounded and nuanced, as if it had existed there for many years. He has also made a brilliant redesign of the garden house, inspired by Walter Segal’s original, as it was rather dilapidated when we moved in, and is no longer there. There is a big part of us that is sad we aren’t able to fulfil these plans ourselves. We really hope someone takes them on and implements the vision; we would love the house to continue to be a site of modern architectural importance,” he says. There is a short pause, before Toogood adds: “If we could pick the house up and move it somewhere else, we would.”