House on Swain’s Lane by Eldridge Smerin



London-based architects Eldridge Smerin have completed a house overlooking a cemetery in London, UK.


The four-storey house replaces one designed by architect John Winter in the 1970's and uses the footprint of the original building.


The house has two distinct facades: the side facing the cemetery is mostly glazed, while the street-facing elevation is fabricated from black granite, translucent glass and black steel panels.


The roof features a large rooflight; glass floor panels admit light to the lower floors.


Photographs by Lyndon Douglas.

The following is from Eldridge Smerin:


House on Swain's Lane London N6

Inspired by seeing Eldridge Smerin’s Stirling Prize shortlisted house The Lawns, on Highgate Hill in north London, the owner of a nearby house approached the practice about designing a new house on the same site.

The existing house dating from the 1970’s was designed by noted Architect John Winter and sat next to Highgate Cemetery, London's greatest Victorian cemetery. Although the site offered spectacular views over the cemetery, Waterlow Park opposite and the city skyline beyond, replacing a John Winter house is a decision not taken lightly.


When Eldridge Smerin had investigated options for either retaining the corroding steel structure or for replacement, it was clear that to restore the Winter house would have required complete reconstruction and would have compromised the greater potential for a new house on such a unique site.


The resulting new house is located on the footprint of the existing house. It is set over four floors with a generous proportion of living to bedroom space including balconies, terraces and a sizable sliding glass rooflight enabling the top floor to become an open-air court. The new house is an additional storey higher than the previous one and is conceived with two strongly contrasting faces.


To the street a sheer façade of honed black granite, translucent glass and black steel panels set flush to one another echoes the massiveness of the cemetery wall. This gives the house an air of mystery and intrigue whilst also making reference to the monumental masonry of the cemetery.


In contrast, the elevations facing the cemetery are largely glazed, suffusing the interior with natural light and washing the fair-faced concrete structural frame and walls with sunlight.


Unlike the lower part of the cemetery where people often go to see Karl Marx's grave, the upper part where the house is located is overgrown and largely unvisited allowing it to act as a stunning backdrop for the spaces within the house. The full height glazing to the perimeter of the house was enabled by the use of flat concrete slabs with long cantilevers back to the four central columns supporting each floor. The concrete supporting internal and external areas was kept separate to provide a thermal break between inside and out.


In contrast to the smooth fair-faced finish of the concrete columns and soffits and the smooth stone flooring, the concrete walls facing the street and adjoining property to the north have a strong horizontal pattern from the timber boards used to shutter the concrete.


The use of a concrete frame with a high quality exposed finish internally also allows a more sustainable environmental strategy for the house to be developed than the lightweight construction of the original house allowed.


The intention was to produce a house with significantly lower energy usage than the original even with an increased floor area. The slow heat response characteristics of the concrete allow the frame to act as an environmental modifier slowing down heat gain in summer and limiting heat loss in winter whilst the form of the house with large glazed openings facing south allow passive solar gain to be maximised during winter months.


The use of stone cladding and a green sedum roof system similarly help control temperature fluctuations. The use of concrete as a structure and finish, when sourced from a local plant that uses a proportion of recycled material, helps minimise the embodied energy in the envelope of the house as does the choice of generally natural materials for the internal finishes.


Internally a low temperature hot water underfloor heating system is used in conjunction with the thermal mass of the house to maintain comfortable conditions with minimised energy usage. The high natural light levels mean there is little need for artificial lighting during daylight hours whilst all light fittings use low energy lamps.


The interior spaces are linked vertically by a series of large areas of clear glass floor panels which filter daylight from the main sliding rooflight down to the entrance area off the street. Full height frameless pivoted doors veneered in bog aged oak separate the living spaces and bedrooms from the main stair.


The stair itself has pre-cast concrete treads cantilevered from the concrete walls each side with a clear glass fin to the centre supporting a stainless steel handrail which is resin bonded to the glass. The fin is formed from two four metre high sheets of toughened laminated glass which were craned into position through a slot created in the roof slab.


Bathrooms on each floor are lined with white corian and have white marble floors. Eldridge Smerin were also responsible for designing bespoke joinery and furniture throughout the house. Built-in storage is generally in timber behind white lacquered doors but the Music Room on the first floor has a wall of storage units in high gloss black lacquer and side tables in bog aged oak. The second floor Study features a continuous worksurface formed from and supported by clear frameless toughed glass sheets bonded together.


Prior to work starting on site John Winter was philosophical about the demolition of the house he had designed, saying that there would be no hard feelings 'so long as the new house was better'. Reviewing the completed house for Architecture Today magazine John Winter was generous enough to say he felt the new house was both better and 'as near to a faultless building as I have seen for a long time'.


Project Credits

Architect: Eldridge Smerin ( Nick Eldridge, Piers Smerin, George Dawes, Alison Poole, Amalia Skoufoglou )
Quantity Surveyor: AB Associates
Structural Engineer: Elliott Wood Partnership
Services Engineer: Mendick Waring
Concrete Consultant: David Bennett
Lighting Designer: ILS
Home Entertainment/Security: SMC Systems Integration
Main Contractor: Harris Calnan


Posted on Monday October 20th 2008 at 2:03 pm by Matylda Krzykowski. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Atticus

    This design is ‘Dead on’,

    sorry I couldn’t help myself, it’s almost Halloween you know?

  • Azeem

    Simple & sweet!!

  • One

    I wonder,… do the Londoners see this house dominating over the cemetry, where soul shall remain quiet. It is a very green area, but it is not just a green park…

    Besids this, this house has fairly modern feature which is appealing.

    I rather not do this glass facade over looking cemetry, but very curious how this appoears to the others…

  • sc hu yl er

    Woah, good one! What an amazing site!

  • bk

    très bien!!!!!

  • simonstar

    i like the kitchen! only actually

  • F

    oh my god – this is amazing – even if overlooking a cemetery , it is so romantic….

  • Ahmed Karenjoga

    Very cool idea with the open air court on the top floor. My compliments to the architects.

  • heath

    nice kitchen.

  • JuiceMajor²

    Yes I like the kitchen too but I can only see this being used in the summer time. Also the glazing facing the cemetery, is the architect trying to make a point?

    The site is actually kinda spooky!

  • Money can buy happiness.
    The surrounding trees.
    The open kitchen ceiling.

  • R

    Very beautiful: nice in design, materials and details. The exposed concrete, black and glass make a minimal and sophisticated combination.

    Nice black humor: the living room is not only open to the cemetery through the glass, but the opposite wall is made of mirrors. So even if you look in that direction you’ll still be looking at the cemetery.

  • ajax


  • paulo

    I have seen this from the street and it is a very elegant, we executed form. I question how it got planning approval in the first place, especially being sited in a conservation area and a place of historical interest. Really glad it did though, the juxtaposition is fabulous.

  • modular


  • Guy

    Fast, Cheap, and Out of controll!
    no thanks…. cut and paste.
    but big ups to the construction team, excellent work and concrete finish.

  • F

    very good point R !!

  • Werner

    What an amazine site! Unfortunately this is were it ends for me, sorry. I don’t feel a rhythm in the design as everything is consistently heavy (even the glass). Yes, there are some interesting detail elements, but whether they work together, I’m not sure.
    It would be interesting to see the spectacular views over the cemetery and get more information regarding the objectives of the project before getting too critical.

  • xtiaan


    so when can i move in?

  • Is that glass above the kitchen.. not too bad.. but seems a bit cold with the exposed concrete..perhaps some wood would be nice! interesting lookout. but beautiful overall.

  • J Sudaca!

    Woooww!!!!…it´s colder than the deaths who rest in the cementery!!!
    Glass glass glass, but privacity is not exactly the problem: death people can´t see!! ( or they can?? ) mmmmm
    congratulations for this web site, it´s GREATTTTT!

  • joe

    The views from the inside look blah

  • Really really a great architecture!.. That will be one my dream house.. I love it.. :)

  • mik

    These guys are gonna be disappointed when they see the documentary on Rem’s Bordeaux villa :)

  • Anthony W.

    Oh God!
    The creep factor is Fabulous!…love the spaces and the details are very nice.

    Great Space!!

  • for sure the landscape is something uncommon!
    the interior spaces are grate!

  • Who cleans all this glass inside and out – still good design

  • debbie

    Well do any of you know this place ? I have lived in Highgate and used to visit this part of the cemetry when it was open for a few days a year . This is quite a sacred place .The house I love but the location – NO – its to insensitive in this environment and imposes on the cemetry – how did you get away with it – did you bung the council or something ?

  • selrach

    He who live in glass house– should buy a lot of Windex

  • Cara Kinniburgh

    It is stunning the most beautiful house i have ever seen its a house i hope a Film star lives in if not i would be disappointed after visiting ;) xxx

  • pkou

    I visited Marx’s corner in 1994 and saw John Winter’s masterpiece. What a missed opportunity not to put an all-glass envelope to preserve the original museum piece.

    I have a building lot next to the site of an old civil war (American) and I am hoping to dig down along the boundary and find some stray bones in situ, then design a glass retaining wall to showcase my archaeological finds.