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10 top private roof terraces in central London

10 top private roof terraces in central London

11 November 2013

“This collection represents some of the best private roof terraces I have created in the centre of London over a period of 10 years from 2002 – 2012. Some of the terraces have been photographed recently by the renowned photographers Marianne Majerus and Clive Nichols and show the gardens in maturity. Some of the photographs were taken by me when planting was still juvenile but the locations were nonetheless still stunning. I was fortunate to have been commissioned in June 2002 to work by Tower Bridge on one of the penthouses in Butlers Wharf and ended up working on 4 of the predominant ones in that year. Working primarily on the River Thames, I have since developed my attitudes to planting in harsh conditions, finessing my planters and containers and experimenting with lighting and seating. Other photographers’ contributions include the fashion photographer Lucy Fitter and the architectural photographer Tim Soar.”

1. Hepworth Court 2. Caro Point 3. Kings Chelsea 4. Butlers Wharf 5. Covent Garden 6. Tempus Wharf 7. Shoreditch 8. Antonine Heights 9. Albert Dock 10. Bridge House. Left photo by Marianne Majerus.

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  1. Hepworth Court

In the summer of 2008 4 of us set out to conquer this majestic, large, 360-degrees open roof terrace. The owner, Nick Johnson, had been generous with his time, ideas and budget and the results speak for themselves. Presented here, 5 years on, the terrace had stood the test of time, albeit with one or two causalities of ambitious plant attempts and has a new owner. I wanted to document the terrace again – in maturity, not just with one of the world’s greatest garden photographers Marianne Majures, but also to benefit from the completed surroundings of the whole development and the Battersea Power Station before the demolition of its chimneys for a 4-year renovation.

It was the first time we used LED light strips embedded in the surfaces and this worked well as directional lighting – particularly with the orientation towards Chelsea Bridge, the landing airplanes towards Heathrow and the surrounding linear architecture. The main planting of trees proved they were, and still are, some of the best species to cope with ferocious wind, sun and pollution: Olive, Pine and Silver birch. Other than a simple surface and the slanted planters to contrast them, the views speak for themselves: Big Ben centred in the London Eye, the arch of Wembley Stadium, the Power Station and Pumping tower, Chelsea Bridge and the BT Tower. The terrace lies on top of the penthouse and is not seen from the living space. The balcony surrounding the lounge was therefore designed in a similar fashion so that it sets a rhythm and pattern to form a cohesive scheme.

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Hepworth Court

5 years after planting

  2. Caro Point

In 2012 Nick Johnson, the client who commissioned the terrace at Hepworth Court, had relocated to the completed Caro Point – just opposite. This time around, there were 4 terraces to deal with – all of them on the same level – thus forming a sequence of rooms relevant to the indoor spaces it is attached to. Again, with utter devotion and long workshops together, on site, I created something quite unique with and for Nick, who, again, spent the entire length of the project away, on holiday… Located on the 11th floor – twice the height of the previous terrace the wind is far greater and the ability to take certain materials up to the terrace is limited. We used a combination of sandstone and granite, which created a high contrast – augmented by the unique limestone cladding of this beautiful building.

Named after the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro CBE who had just passed away two weeks ago at the time of writing at the age of 89, the openings in the elevations called for sculptural planters that will respond to the views, the tonality and textures of the cladding. I used a combination of my specialised powder-coated planters as well as Dutch fibre planters with deep veins aptly named ‘River planters’. In the main, exposed terrace I created a raised concrete bed – as I would in a ground garden and this gives a true garden feel with recessed coping and a floating bottom with an LED light. This bed is accentuated with a multi-stem Eucalyptus tree. The tree has done very well since planting and it gives me great pleasure to watch from the embankment each time as I drive along it and look up north on my travels… In the kitchen terrace, which is sheltered, I planted a Japanese Maple – a rare sight on roof terraces but here it works majestically contrasting incredibly against the pale walls with its dark foliage. The study terrace also acts as a focal point to the apartment’s entrance with a tall Chusan palm, while the last balcony is planted simply with grasses.

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Caro Point

Photograph by Marianne Majerus 1 year after planting

  3. Kings Chelsea

This 2004 terrace is situated right above Stamford Bridge Stadium in Chelsea. It is awkwardly shaped, north facing and benefits from no significant views. It does also absorb enough pollution and has no privacy… I lifted up all the existing square tiles and re-orientated them at my favourite angle of 40 degrees; this immediately injected a dynamic to such a triangular space. I removed only a handful of bands of it at regular intervals and replaced the stone with beautiful Derbyshire lilac sandstone flags, 90cm x 45cm. These large flags made the space breath, appear larger and gave it a finesse, which keyed it perfectly with the innovatively decorated Kelly Hoppen apartment.

In the south facing long terrace on the other side I planted herbs, Lavenders and even a Lemon tree… It brought me utter joy to revisit the space after 9 years with the photographer Clive Nichols as not only the clients still live there and appreciate the space (unlike so many others who made their resale profit and moved on), but also to see all the plants do so well. Some hard landscaping maintenance had been recently carried out to repair some of the large movable raised beds, where 3 large contorted Hazels look stately in winter. As lighting techniques improved so vastly in the near decade since installation we return to add components and re-create some features. The terrace’s focal point is a graceful sculpture created specially by Elliott Brotherton for Philippa and Joe, the clients.

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Kings Chelsea

Photograph by Clive Nichols 9 years after planting

  4. Butlers Wharf

This was a complex project by any means. Not only did the client request flowering plants but ones that did not attract insects, but the access to Shad Thames is restricted and available only at very specific times. The apartment is facing north and has 4 internal courtyards as gardens – each unique – each with its own character. The solutions had to be simple and minimalist – the clients were Dutch, after all… I began with the top north facing balcony – depicted in the below photograph. This was the magical view of Tower Bridge and the one that drew you out as you entered the living space on the top floor. One felt he is on top of the world – the strength of the bridge, Canary Wharf to the right and the emerging new architectural views to the west. I planted a simple combo of Dalmatian Iris with Japanese sedges; this gave me enough structure, all year round interest and no insects… From this balcony one overlooks the very shaded courtyard below, which is accessed from the master bedroom and study. Here I planted a jungle of foliage of tree ferns, evergreen Clematis climbing on an architectural stainless steel frame, Hostas, Ligularias and Sasa bamboo. I also added a Welsh oak bespoke bench, curving around a concrete table and an opal sculpture.

In the top south facing terrace outside the kitchen I used Olive trees and herbs and some simple grasses in unique glazed German pots from the Eschbach Company. This terrace overlooks the north internal entrance courtyard, where I created a simple but extremely bold triangle of planting. 3 stems of Himalayan Silver birch in a square steel planter on the right, 3 spherical pots with Sword ferns on the left and at the bottom right 3 upright vases with Fountain grasses. As this was one on my first projects I very much relied on various contractors to help with lighting, irrigation, planting, construction and heavy lifting… But soon enough the whole crew ended up in the penthouse next door – after Kelsey the neighbour decided that our workmanship is good enough for her pretty much identical terraces – just as they needed landscaping ahead of her wedding…

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Butlers Wharf  

After planting in June 2002: scan from a 6" x 4" print

  5. Covent Garden

As much as I enjoyed watching the Olympics last summer, the phenomenal tourist density around the site – one the busiest turnings in Covent Garden (the corner of Henrietta Street and Bedford Street) meant a 6-week programme turned into a 10-week programme. This not only meant chaos to my schedule but also budgetary consequences for both me and the client. In other words, the site logistics in getting crane licensing from Westminster Council to coincide with progress and material deliveries stretched us to the brink. Yet the project is an utter success, as depicted in the beautiful imagery from Marianne Majerus. Greg and his partner Nina, from Brazil, had some set prerequisites – one of which was an outdoor kitchen – a first for me and a very red one indeed it turned out to be. A tiled breakfast patio leads via 2 steps up to an upper deck with seating, a kitchen framed by Lavender hedges, grasses and scented Mock orange shrubs. 2 steps lead back down to a sun lounge surfaced with artificial grass and surrounded by a jungle of Mediterranean plants: Strawberry and Olive trees, Nerium shrubs, Mexican lilies, Fan palms and Jerusalem Sages.

The long and large terrace of 120 square metres was divided into 3 areas, which naturally lead themselves to their uses and each space benefits from a unique London landmark in immediate presence. The breakfast tiled patio overlooks the BT Tower. The outdoor kitchen has a direct view to the London Eye, while the grass lounge benefits from the remarkable and arresting view of Nelson’s Column. This terrace covers the entire blueprint of the apartment and is situated right above it with 2 long terraces either side at the lower level. The clients had installed a significant outdoor sound system, kitted up the kitchen and purchased some wonderful furniture for each of the spaces. Just over a year after planting I returned with the photographer Marianne Majerus, this time at a leisurely pace, pruned with joy the entire garden and let Marianne do her magic with her lens. Greg and Nina, funnily enough, had just decided to take some time off from the taxing regime of city life and flew to South America for a 6-month trip across the continent. Looks like I am due for some heavy duty pruning when they are back then…

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Covent Garden

Photograph by Marianne Majerus 1 year after planting

  6. Tempus Wharf

Situated near the Design Museum on Bermondsey Wall West, Tempus Wharf is a small residential building with all the conserved charm of an old wharf. The top penthouse benefits from a terrace both on the north facing side on the River Thames and a similarly sized one on the south outside the master bedroom. Connecting the two terraces is a long and narrow walkway. The landmark views on the north terrace, outside the living room, are spectacular as the building is equally situated between Tower Bridge to the west and Canary Wharf to the east. I wanted to create a completely new series of planters, each unique – each to correspond with the architecture in the view. One of the first requests from the client was to raise the level of the terrace to be able to appreciate the Thames better. I was able to create a split level deck and orientate half of it towards Canary Wharf at 40 degrees. I Chose European Oak for the deck to continue the interior Oak and incorporated 3 width planks in a random fashion. This is contrasted with a wave shape in a sandstone deck. The step is bridged by a steppes curved planter – part of a duo which mimics the shape of the Gherkin in the distance. A triangular planter in the far corner presents a multi-stem Scots pine in a cloud form, which frames the view to Canary Wharf.

In the south terrace I wanted to reiterate the presence of water by creating a series of 3 ‘Wave planters’. These are backlit with LED strips, as are most of the planters, deck fascia, sculpture and planting on the terraces. In this terrace we also needed privacy on the sides from emerging new apartment buildings so evergreen hedges of Magnolia and Californian Lilac were planted. The long connecting terrace was paved with angular sandstone, which changes into artificial grass half way through. Interestingly enough, this is one of the very few projects where I did not use Olive trees in any shape or form; it would have been somewhat too obvious and I could spot a few on neighbouring terraces. This was a bone of contention between the two very strong minded individuals driving this project – the client and me, interestingly both born on the same day, albeit 29 years apart… The solution was to crane up both an Olive and a Scots Pine – place each in the planter and make a decision in-situ. I suppose the photograph and the health of the Pine 6 years on (I am told) inform you of the winner this time round…

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Tempus Wharf

After planting

  7. Shoreditch

Simon first got in touch back in 2007 when he had lived in the penthouse for just over a year and had 2 large terraces either side of the apartment, supplied and kitted up as part and parcel of a newly converted warehouse. The spatial qualities of the curved ceilings, circular skylights and glazed elevations called for something quite special, yet simple. The client had already an interesting Asian art collection, panache for gothic furniture and some contemporary art on the walls. The design had to work with what was there or not work at all. I stripped out absolutely everything and started from scratch. The terrace was laid to Ipe hardwood to the line of the existing interior walnut floor and continued with granite slabs where the kitchen commenced at exactly the same grid. I designed 4 new red curved vases to appear at intervals demarcating the large windows. Contrasting the vases are 2 trios of tall, grey tapered planters with large Box balls framing an existing terracotta Buddha. On the two far ends of the terrace I designed lighter planters with a recess underneath with tall bamboo to give scale and movement. The rest was down to Simon to put the right furniture – which he did, and with Style, using some beautiful Dedon loungers and sofas.

Two years later, I was invited to design 3 more long tall and thin troughs behind the sofas to be planted with Mexican feather grasses and trailing Honeysuckle. It so happened to be my 40th birthday and it was only fitting to celebrate at the nearby Conran’s Boundary with its awesome subterranean restaurant and cigar rooftop terrace – at direct view from the Simon’s rear terrace. In 2011 I revisited again – this time with Helmut Reinelt, a German photographer documenting the terrace for a book publication and changing the Phormiums in the red vases to Libertia grasses. 2 further years on, just recently, I visited again with the photographer Clive Nichols to document the terrace, whilst next year we will be concentrating on doing up the rear terrace outside the master bedroom.

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Shoreditch

Photograph by Clive Nichols 6 years after planting

8. Antonine Heights

SE1 is certainly the most prolific postcode for me in creating roof terraces and Bermondsey is right at the heart of it. Antonine Heights, on Long Lane, is situated and presents perhaps the most balanced view of the city of London’s emerging new architecture. From the seventh floor one can observe every new landmark of the last 20 years. When I first arrived, one thing was obvious though: this great view, particularly when perched at the living room’s settee, is blocked by a rendered concrete wall rather then a glazed one. I therefore devised 3 pairs of hollow planters to allow a sense of plasticity which can be augmented with lighting. I divided each large planter into a pair with a petit gap – as if magnetized to resemble the attraction between the very much in love couple – my clients. However, as some of you may remember the second week in January 2010, when construction commenced, snow settled on the ground and a grim landscaping scenario took over. The situation did not last long, luckily, and we managed the long decking planks seven floors up via the staircase, together with new sandstone slabs, planters and trees. The back walls of the terrace had a strong blue colour to them – part of the fabric of the entire development, which lent itself to the striking white of some multi-stem Himalayan Silver birches. I used Mediterranean plants along the sides whilst the trio of front planters change bedding plants each year to give some seasonal change.

In the words of Jim Hoogewerf, the client, ‘I had the good luck to stumble across Amir 3 years ago when I was considering a complete overhaul of our terrace. I was immediately bowled over by his passion, energy and attention to detail. He spent a lot of time ensuring that I was aware of all of the options and he expertly worked my rough ideas into his finished stunning design. I get pleasure every day just looking out onto my terrace and couldn’t be happier with it. If you hire anyone else to transform your terrace, you are missing out.’

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Antonine Heights

Photograph by Lucy Fitter 2.5 years after planting  

  9. Albert Dock

Perched over the canal in King’s Cross, right behind the wonderful façade of the new King’s Place Concert Hall, this terrace curves around a converted warehouse with a fantastic white interior and a totally minimalist concrete structure. The wind tunnels in between the buildings, the noise, pollution and aggressive magpies all contribute to a rather hostile environment. I needed to create something minimalist that’s going to tolerate all of this and stay looking good all year round. I took the curve of the building with hardwood decking, long sandstone flags and LED strips and centred as the main focal point a huge pair of white planters. A glass barrier on top of the existing walls takes away some of the wind off, while two Himalayan multi-stem Silver birches anchor the corner and provide movement and see-through veils to the landmarks beyond.

The height of the terrace sits comfortably within its low-rise St Pancras landscape and was beautifully furnished by the clients. Chris and Pete were great to work with, because as in so many cases I get a free reign. This is not how sometimes the clients see it initially it transpires from Chris’s recent Google review – which is quite funny – he is a crime novelist after all… ‘Amir is quite mad. At first I wanted to kill him. Then I realised he was a genius. He transformed a grey concrete terrace in King's Cross into a stunningly stylish penthouse garden with underfloor lighting, elegant white planters and decking. It clearly took great care and a lot of thought to make the space work, but he did so beautifully, and I plan to continue using him and his excellent team. He's still a bit mad, though.’

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Albert Dock

Photograph by Lucy Fitter 2 years after planting

10. Bridge House   

Back in the spring of 2003 Simon Howard called me up to deal with his huge 250 square metre roof terrace on the 7th floor of Bridge House, at St George Wharf, on Vauxhall Bridge. It was and still is one of the most amazing things I have ever been asked to do. The logistics, the constraints, the vision, the cost – were all Simon’s, I just did a doodle on a piece of paper. He introduced me to the furniture lift company that could take all the gear upstairs. And luckily, I had Phil who could bring his team and sit on this project for 3 sheer months July-October 2003. Simon sold the place in 2007 and since then I was lucky to revisit this year in April when the current owner spotted me online and asked me to carry out some refurbishment work. The terrace, needles to say, takes the battering south western wind coming in from Battersea every single day, the sun is pounding, then the shade gets dense from the tall buildings which surround it; and it is completely overlooked by everyone who lives in the tower next door. But… The views are probably second to none, the sunsets are amazing and the feel is totally cinematic – a Bond film every day of the year – and not just because the MI6 building is just to the right… In my design I followed the natural boat shape of the building and made sure the deck is just the right proportion to the building and the rest of the terrace. I used varying width planks of iroko hardwood and contrasted it with the incredible concrete slabs of Blanc de Bierges.

The steps lead up to an artificial putting green with built-in raised beds and seating. I used low planting throughout of Yucca, grasses, Euphorbia, Rosemary, Convolvulus, Succulents and Phormium. Box hedging creates a wind shield by the main seating area and along the façade of the living room. The main focal point planting is off-set to the middle sides where 3 huge Agave Americana are planted in each curved raised bed. I selected those in Italy in July whilst visiting a nursery in Tuscany. Unfortunately 10 years of rainy English weather had taken its toll on the foliage which in my opinion had reached its presentable stage. I am now thinking of replacing them with Pines or Olive trees. In November 2003 I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Tim Soar, the great architectural photographer – a friend of a client of mine – so we did a swap where I designed a garden in return for his half a day services. We got access from the estate agent to all the other taller flats next door and shot some fantastic, timeless photographs.

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Bridge House

Photograph by Tim Soar 3 months after planting

“My first ever garden design commission was a roof terrace overlooking Hyde Park in the autumn of 2001; since then I created over 150 of them. Working on roof terraces brings endless fun – a thrill that never ceases to amaze me – be it the hustle and bustle of Covent garden; the breathtaking heights of the Barbican Towers; or the wide open sky of a Wandsworth Common low-rise terrace. As the city skyline gets ever more crowded with new skyscrapers, new apartment developments and new monuments, the views become more complex and more challenging. Yet the wind, the sun, the shade, the pollution and the lack of privacy always remain the overriding factors to resolve... Here’s to the next 150 terraces!”

amir   Written, photographed (unless indicated) and posted by Amir Schlezinger.

10 top private roof terraces in central London : Bridge House sunset

Bridge House photo by Tim Soar 3 months after planting in 2003

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