In conversation with the man who loves and designs listed buildings

Kensington born and bred, Eamonn Agha of Huntsmore talks to Story of Home about his practice’s devotion to renovating listed buildings and why his family is so happy to call London W8 their home.

Huntsmore is an architectural design and project management firm, offering internal and exterior architecture and design by in-house RIBA architects. They specialise in listed buildings planning consents, and they take care of all the processes prior to construction, co-ordinating structural engineers, party wall surveyors, quantity surveyors, mechanical and electrical work, and AV. In the construction phase, they operate as project manager and on-site design co-ordinator to ensure the customer has one point of contact – them.

What is your ideal project at Huntsmore?

We love undertaking work to listed buildings. These require sensitive and sympathetic alterations and restorations that preserve the building’s historical significance, but also allow the current owners to enjoy living in the space. Whether it be a large townhouse in Kensington or an apartment in the renowned mid 19th Century Italianate-style villas in Holland Park, or designing an apartment in the prestigious Whitehall Court with views over Horse Guards Parade (a current project), we thrive on updating a home’s design while remaining faithful to the building’s heritage.

Why have you made Kensington, Holland Park and Notting Hill your patch?

I grew up in Kensington. As a practice we made the decision to have a relatively small geographical reach, concentrating mainly on these three areas, whilst also undertaking some of the larger properties in NW London, in Queen’s Park and Hampstead. All these areas have distinct architectural identities, and we have been able to build an in-depth knowledge of the types of properties in these areas and the local planning laws that pertain to them.

How do you balance the heritage of a building and the making of a home?

Our clients approach us for our design aesthetic. In turn, we are driven by how they live in their home and use the space, or how they wish to. Every project is a prototype insomuch as we never replicate a set of ideas, because every client’s notion of “home” is unique. A good example of this is when we worked on three apartments in the same red brick mansion block, one after another. Even though the footprints of the properties were identical, what we did internally changed significantly to suit the requirements of the owners. Whether that was creating cohesive entertaining spaces, considering growing families, or future-proofing with enhanced tech and eco initiatives, it was great to deliver on three contrasting briefs.

What advice would you give to Tales of the City readers who are thinking about embarking on a full renovation or restoration project?

Invest time in the design process. Many people purchase a property and are excited to start works immediately, but it’s extremely important to commit to all aspects of the design phase; if this is rushed then not all design options may be explored, and compromises may have to made on site which can lead to disappointment. Thinking and exploring time will inform the design process and lead to a better outcome.

Where in London is home to you?

I live in Kensington with my wife and two young children. Having been born and raised there too, I have seen the area develop massively in my lifetime. There are a lot of new-build properties, like the old cinema on High Street Ken and the former Commonwealth Institute building. At the same time, this area is full of classical London homes and the Garden Squares – like Edwards Square and Campden Hill Square – are phenomenal and, whilst exclusive, add huge appeal to living in the area.     

Kensington is home to me. As well as the haunts that are ingrained into my weekly life (from Ffiona’s restaurant, to Hjem coffee shop, to the Scarsdale pub) what I love is that Kensington offers both a village feel – with leafy residential streets and a strong community feel and faces I know – and the cosmopolitan lifestyle that comes from its proximity to Notting Hill, Knightsbridge and the West End.

We make very good use of the playgrounds in Holland Park and Hyde Park, and the serenity of the former’s Kyoto Garden and forest area. As a devotee of listed buildings, I am drawn to the history of my part of town and love places like the Magazine restaurant in Hyde Park, eating there in the knowledge that I am sitting in not only a marvellously sophisticated piece of architecture but one of very few remaining military gunpowder magazines from the Napoleonic Wars.

What parts of London inspire you?

The list of places in London I love is just about limitless, but when it comes to being truly inspired, I can begin to narrow it down. It would certainly include the Natural History Museum – architecturally inspirational as well as fascinating to walk around – the Southbank and Tate Modern, the Thackeray Gallery in Kensington and the stunning Wallace Collection in Marylebone.

The place that is probably the most special to me beyond the walls of my own home is the Thames at Hammersmith. I do a run twice a week which is a perfect 10k going from where I live, down to the river, across Hammersmith Bridge, along to Barnes, across Barnes bridge and back. We also do the same loop as a family walk. You’ve got the bridge itself which is beautiful, Grade II-listed, then you’ve got the tree-lined area next to Castlenau, the Wetlands, Barnes village, which is exquisite, and a stop at Mari deli (when walking not running!). Every house along this stretch of the river is different and varied and I love that.

What Kensington means for me is that our life isn’t any one thing, but can be a true combination of cosmopolitan, urban village and natural landscape. You are a step away from the West End and from the river and rural wetlands, and that’s extraordinary. It’s a great place to make a home, raise a family and be inspired as a designer.

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