Park Hill in whole new light

James and Emma Lees at home in their flat
James and Emma Lees at home in their flat
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The first residents have moved into Sheffield’s newly-revamped Park Hill flats. Sharon Dale reports on one apartment that has become a super stylish first home.

There are those who stare up at Park Hill flats in Sheffield and shudder at the concrete leviathan that has been labelled “a brutalist eyesore”.

Even though it is undergoing a multi-million pound makeover and now boasts a colourful new façade, they simply can’t imagine living in Yorkshire’s most infamous high rise development.

In counselling speak, they need to “move on” and banish the memories of what started as a utopian vision and became crime-ridden streets in the sky. Those walkways now boast some of the most sensational apartments in Yorkshire.

The new Park Hill, designed by regeneration specialists Urban Splash, retains the best of what the original architects, Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn, conceived.

All the flats in phase one of this gargantuan project are on two levels with a downstairs and an upstairs and they feature enormous, dual aspect, floor-to-ceiling windows with breathtaking views over the city.

The windows are one of the reasons James and Emma Mills decided to make Park Hill their first home.

“I’d seen the flats years ago and thought how brilliant they were. I like the brutalist style and I loved the idea of streets in the sky. When I saw what Urban Splash had done I wanted to live here. It’s very different to most flats. The fact it is a duplex makes it feel more like a house,” says James, an architect at nearby TPS Architects.

“The dual-facing windows also make it seem much bigger than 767 sq ft and it is all very clever. The wall of storage that helps divide some of the kitchen off from the sitting room works well and they even commissioned a bespoke triangular bath to make the most of the space in the bathroom.”

Emma, an interior designer, agrees. The couple were renting a house in Huddersfield and were keen to move to Sheffield to be close to James’ job.

The two bedroom flat cost £122,000 and came unfurnished but decorated in white along with some of the original concrete walls left naked.

Keen to move in with everything just as they wanted it to be, James and Emma planned meticulously. They measured the rooms and used SketchUp and Photoshop on their computer to recreate the layout on screen so they could decide where to place furniture and fittings.

Within days of getting the key, the apartment had been decorated and fully fitted out. “The first day we spent decorating and we were here until about 11pm,” says Emma.

The next day, they hired a van and made a trip to Ikea and spent hours building the flat packs and fitting the three lightshades at the top of the stairs.

“The only things we brought from the old house were the rug, the Barcelona chair and some pots and pans,” says Emma.

“Everything else was new.”

The result is stunning, though there have been a few stand-offs.

“We both have very definite opinions about what we like and there have been a few disagreements,” says Emma.

James adds: “We had agreed on fuchsia for the living room but Emma wanted green and she was right. I wasn’t altogether sure about the purple sofa either but it looks great.”

The couple agreed on a vibrant red for the kitchen and both wanted to leave the bare concrete, which retains and radiates heat and adds texture.

The first floor feels enormous thanks to the huge windows at either end and the run-flush doors that disappear into the wall.

They are rarely closed, which means you can see right through the sitting area down the corridor and into the second bedroom, which doubles as a study.

Air can also circulate right through when sun on the enormous areas of glazing heats up the flat.

“It gets very warm, which is good because it cuts down on heating bills and cooling the area down isn’t a problem. We open a window and have lots of natural ventilation,” says James.

On the ground floor, there is a entrance hall and a bedroom with Ikea wardrobes, perfectly pleated curtains made by local company Bryella www.bryella.co.uk, and a bed with hidden storage behind the headboard.

The couple have added a glossy white Ikea storage system to the living room wall and a shelf above the kitchen worktop.

The last debate was whether to get a coffee table. The consensus was “no” as it would clutter the space that provides an uninterrupted view of those windows.

“We love the windows,” says Emma. “Everyday we see something new and there’s always lots of activity. When we first moved in we didn’t have a TV but we didn’t miss it all. We just sat and watched the view.”

For more details on Park Hill, where apartments start at £90,000, visit www.urbansplash.co.uk

PARK HILL: A history of the streets in the sky

Park Hill in Sheffield was designed and built between 1957 and 1961 and its streets in the sky were seen as pioneering.

One of the earliest examples of Brutalist architecture in Britain, its architects Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn architects were inspired by the Unité d’Habitation, the block of flats built in France by the Modernist architect Le Corbusier.

Park Hill’s 995 council homes were arranged around broad decks that were wide enough for milk floats and each deck had access to the ground level. This design also created a quick getaway and the blocks later became a crime hotspot.

Urban Splash in partnership with English Heritage is now transforming the site. The 800 plus flats will be a mix of private and social housing.

Seventy eight have been completed though the whole site may not be finished for at least another 10 years.