If you are nervous of heights then lying on a giant net with a long drop beneath may not be your idea of relaxation but it works for Jonathan Wilson. It is, he explains, perfectly safe. The net, usually used on catamarans, is secured by lengthy bolts and has been passed by building regulation inspectors so there is no chance of falling down the light well that stretches all the way from the ground floor to a huge skylight on the top floor of his three-storey town house.
“It’s not for everyone but I love it. It’s a piece of joy that helps me switch off from the day. I like reading here under the stars,” says Jonathan, who is development director at Citu. The net is part of a project that has seen him go beyond the call of duty for the pioneering home building firm he works for.
He sold his Victorian house in north Leeds so he could buy one of the first properties in Citu’s award-winning Climate Innovation District, which sits by the river on the edge of Leeds city centre. When complete, the district will be the UK’s biggest sustainable urban development.
In pursuit of perfection, Jonathan is using his new home as a test bed for a host of new design ideas, some of which will be carried forward into apartments and houses in the next phases of construction on the 15-acre site, which will eventually hold 800 homes and over 25,000 sq ft of open green space.
Citu is already miles ahead of traditional volume housebuilders in terms of innovation, energy efficiency and great design but, says Jonathan: “We want to go further.” Citu launched in 2004 to build the Greenhouse in Beeston, the first apartment block to use ground-source heat pumps, solar panels and rainwater harvesting. Next came contemporary low-carbon homes at Little Kelham in Sheffield.
The Climate Innovation District is its most ambitious project yet and has already won a host of awards. The timber-framed, Scandi-inspired homes are airtight and topped with rainscreen cladding. They all have mechanical ventilation and heat recovery conventional doors with sliding doors to create flexible spaces.
Unlike the other houses on the site, there is no corridor on the ground floor so it is a totally open-plan living/dining/kitchen space. There is also more natural light, though it also meant that a sprinkler system had to be installed for fire safety.
The concrete floor on the ground floor and the ply floors on the two upper levels have been exposed rather than covered. “There have been mistakes too but I’m happy to make them because they are valuable lessons,” says Jonathan, who isn’t completely happy with the plywood kitchen, which has no tall units. “I thought it would look better and flow better and it does but it isn’t user-friendly because it means you do a lot of bending down to get in the fridge.”
The extra long kitchen island, on the other hand, is a big hit and is great for entertaining, as is his dining table, which he made himself from corrugated cardboard and recycled plastic.
The look throughout is minimalist unlike his former home, where walls were filled with pictures. “There are a few key pictures but the building is the art,” says Jonathan, who has also added plants for air purification.
On the first floor, what is two separate rooms and a shower room in the other Citu houses is a second sitting room/guest bedroom, a shower room and an open-plan space with glass balustrade that could be used as an office/playroom. “This works well so we plan to give future buyers the choice of a separate second room or an open-plan space,” adds Jonathan.
On the top floor, what is two rooms in the other properties is a main bedroom with a bath at one end and an ensuite plus an open-plan area with the net stretched over the triple-height void that allows light to run down the back of the house via the skylight.
“We are going to invite would-be buyers round here and gather feedback,” says Jonathan. “I can’t wait for criticism as that’s about understanding how you can do better.”
Citu houses cost from £355,000 and apartments are due to be released in the second phase of development. www.citu.co.uk
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