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from The Times (U.K.)
March 29, 2003

Here Comes the Sun
By Vinny Lee

When actor Ciaran Hinds and his wife moved into their new home it was characterised by poky, dark rooms. So the couple gave the house a new role - as a bright and colourful living space

You might expect actor Ciaran Hinds and his actress wife, Helene Patarot, to know a thing or two about location, but it was the proximity to a school, rather than a theatre or film set that attracted them to their south London home four years ago. Hinds, who played hoodlum Finn McGovern in Sam Mendes's Road to Perdition and has just finished putting the final touches to his role as the baddie in Tomb Raider II, made the move with his French-Vietnamese wife so that their daughter, Aoife, would be closer to the French Lycee in South Kensington. Although the house was in the right location, the layout needed considerable cutting and editing. Many of the existing small, dark rooms were opened up and made lighter by adding a large glass extension to the rear of the ground floor. And the number of bedrooms was reduced from four to three to incorporate a large bathroom.

"Helene did the plans herself, she had great ideas but wasn't so good at the specifics, so that was where the builder came in," explains Hinds. "I was the arbiter as I'm not really much of a DIY person, I'm more YDI - you do it". At seven and a half months, the building work took longer than expected, "but we were inventing bits as we went along," says Hinds. "During the worst of it, which included the re-wiring, friends took pity on us, and Helene and Aoife stayed with them for a while."

The kitchen, originally at the back of the ground floor, was repositioned to the front of the house and the rear wall was demolished. Over this reclaimed area the conservatory extension was added, creating a spacious open-plan cooking, living and dining area.

The whole of the ground floor is covered with pale limestone tiles, which are warmed by underfloor heating. The custom-made kitchen units, with iroko wood surfaces and a zinc-topped unit on wheels, were fitted around the front window and an old chimney breast. A curved half-wall creates a barrier between the front door and the kitchen area, and a refurbished enamel stove, sourced by "Dave the builder", who has a similar version in his own home, takes centrestage under a powerful extractor fan.

There are two areas in which to eat; one is the rounded breakfast bar, which nominally divides the kitchen area from the rest of the room, and the other is a more formal dining space featuring a long table with wrought-iron legs and matching chairs.

The spacious sitting area is very light, not only because of the french windows opening on to the small garden, but also because of the glass insets in the roof. This area is furnished with a couple of large lounging day beds, a long, low coffee table covered with a bright paisley shawl, and woven rattan cube stools and a console table, also covered with a coir mat. The use of natural materials and plain colours creates a visual link between the sections and instils a relaxed informal atmosphere. On the less sunny side of the room, next to the internal wall, is an upright piano used when this room becomes a party space and also for Aoife's piano practice. A portable screen of open but ornate black scrolls can be moved around to divide the room into more intimate spaces.

Up the coir-covered stairs on the first floor is the main bedroom and Aoife's bedroom, where the walls are painted with a wide blue and white stripe. Next door there is a small shower room. An opaque glass door to the landing contains this "wing", but allows light from the bedroom windows to illuminate the stairwell.

A few steps lead up to the main landing, to the left of which is the original fourth bedroom that has been transformed into a bathroom. The stone floor is set in a herringbone pattern, the walls are finished with a raw plaster effect, and a roll-top bath is lined up next to the internal wall. The side wall is covered with floor-to-ceiling featureless panels, which open to reveal the washing machine and storage for towels.

From the landing the stairs rise again to the converted attic. This is now a split-level room with a sleeping platform, a study area with a desk and a wall of book shelves, and, at the back of the house, a third bathroom, lined floor to ceiling with deep blue mosaic tiles. The space tops off what was once a conventional house that has been injected with drama by this theatrical couple.