My Modern House: Nikki and Mike Dibley show us around their Span flat in Blackheath
INTERVIEWS , My Modern House
Nikki Dibley: “We bought this place through The Modern House five years ago. I wanted to stay in Blackheath and Mike had previously owned a ‘Type 20’ flat in the Barbican, so it was the perfect combination.”
Mike Dibley: “I remember looking round and thinking, this is just like taking a slice of the Barbican and putting it in some grounds. But if it had been on with a local agent we never would have seen it. When we walked around, this room was just such a great space, it’s so light…we didn’t get as far as the end of the pathway before we looked at each other and were like, ‘Did you like that?’and Nikki said, ‘Oh my god I liked it, did you?’ and I was like, ‘Oh my god did I.’”
Nikki: “The lady we bought it from had been here since 1957, she was one of the first residents. It wasn’t entirely in its original state, so we called on the interior architect David Fern to help us refurbish it in a way that stayed true to the original design.”
Mike: “We sort of persuaded him to do one last job before he went back to teaching full-time, but he lives on The Lane nearby and he was very keen. We worked with him to keep everything that was original, the grey plastic light fittings, a lot of the timber, the doors, the handles. There was an old larder with an air vent through the window which we kept, and we kept some of the side pieces from the larder too…we re-used anything we could and drew on Eric Lyons’ other work for inspiration elsewhere.”
“We designed lots of things together, like the joinery…we commissioned The Dovetail Joint for that and they did the kitchen for us too. All the cabinets are based on the original Span plans.”
Nikki: “I like the kitchen best but there are so many things I love…we use the open fire every day in the winter, and I like the cork in the study, which is adopted from a picture we found of Eric Lyons sat at his desk – he has a cork wall in the background. We kept the bathroom fairly simple: I really wanted a toilet with a high cistern but it was hard to find. The furniture in Jack’s room is also lovely – that was designed by Uncommon Projects and it really helps us keep on top of his baby things.”
“We have a real mixture in terms of furniture, some Tapley pieces salvaged from the previous owner, the table is Unto This Last, the chairs are Hans Brattrud and we have a Robin Day desk. We love the Modern Shows, we go all the time and try not to spend money…we were really lucky as we got to know one of the dealers, Gary at Dad-Design: he helped us source a number of pieces and refurbished some bits for us too.”
Mike: “The house gets a really positive reaction from visitors. Although I’ve started thinking that I don’t want to spread it about too much, almost like it’s our secret…but it’s great to share the experience.”
Nikki: “People always comment on the light and the openness and how we know our neighbours. There’s a massive community here, a lot of young families and a lot of people who really care about the architecture. We probably know 75% of the people who live here and that’s amazing. We have an annual Christmas party and a summer party, and we always help to host, we put a massive buffet out and everyone comes over.”
Mike: “You can’t walk out and not see somebody, and you see them regularly. There’s only 44 flats so you really get to know everyone.”
Nikki: “The landscaping also helps. It was part of Lyons’ design to make people converge on their way in and way out, and the communal gardens mean the kids can bomb around together. They have a great time. It’s also nice to be woken up by the birds every morning – we have a woodpecker and parakeets nesting nearby.”
Mike “And it’s not called Foxes Dale for nothing, you know. It’s a great place and it’ll be hard to leave it. It would be difficult for Span to exist in today’s market, but if the government intervened on planning permissions and the way land was used then Span should be reinvented, because what they delivered was great. Span was all about the residents: there are some great photos of people mowing the grass and taking it in turns to sweep the roofs. Now, yes, we do have to get people in to do it, but in the ‘50s and ‘60s they all did it themselves.”
Are there any properties on The Modern House that have particularly caught your eye over the years… asides from this one obviously!
Nikki: “Oh there’s another, the converted reservoir in Harrietsham. We went to look at it soon after Jack was born and we loved it…it really inspired a lot of our thoughts about what we want next.”
If you were to move, what’s the first thing you’d take with you?
Mike: “You know what, I’d be sorely tempted to take the light switches…”
Nikki: “Oh for goodness sake! I wouldn’t allow that.”
How do you define modern living?
Nikki: “For me it’s about space and light.”
Mike: “Yeah, space and simplicity. I think the thing we’ve really enjoyed about Span is that it was way ahead of its time, so their definition of modern living still feels modern now. It’s so well designed that it has a real longevity.”
To see our list of Span properties currently for sale, visit our collection of Span Housing.