Conceived by Jorn Utzon in 1961 for his friend the structural engineer Povl Ahm, this Grade-II listed house is recognised as one of the most important modern houses in Britain.
Povl Ahm was a partner at the Danish engineering practice Ove Arup & Partners and worked with Utzon on the Sydney Opera House. Designed by the two Danes, the house was created for Ahm and his young family in Hertfordshire.
Utzon’s only completed project in the UK was way ahead of its time. Designed around an open plan with light filled spaces, it possesses a distinctive timeless quality. Utzon’s approach was to focus on human beings, to create something that would have long-lasting value for generations to come.
Danish structural engineer Povl Ahm worked on some extraordinary projects in his lifetime. After joining the London office of Ove Arup & Partners in 1952, he collaborated on Coventry Cathedral with Basil Spence and St Catherine’s College in Oxford with his countryman Arne Jacobsen; later the pair worked together again on the Danish Embassy in London.
From the street, the house is enigmatic, with the garage and entrance forming a buffer between the public and private spaces. As you step inside the entrance hall and ascend a series of steps, Ahm’s pavilion dramatically unfolds. The highlight of the family home reveals itself as you step around the central brick hearth – the generous sitting room. Here, floor-to-ceiling banks of glass connect with the gardens and throw natural light on the brickwork, the tiled floors and the coffered ceiling, which combines concrete beams with strips of pine.
It is instantly recognisable as a house by Utzon. He used many of the same elements as in his own first villa and the beamed ceilings and tiles on the floor are the same as those that he used for Sydney Opera house. Even the relationship between the living spaces, and how they are revealed upon entering the house is reminiscent of other works.
Ahm House’s new owners loved the character of the materials as soon as they entered. They were struck by the connections to the greenery and the trees and their secret garden. Having acquired the house and immersed themselves in Utzon’s history, the owners approached Coppin Dockray to work on the interiors and a super-sensitive restoration that involved rethinking the lighting throughout the building and sourcing furniture that complemented the iconic design.
The choice of furnishings reflects the physical and historic context of the house and its Danish roots. The design team created some bespoke pieces of furniture for the house, including a green marble and walnut coffee table, and a storage unit made from Oregon pine and black linoleum. They also commissioned a series of rugs.
The furniture collection works with the architectural journey, providing punctuation among key pieces where there are natural pause-points, and at other times allowing the eye to effortlessly slide around the soft curves of the Jacobsen chairs to the lush green of the mature garden beyond.
The material qualities of the interiors, like the house, are natural and crafted, deliberately chosen to be long lasting and to develop their own patina over time. Coppin Dockray’s work included careful repairs to the Grade II listed 1961 house and the reinstatement of some of the original joinery based on Utzon’s standard details.
Warm and welcoming, the Ahm House now serves as a family home again, a place where architecture and nature coincide, as they do in the best of Utzon’s work.
Ahm House has since received further recognition - it won a Wallpaper* Design Award for Best Remastered in 2019.
If you’d like to see more about Jørn Utzon, watch our film titled, a great Danish designer, shown below. It features Ahm House, Can Lis and the Sydney Opera House.