Highpoint: inside a groundbreaking modernist apartment 

Sandra Coppin's apartment occupies the fifth and sixth floors of Highpoint II 
Sandra Coppin's apartment occupies the fifth and sixth floors of Highpoint II  Credit: Rachael Smith 

 I could say that it’s the architecture and the double-height space in our duplex that we love best, but the main draw for us is the feeling of community and belonging here,’ says the architect Sandra Coppin, who shares her home with husband Nico de Beer, a design director in the bathroom industry, and their two children, Anna, 14, and Eva, 12. ‘It feels very special being here – it’s like living in a 1930s movie.’

The double-height space is at the heart of the apartment  Credit: Rachael Smith

The family’s striking flat is situated in Highpoint II, the second of the apartment buildings designed by the pioneering modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin in Highgate, north London, during the 1930s. Surrounded by communal gardens, tennis courts and a heated outdoor swimming pool, it is testament to Lubetkin’s design approach that Highpoint remains a vibrant village in miniature, beloved by its residents.

Highpoint II is a striking local landmark Credit: Alamy 

Coppin grew up in South Africa but moved to London to study at the Bartlett School of Architecture, where she met de Beer. They lived in a studio flat in Shoreditch for a number of years, but with their first child on the way more space was needed. Coppin and de Beer initially bought a three-bedroom apartment in Highpoint I in 2002. Completed in 1935, the first of Lubetkin’s two Highgate apartment buildings was commissioned by businessman Sigmund Gestetner as affordable and well designed modern housing for the workers at his office-equipment company. Highpoint I has 60 apartments in a crisp H-shaped building, which offers extraordinary views out across the city. When the family gained another member, Coppin and de Beer feared that they would have to move to a more conventional home, but then they heard that a rarely avail­able, much larger flat was coming up for sale in Highpoint II.

Original concertina windows have been restored. The vintage table, by AJ Milne for Heal's, came with the flat  Credit: Rachael Smith

‘We were really loath to leave, and then we were away one weekend when some friends discovered that a duplex was coming on the market, and suddenly we got all these drunken texts saying, “It’s OK, you can stay, we have found you a flat.” It was all very emotive.’

The only drawback was de Beer’s vertigo – induced by a hiking accident on a mountain trail some years ago – as the duplex is on the fifth and sixth floors. But when de Beer heard that the original bathrooms and many other period fixtures were intact, he couldn’t resist taking a look. As soon as he did, he knew that he would have to conquer the vertigo – the family were all hooked. 

The elliptical staircase opens on to a mezzanine gallery Credit: Rachael Smith 

Lubetkin designed Highpoint II, completed in 1938, with just 12 luxurious apartments, including a penthouse for himself. The spec stands in contrast to the first building, with the best of everything, including hidden galley kitchens and separate entrances for servants. A double-height living space forms the heart of the apartment, with a balcony to one side and a dramatic spiral staircase to the other.

‘We both loved it, and Nico made me  promise that we would never move again,’ Coppin says. ‘We did suddenly find ourselves with this very demanding heritage restoration project, though. The previous owner had lived here for decades, so many original features were well preserved, but the kitchen had been replaced in the 1970s.’ 

The vivid green walls of the guest bedroom echo the open views of Hampstead Heath  Credit: Rachael Smith

Coppin began scouring archives to find period photographs and plans, and designed a new Lubetkin-inspired galley kitchen full of space-saving measures. She and de Beer spent a big chunk of their budget restoring the bathrooms and the statement staircase, drawing on the expertise of several artisans.  The apartment has been populated with  a pleasing mix of modern and mid-century  furniture, set against a background of colours based on the pioneering Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier’s Architectural Polychromy palette of 1931. 

Sandra Coppin with her Havanese dog, Pip  Credit: Rachael Smith 

The original dining room has become Coppin’s home office and the base for her architectural practice, Coppin Dockray. Clients have included a number of other residents at Highpoint, who have also become friends.

‘There is such a strong community here – when you need a cup of sugar it’s right there,’ says Coppin. ‘You do have the feeling that it was designed at a special moment in time as part of this very positive, brave view of the future. Our home is a very forward-looking and optimistic space, even though it was designed 85 years ago.’