Work hard, play hard: the swish London rooftop terrace that's an outdoor office by day, and a party hotspot by night

After an alfresco board meeting, turn on the party lights and enjoy a terrace filled with Mediterranean plants.

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Could this be London’s ultimate roof terrace? The off-the-scale wow factor is heightened by the access that gives no hint of what lies above: a spiral metal staircase on the terrace beneath, LED-lit at every step, leading up into the entry point of the bar area where, on party nights, you are greeted with a glass of bubbly.

Barely a year ago, this rooftop terrace above a third-floor penthouse flat in Bermondsey looked very different and was never used. “There was a floor of plywood and astroturf had been laid on top — a disastrous combination,” says London garden designer Robin McAfee. He was charged by the owner, a corporate high-flyer, with transforming the large area — 23ft wide and 52ft long — into a versatile, all-weather space for both work and pleasure.

“My client wanted a rooftop garden where she could socialise and hold dinner parties in the evening as well as use it as an outdoor workspace,” says McAfee. “It was important to create shelter and for her to have privacy from neighbours, yet still enjoy the panoramic views across London.” 

He replaced the rotting flooring with more durable I pe hardwood decking, which he used to emphasise the different zones of the terrace, placing the boards diagonally at the entrance to draw guests in from the staircase to the bar and on into the garden. “We experimented with a wood protector called Sioo:x that quickens the weathering process,” says McAfee. “When you apply it, the wood turns bright pink. The client was horrified, but in two weeks the whole deck had turned a lovely silvery-grey.”

There were already clear glass screens around the boundary but where more privacy from neighbours was needed, McAfee installed higher, frosted glass panels as well as rectangular evergreen blocks of Portuguese laurel that also act as effective windbreaks and, he says, stop the view being given away all at once.

The bar and kitchen in the first zone, with instant hot water tap, fridge, grill and a long L-shaped stretch of black granite work surface, can double as cocktail or breakfast bar. Irrigation for the garden is set up by a battery timer beneath the kitchen sink, and the wi-fi hub, as well as the Sonos sound system, is stored under the kitchen counter.

Opposite is a large dining table that is also used for business meetings. It can be sheltered with a giant weatherproof umbrella that’s set in a concrete base to withstand the wind and provides shade or a shield against showers. Linear planters of lightweight faux lead, set with predominantly Mediterranean planting of lavenders, sedums,dianthus, stipa grass and sea holly, as well as mature olive trees underplanted with creeping rosemary, help divide the whole space. 

McAfee points out that each planter has little feet to raise it off the ground and prevent the deck rotting. Two of them provide an entrance to the third zone, an area for relaxing and entertaining, that looks uncannily as if a contemporary living room landed on the roof — and indeed, the cool, plant-flattering tones of white, grey and aqua reflect the owner’s indoor colour scheme.

Everything, from the corner sofa and cushions to the large rug and square pouffe, is weatherproof — as are the speakers concealed behind furniture and planters, at floor level, so that the client can play her favourite tracks outside, controlling them from her smartphone.

Spotlights at the base of the olive trees, uplighters set into the decking and soft lighting in the borders are discreet and effective, but McAfee also brought in high-style chargeable LED lights that can be moved around the space as needed, and make decorative statements during the day, too. He added tall, sculptural white lights, barrel-shaped floor lights and table lamps with faceted faux-crystal shades that make tracery patterns at night, bringing a magical touch to this exceptional outdoor space.


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