Two millionaire couples are at war in court over a self-built ‘dream home’ that turned into a £5million ‘disaster’ in an exclusive neighbourhood home to the likes of Kate Moss and Jude Law.
Stuart Russell, 62, who works in property finance, and his wife Naomi, 58, say they had planned to spend around £2million building ‘a bespoke, curved, custom built, high-end property’ in Highgate, North London.
The couple hoped their new home would have ‘everything we wanted’ and be finished in less than a year – but a series of ‘disputes’ and walkouts with contractors brought ‘disarray’ and ‘disaster’ to their grand scheme.
Stuart, 62, and Naomi Russell (both left, pictured outside the High Court in London), 58, say most of the blame for the debacle falls on husband and wife project manager and quantity surveyor ‘team’, Peter and Linda Stone (right), both 61
The Russells say they had planned to spend around £2million building ‘a bespoke, curved, custom built, high-end property’ in Highgate, North London, which would have ‘everything we wanted’
The couple hoped their luxurious new home would be finished in less than a year – but a series of ‘disputes’ and walkouts involving contractors brought ‘disarray’ and ‘disaster’ to their grand scheme
It eventually took the couple ten years and cost them £5million to build a four-bedroom house on the secluded road alongside Hampstead Heath – which was an ‘overspend’ of £3million on their original budget.
The Russells claim most of the blame for the debacle falls on husband and wife project manager and quantity surveyor ‘team’, Peter and Linda Stone, both 61, who advised them on the build between 2008 and 2012.
Businessman Mr Russell, 62, who is a director at more than 20 property and finance companies in London, says the other couple’s ‘failures’ and lack of foresight ’caused them to spend significantly more on their property.’
But the Stones insist the Russells wasted money and caused delays by dithering and agonising too much over choosing their interior details, including door handles, toilet roll holders, ‘sanitary wear’ and ironmongery.
However, Mr Russell claims the time he and his wife took reaching decisions on their interiors was justified by the unique and ‘complex’ nature of their new home, telling Mrs Justice Jefford: ‘This is not some Barratt home.’
London’s High Court heard that the Russells’ detached home is ‘covering three stories with four bedrooms and a swimming pool on the lower ground floor, together with substantial landscaped grounds to the front and back.’
The road on which the house was built is one of London’s most desirable streets, retaining a rare ‘country lane’ feel despite being 30 minutes from the heart of the city, and is a magnet for ambitious multi-million-pound self-builds.
The Russells bought a house on the street for £3.65million in August 2006 and demolished it to make way for their dream home in 2010. Their new home is estimated by Zoopla to be now worth £8million.
It eventually took the couple ten years and cost them £5million to build a four-bedroom house on the secluded road alongside Hampstead Heath – which was an ‘overspend’ of £3million on their original budget
The Stones insist the Russells wasted money and caused delays by dithering and agonising too much over choosing their interior details, including door handles, toilet roll holders, ‘sanitary wear’ and ironmongery
The Stones, who live in a £1.2million flat in Kensington, West London, worked on the Russells’ project through their business, PSP Consultants, for three and a half years before quitting in 2012, in the wake of a walkout by builders.
Jennifer Jones, for the Russells, said her clients are now suing the Stones for just over £1.8million, plus interest.
The Russells’ complaints focus on events surrounding builders’ ‘withdrawal’ from the job in February 2012, after repeatedly complaining about delays by the couple in making ‘design decisions’ relating to the property’s interior.
Explain to me why you need to know what colour the walls are six months before they are finished?
‘These are losses that have been caused by PSP’s failure to carry out its project manager, contract administrator and quantity surveying role,’ the barrister argued.
‘In essence, the Russells claim that, by reason of its failures, PSP caused them to spend significantly more on their property than they would have had to had the project management, contract administration and quantity surveying role been properly performed,’ she added.
But Lynne McCafferty QC, for the Stones, said the blame for the delay, the walkout and the overspend lay with the Russells.
‘Late design decisions bedeviled this project,’ she said, condemning the Russells’ ‘unrealistic and impractical’ attitude, and insisting: ‘The problems on this project were not of PSP’s making.’
The Stones ‘consistently advised and warned Mr and Mrs Russell that it was imperative that they make design decisions to enable the building works to progress and of the dangers should they fail to do so,’ she said.
The front of the property has been drastically changed, with the original brick wall (left) painted over in white (right)
The Russells bought the house (above) for £3.65million in August 2006 and demolished it to make way for their dream home
‘But they were unable or unwilling to heed that advice and these are the very dangers which befell this project.’
They allegedly ‘warned Mr and Mrs Russell time and time again about the imperative to make timely design decisions and of the consequences of their failure to do so’.
She added: ‘They chose to ignore that advice at the time and, all these years on, still seem unable to understand those consequences.’
In the witness box, Mr Russell defended the time he and his wife took musing over their interiors, telling the judge: ‘If you’d seen the house you’d understand this is not some Barratt home.
‘Dealing with curves in this way is so complex. It’s very difficult to fit it together. Take our television room; I don’t think there’s a word to describe something that has one straight line and three curves. It was highly complicated.
‘What we wanted was our house to be our house with everything we wanted. If you are building your own home, you want the design to be what you want and the quality to be what you want.
‘I think where we live has a certain expectation of level of standard. My house was where it was. Our house comprised some unusual interesting areas in each room. There were very few square rooms in the house.
‘It was important for us to understand how the rooms would look. We wanted to see that it all fitted together, that when you walked into a room it had a sense of style.
Plans show the aerial view of the home, with the Russells saying that ‘dealing with curves in this way is so complex’
The Russells told how their luxury property in North London ‘comprised some unusual interesting areas in each room’
‘We wanted to see how the whole room would look, skirting and cornice, doors to door handles, so we could see what it looked like designed. We started this project with a very clear brief.
‘It’s the detail in a room which decides whether it’s good or bad design and we were trying to put that together. Explain to me why you need to know what colour the walls are six months before they are finished?
‘Some of the information seemed to be needed quite early. I didn’t need to provide a toilet roll holder decision for a wall that didn’t exist.’
Moving on to the delays and eventual walkout by the builders, he told the judge: ‘My project was in disarray,’ going on to describe it as ‘such a disaster.’
‘It was one of the most unpleasant circumstances of my life when my home, which I had hoped would be finished by July 2011, was not finished at all except for the concrete. I was paying all sorts of things while trying to recover the situation,’ he added.
He and his wife should have been warned more clearly by PSP that the project was facing meltdown, he claimed. ‘I’m not a professional. it’s the professionals who should have the forethought,’ he said.
But Miss McCafferty told him: ‘You knew that, if you didn’t come up with the design details during the time limit set by the contractors, there would be both time and cost consequences…you had to do your bit.
Plans for the south elevation of the property in Highgate, which was built after a £3million overspend on the couple’s budget
The west (front) elevation of the property on the road in Highgate which is one of London’s most desirable streets
‘PSP really did give you a lot of warnings about this…we’ve seen warning after warning- what more could they possibly have done to warn you about this? You have been asked time and time again for the same design details’.
She also told the judge that the Stones are counterclaiming against the Russells for around £20,000 in ‘unpaid fees.’
She said: ‘PSP is a successful and busy professional practice with 29 years’ experience in high-end residential and multi-million pound commercial property projects. The directors of PSP are a husband and wife team, Peter and Linda Stone.
‘This claim has been hanging over Mr and Mrs Stone’s heads for six years. The impact on their professional and personal lives has been severe.
‘This is all the more distressing for Mr and Mrs Stone because they strongly believed that they did a very good job in very challenging circumstances on this difficult project.
‘In fact they went above and beyond for their clients, expending very considerable amounts of time more than they were paid for,’ the barrister claimed.
The hearing continues.