How many of us can honestly say we live in our dream home? English Architect Ian Simpson wholeheartedly says he does. The director of Ian Simpson Architects, which has offices in London and Manchester, went above and beyond for his personal oasis - not only designing the interiors of his penthouse apartment, but masterminding the creation of the entire skyscraper.
It was a simple love at first sight. Simpson admits he originally had no intention of living in his now iconic Beetham Tower in Manchester, but when the occasion arose for him to turn the top two floors of his landmark building into his personal abode, he jumped at the opportunity.
His home, which he mainly shares with partner Jo Farrell, is one of his favourite designs to date. "The building differs from [Ian Simpson Architects'] other work," Simpson says. "It's our only tall building in Manchester."
Calling it a tall building, while correct, seems somewhat of an understatement. The tower - named after its developer, the Beetham Organisation in Liverpool, England - is a landmark building in Manchester's skyline, jetting out among the rest of the buildings.
It also holds the honour of being the tallest building outside London. Better yet, until The Shard (in London) opened earlier this year, it was the tallest residential building in England.
Simpson has no qualms about living in the heart of Manchester or in his own castle in the sky. Despite living above the four-star Hilton Hotel, which occupies the first 23 storeys of the building, and right in the hustle and bustle of Manchester's trendy Deansgate area, the celebrated architect has nothing but stellar things to say about his home.
"There are major advantages of living in the tower," he says. "You get the beautiful, distant views and you also get the vibrant activity of the city at your feet. There is a sense of serenity at [such a] high level and yet, I am only 45 seconds away from the city's activities."
The glass-panelled exterior of the skyscraper helps provide breathtaking 360-degree views - and thanks to its height, and no obstructing buildings nearby, the scenery can extend to around 56km out, including glimpses of the Peak District and Winter Hill, and towns and cities near Manchester such as Stockport, Oldham and Liverpool. It's a vantage point like no other for Manchester, and includes several of Simpson's other buildings in Manchester, such as Number One Deansgate, an apartment building built in 2002, and Urbis, also created in 2002 as an exhibition and museum venue which is now the National Football Museum.
The stunning view is something that Simpson, Farrell and their guests are extremely grateful for, during the day and at night. Simpson paid due consideration to the views during his design and decorating process, paying close attention to the way the light falls into the penthouse.
"The bedrooms receive natural light from the east, the olive grove receives afternoon, southern light, and the formal living space receives evening light and allows us to appreciate the dramatic sunsets," the architect says.
Perhaps, the most striking feature of the penthouse is the 4,000 sq ft garden - especially in the afternoon light. Step into the apartment, and your eyes will glide along the garden which Simpson describes as his favourite space in his apartment. The olive grove, filled with lush olive and cork oak trees, is a cosy, inviting space. It's an area where the architect finds comfort and refuge, a place where he gets "a real sense of serenity … sitting by the reflecting pool".
The plush greens stand out against the soft whites and natural oak palette in the adjoining dining and living spaces which all open up to the garden, adding warmth to the entire 12,000 sq ft apartment.
Simpson paid special attention to the colour scheme because he wanted to create an intimate and friendly home.
"The palette and colour is very much one of natural materials, using travertine and oak to complement my collection of Scandinavian mid-century furniture, sculpture, art and glass," he says. In addition, "there are warm and colourful spaces throughout the house that flow into one another, doors are only used on bedrooms and bathrooms".
Adding vibrancy to his home, Simpson fills the space with a wonderful array of art work and interesting decorative pieces. From African tribal masks and cool ceramics adorning his table top to statement art pieces hanging on his wall, the space never feels void or empty. Life and character are infused into the rooms by his hand-picked decorative pieces.
How long exactly does it take to build a dream house? "The biggest challenge in designing a home for yourself is restricting yourself to a budget and timescale," Simpson says. He admits that he was unsuccessful in sticking to his original budget and time frame, but he has no regrets.
For now, Simpson is content to enjoy the fruits of his labour. "I have no intention of moving out of the Beetham Tower. It's my home and I really enjoy living here," Simpson says.
"I wake up every morning and enjoy the results. This home is truly an oasis in the sky."
Ian Simpson (right) and Jo Farrell, Farrell's daughter, India, on occasion, and a small cat named Mia
The penthouse apartment houses a 4,000 sq ft olive grove. The trees were sourced from Tuscany, Italy. They were brought over to England and planted prior to the completion of the roof.
Story Joanne Lam Photography Reto Guntli and Agi Simoes / Living Inside