The Box Room - Real Homes

Simply dropping a box-like structure on to the roof of this modest London flat doubled its size

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When Marjorie Jones first saw her current home she was living over the road in a rented flat. Fate stepped in: ‘I was left a little bit of money and around the same time this flat came on the market, along with the freehold.’ She moved in two months later, and the first thing she did was knock down some walls to make the one-bedroom flat into a spacious studio.

Before she took up her current job as a health service manager, Nashville-born Marjorie was a full-time artist. ‘Most people leave the nine-to-five lifestyle to become an artist, but I did it the other way round,’ she says. ‘I always paint and draw but I prefer my life now – it is much more structured. It was hard making ends meet and, as a self-employed artist, I was never off duty.’

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A feeling exacerbated by both living and working in one long room for 15 years. Desperate for more space, but unwilling to move, she confided in her neighbours. They suggested employing architect Pierre d’Avoine. ‘I would never have thought of it myself. For a start I thought an architect would be very expensive. Perhaps it was because as an artist and architect we shared similar ideas on light and space, but we immediately hit it off.’

Marjorie wanted to build a room which could be used both as a bedroom and a lounge, compensating for the slightly cramped living space on the floor below. ‘The initial plan was to have this huge sloping ceiling with massive glass windows, but then one day Pierre showed me a sketch which looked like a box dropped on to the existing flat. Something just clicked, I loved the symmetry and simplicity of the design.’ She smiles, ‘He was the one that convinced me to have a wall of in-built storage space, I was quite happy to have my things in piles on the floor.’

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Then came an eight-month battle to get the plans approved. ‘You can’t even see the build from the street, so what was all the fuss about?’ Marjorie shrugs. Eventually she won planning permission, but prices had jumped up in the interim: by the time the go-ahead was given, the building costs had increased by a staggering 75 per cent. ‘It’s something to be aware of,’ warns Marjorie, ‘although I was lucky enough to have an excellent builder, John Perkins. He, Pierre and myself developed an excellent working relationship, so it worked out.’

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The kitchen and dining area are still on the first floor, and an open fire adds warmth to the white surroundings. In the corner wooden steps lead up to the extension. Light hits you when you reach the top; floor-to-ceiling windows look out on to surrounding roofs and gardens. The feeling is of being cocooned in a rooftop eyrie.

‘I have to keep pinching myself,’ Marjorie says. ‘For years I just had the one room downstairs, having more space is so liberating.’ Plans are to stay put for the foreseeable future, ‘I love London, I adore the people and the mix of cultures. Having said that, if I win the lottery, I’ll build a huge house in Nashville with Pierre as the architect.’ She gazes over her balcony, ‘The experience has taught me to look at buildings in a different way. I’m addicted now, I want to keep doing more.’

Useful Contacts

Architect: Pierre d'Avoine 020 7403 7220

Words: Yasmine Gibson Images: Mel Yates

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