An architecturally inspiring build

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Lewisham isn’t often associated with architecturally inspiring properties – especially not one-of-a-kind triangular houses. Just a few minutes from Lewisham high street, however, sits the home of architect Stephen Davies of 31/44 Architects, which he built for himself and his partner Laura Lewis on a plot that any architect would agree is challenging. The sculptural grey building is squeezed between a row of terraced housing and a river, which is just a metre away from the main living area; where large picture windows frame the glorious views of the water. 

Despite costing only £140,000 to build, Stephen’s white-walled, three-storey house looks anything but low budget. It feels spacious on its compact plot and is defined by concealed angles, bright rooms and cleverly fitted storage. It also boasts three bedrooms, two bathrooms (one en suite) and a cloakroom, plus a large, south-facing living area that's flooded with natural light. 

Stephen had wanted to build his own house for a long time, but was warned by his peers that he’d never find the land in London. This, however, just made him more determined to succeed. He decided to look for an awkward site with so many constraints that no developer would be interested in it – and he came up trumps. After scouring south-east London on a bike, Stephen discovered the perfect spot: oddly shaped, at risk of flooding and overlooking an eyesore of a scrap yard, it was his for just £79,000. 

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The site was sold with permission in place that required the building to be raised to avoid flooding and the roof to be pitched to match the neighbouring houses. Stephen, however, created a new plan for the space, opening up the layout with a free-flowing living-kitchen-dining area on the ground floor and a handsome staircase leading to the upper levels. He convinced planners to let him create a third floor by setting it back from the street level to minimise its visual impact. In doing so, the couple gained a master bedroom, en suite and roof terrace. The south-facing garden/river side of the house is punctuated with large picture windows to outline the best views and, along with an internal skylight, they bring daylight deep into the house. Meanwhile, windows on the street-side of the building are positioned high up, to preserve the home’s privacy. 

Stephen purposely kept things simple to keep his budget in check. Grafting hard in the preparation stages also helped to save money, so that very little was still to be decided when they went on site. In the £5,000 kitchen, for example, every Ikea unit was drawn on the plan. Here, as with the bathrooms, the majority of the budget went on the sink and taps. ‘Quality fittings make the most difference,’ says Stephen. 

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During the project, the recession was one problem that was beyond Stephen’s control. Getting his initial bank loan was nail-biting, yet that was nothing compared with accessing his own money during the build. ‘That was definitely the most challenging part of the development,’ he says. 'But you just have to have faith.' 

In December 2010, after eight months, the house was ready enough for the couple to move in – with a year’s worth of decorating and DIY still to be completed. ‘I was working full-time in the office, then working on the house every evening and weekend,’ Stephen recalls. ‘It was tough, but Laura managed to bring the impetus back into everything to push the project forward again.’ 

Laura also took on the role of interior decorator. ‘The manual labour was tough – finishing a long day to then go and do some sanding or painting was really exhausting,’ she says. ‘Thankfully, once it was done, along came the fun part – filling our home, and its lovely nooks and crannies, with furniture and accessories.’ 

Laura’s taste is varied yet concise, which she sums up as ‘personality over price.’ Her curiosities come from a variety of sources including Parisian flea markets, car-boot sales, high-street shops and designer boutiques, and her expertise reveals itself in the many displays around the house. Framed posters, quirky ceramics, graphic objects, colourful cushions and light fittings all contribute to the home’s friendly vibe. 

For Laura, the best thing about the home is the difficult site. ‘I don’t think I could live somewhere without a river now,’ she says. ‘It’s great to be able to open the patio doors and feed the birds.’ But, bitten by the project bug, the couple are already talking about their next self-build, and Stephen knows that they might move on soon. ‘I just tell Laura that the next one will be even better,’ he says. 

SUPPLIERS 

PROJECT TEAM 
Architect 31/44 Architects (020 7596 6625; 3144architects.com
Structural engineer Blue Engineering (020 7247 3811; blueengineering. co.uk
Main contractor Tully Construction (01689 869 385; tullyconstruction.co.uk
Bespoke joinery James Christopher (020 8856 4266; james-christopher.co.uk

STRUCTURE 
Windows
 Harrier Aluminium (01636 706 253; harrieraluminium.com) 
Steelwork Treval Engineering (01689 834 301; treval.co.uk

FIXTURES & FITTINGS

Flooring UK Flooring Direct (0844 211 0000; ukflooringdirect.co.uk
Underfloor heating Nu Heat (0800 731 1976; nu-heat.co.uk)
Staircase James Latham (01708 681 700; lathams.co.uk)

 

Alan, who’s a tutor at Queen’s University in Belfast, has been studding the local landscape with modern buildings since returning to Ireland from London with his family in the late Nineties. He bought this plot for £55,000 and spent the next two years, and £250,000, creating what can only be described as an architectural anomaly. As fellow architect and friend Patrick Lynch says, ‘It’s completely bonkers.’ The house hovers, dark and menacing, over the landscape. Its arrow-slit windows and jagged profile conjure up thoughts of armour, battles and even Darth Vader. Despite this apparent nonconformity, it also sits comfortably within its landscape; at night, it almost disappears. ‘In scale it matches the front elevation of the neighbouring Masonic hall,’ says Alan, ‘while the form, with its pitched roof and gable presented to the road, follows local traditions.’

The graphite-blue fibre-cement tiles that clad the exterior are indigenous to the area, appearing on a number of pub extensions and a police station in Belfast. ‘I was impressed with the way the material dappled with age,’ says Alan. ‘Our tiles have only a 10-year guarantee. We could repaint, but I like the idea of them fading, as if the building will shed its darkness as it becomes more accepted within the community.’ The house has the air of an impenetrable fortress yet, in common with many of Alan’s projects, there is a complete contrast between the exterior and interior. Stepping from the porch through the large glass front door, you are struck by the light, airy and playful interior. The ground floor consists of a large open space, roughly dissected into a formal living room, dining room, kitchen and TV area. The room partitions vary in height and angle, allowing views through the entire length of the interior and also providing blind spots for privacy. If the communal aspect gets too much, the TV area can be completely shut off from the kitchen, thanks to discreet built-in doors. ‘Spatially, my work has become a lot less formal since my days in London,’ says Alan. ‘The spaces were very precise, whereas here it’s as if you’ve taken the architectural tray and given it a good shake.’

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