Skinny houses: ingenious ways for London architects to capitalize on unpromising land


or centuries, London homes have been built tall and lean, to make the most of space out of the smallest footprint possible in an increasingly crowded city.

But the homes of the Huguenot silk weavers of Spitalfields, or the Georgian townhouses of Limehouse’s aptly named Narrow Street, seem positively grandiose compared to their extreme contemporary counterparts.

Because all over London even the most unpromising small plots of land are being used to build surprisingly livable houses.

“There is such a demand for housing in London that it makes sense that we are capitalizing on every piece of land,” said architect Tristan Wigfall, who designed a series of these infill houses. “If the design is imaginative, you can build very high quality spaces on very small sites. “

This three bedroom house has been split, like a puzzle, on land in Clapton

/ Charles Hosea

And while building on tight downtown sites can be tricky – and therefore expensive – mini houses can get expensive. A two-bedroom, eight-foot-wide home in Barnes was put on the market last month priced at £ 750,000 with the real estate agencies Sceon + Berne. Last summer Winkworth offered an even leaner option, a six-foot-wide house on Goldhawk Road, Shepherd’s Bush, with two bedrooms and priced at £ 950,000.

Jeremy Taylor is somewhat of a lean life expert. If he stands in his kitchen with his arms outstretched, he can almost reach from both sides. His home in Tufnell Park was once a car shed attached to the neighboring Victorian villa. At less than 10 feet wide, it looks like a dollhouse sandwiched between its towering neighbors. Inside, it is remarkably light and spacious.

The shed had been converted – “badly” into a freestanding house in the 90s and Taylor, 39, who works for an asset manager, bought it in 2012. In 2017, he hired architect Jeremy Foster , director of J Foster Architects. , to redesign and expand the 538 square foot home.

The radical overhaul involved expanding the kitchen, removing sections of its floor and raising a ceiling to create a third level and completely renovating the house.

It now measures 743 square feet, has two bedrooms, a small office and large glass doors to the garden.

Radical overhaul: Jeremy Taylor in his Tufnell Park home

/ Daniel Hambury / Stella Pictures Ltd

At £ 300,000, this project wasn’t cheap, but it not only made Taylor’s skinny house bigger, but also much more livable – and he was able to move out days before last year’s first foreclosure .

“With a house like this, you have to use every gap,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of built-in furniture… and when you buy furniture you have to buy small parts. We also used Vitsoe storage systems, which bolt to the walls and have underfloor heating on the ground floor as the radiators take up space.

In Clapton, a narrow plot at the end of a terrace of period houses near Chatsworth Road was used to create one of London’s most eye-catching narrow houses. The site was a real challenge, with a street frontage of only 11.5 feet and surrounded by buildings on either side and behind.

Cordula Weisser, director of ZCD Architects, was hired to design a family home for the unattractive location, previously occupied by an abandoned storage unit. In 2016, a building permit was granted to replace the unit with a three-bedroom house which was inserted in the style of a site jigsaw puzzle.

Gap house: This former Victorian shed has been converted into a three-story home for Jeremy Taylor

/ Daniel Hambury / Stella Pictures Ltd

The building is clad in Corten steel, which has rusted to give a magnificent patina, has an office and a large roof terrace, and an interior courtyard to bring light to the three bedrooms on the ground floor. downstairs and open plan living room. space on the first floor.

It was not an easy construction. The site was difficult to access, the builders discovered a Thames water pipe below the site which complicated matters and neighboring properties had to be reinforced.

Due to these issues, along with changes to the record during construction, construction took around 18 months and cost £ 600,000. However, given that houses in this part of Clapton are currently selling for around £ 1,000 per square foot, it is reasonable to assume that the project has reached the breakeven point.

Despite the complexity of the project, Weisser is enthusiastic about the nooks and crannies of the capital. “I am passionate about these spaces,” she said. “They’re great because you can make really good homes. Architects always love a problem and you can do a lot with a small site. It gives you a chance to be inventive. This might be the only option you have if you want to live in central London and own your own home.

Tight spot: this 10-foot-wide house was built by Alma-nac Architects

/ ALMA-NAC / Jack Hobhouse

Hackney Council adopted the concept of infill housing construction and last year launched the “Self-Build Challenge”, which will offer local people outside the housing market the opportunity to build their own homes on corners. free of land that the council owns, but which is too small for social housing.

He plans to start with a pilot site near Well Street Common, and self-builders can either pay for the site and work using a mortgage, or go into a condominium partnership with the council. If this proves popular, other sites will be offered and other advice will likely follow Hackney’s lead.

The house sits on a wedge shaped lot in Nunhead

/ ALMA-NAC / Jack Hobhouse

Sandy Rendel moved to Peckham with his wife Sally 18 years ago where they bought and transformed a former cycling club into a family home for themselves and their two children, aged six and 12.

The clubhouse sits at the end of a patio, and the couple, both architects, had long eyed the nine-foot-wide gap between the buildings.

It was owned by a local property developer, but in 2014, after scrapping their building project, they stepped in and paid £ 120,000 for the site.

Up front, they designed a 1.5 bedroom detached house with its own courtyard garden.

Work began in 2016 and lasted nearly four years – the couple did as much work as they could, helped by friends, family and various builders. In order not to overload the neighboring houses, the house was built using a light steel frame, which was put in place by crane, and covered with glazed tin tiles.

“We didn’t have the money to do it all at once, but it could have been done in about eight months if we had done it,” said Rendel, director of Sandy Rendel Architects. The two-story, 689-square-foot house cost £ 224,000 to build and is currently rented – the family intend to keep it as a long-term investment.

Rendel believes that this type of small house can meet a real demand from people who do not need a large family house but want to have their own front door and outdoor space.

“It’s a way to get a foot on the real estate ladder at a time when there is enough dynamism in the market to make it viable but not enough profit on these small sites for traditional real estate developers. are interested, “he said. “The quality is at least comparable, if not better, to what you will find in a standard apartment with minimum space. ”

Width of a tube carriage: The two-story slot house by Sandy Rendel Architects covers the site of a former cycle club in Peckham

/ Jim stephenson

Considering its modest size – the house is roughly the same width as a tube cart – Rendel worked hard to make sure the interior was spacious. Large windows let in lots of light, the space is open plan and the upper level is a mezzanine giving a generous double height living space.

Last year another small house, this time in Nunhead, was also completed, replacing a garage next to the house next door. Its front façade is relatively generous 10 feet, but the site is wedge-shaped and at the rear, it tapers to just over six feet.

“It has the same surface area as a T2”, explains its architect, Tristan Wigfall, director of Alma-nac architects. “But because it’s three stories high, it looks a lot bigger.”

Large windows and skylights add to the sense of scale, and Wigfall installed an open pine staircase that runs through the center of the house to keep things as uncluttered as possible.

The project cost £ 260,000 – the average price for a Nunhead apartment is £ 438,000, according to Rightmove – and its owners, who live next door, are renting it out. “It’s an investment, and they might at some point reduce it,” Wigfall said.

He believes making the most of each plot of land could have a significant impact on London’s housing crisis, particularly if councils start to identify and activate plots with potential.

“I think there has to be a degree of control to ensure the quality of the space,” Wigfall said. “We don’t want rabbit hutches.

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