72A Wor­thy Gam­ble

Buy­ing a di­lap­i­dated garage with­out plan­ning per­mis­sion in a London con­ser­va­tion area was a big risk for Me­lanie Schu­bert and Paolo Vimer­cati, but the re­sult is a strik­ing new three-bed fam­ily home

Homebuilding & Renovating - - CONTENTS - Words Daisy Jef­fery Pho­tog­ra­phy Jeremy Phillips

Taking a leap of faith, a London cou­ple buy a garage in a con­ser­va­tion area with­out plan­ning per­mis­sion — trans­form­ing it into the site of their new home

Taking on a self-build project can some­times seem like a leap of faith. For Me­lanie Schu­bert and Paolo Vimer­cati, this leap was more like a dive into the un­known when they pur­chased a London plot. “We were ef­fec­tively buy­ing a garage with­out plan­ning per­mis­sion,” says Me­lanie.

“It was a huge gam­ble — our par­ents thought we were crazy! We found the plot on­line and it was the first op­por­tu­nity we came across, and the cheap­est. We knew the area and wanted to build some­thing here but sites were so rare in this part of London. When it came on the mar­ket it seemed too good to be true. It was a risk, but we saw the po­ten­tial to build some­thing unique.”

The cou­ple were rent­ing a two-bed flat in Kens­ing­ton, and craved more space and a third bed­room. Me­lanie, a di­rec­tor at ar­chi­tec­tural firm SAM Ar­chi­tects, be­gan draft­ing de­signs for a brick-clad build­ing as well as a tim­ber frame home, both of which would take up the en­tire foot­print of the plot. “We drew up two dif­fer­ent ideas and en­tered pre-ap­pli­ca­tion ad­vice with the plan­ners to get a sense of what they wanted,” says Me­lanie. The scheme also in­volved dig­ging down to cre­ate a base­ment level, re­sult­ing in a three-bed, three-storey home.

“They made it very clear that they wanted to see a brick house, and given that the site is within a con­ser­va­tion area we didn’t want to push it. But we didn’t want to use a London stock brick — we wanted to cre­ate some­thing dif­fer­ent, so we did a lot of re- search into bricks and looked at black, pur­ple and grey re­claimed op­tions. We chose re­claimed bricks which were un­even in size and colour, and chose black mor­tar in­stead of cream. It was also im­por­tant to us to use real bricks and not brick slips, which I think just look like dec­o­ra­tive cladding,” Me­lanie con­tin­ues.

build­ing on a tight Ur­ban plot

After a lengthy plan­ning process (“It took al­most a year as they kept want­ing more in­for­ma­tion from us,” ex­plains Me­lanie), the scheme was ap­proved first time. But when work be­gan on site, ac­cess proved trou­ble­some. “As we were build­ing on 100 per cent of the plot, there was no space to store ma­te­ri­als and we were quite on top of our neigh­bours at one point. The fact that we had to dig so deep to make way for the base­ment didn’t make things easy ei­ther, and the size of the plot meant only three or four peo­ple could work on site at one time — things im­proved once the shell of the house was up,” says Me­lanie.

Ac­cess was not the only is­sue the cou­ple faced on site, ei­ther. A large tree to the front of the prop­erty meant mul­ti­ple sur­veys had to be car­ried out to en­sure it was pro­tected from ex­ca­va­tion work.

After a year and a half on site, with the cou­ple con­tin­u­ing to rent their flat dur­ing the works, Me­lanie and Paolo moved into their com­pleted home. The house has been de­signed to be de­lib­er­ately min­i­mal­ist, with pol­ished con­crete floor­ing used for the

base­ment and ground floors. Colour has been in­jected into the kitchen, how­ever, which was built by a London joinery com­pany. “I knew I wanted pre-coloured ply­wood for the units as I was tired of do­ing white kitchens,” says Me­lanie. “I wanted a kitchen that looked more like a work bench and this ma­te­rial is very durable, wa­ter­proof and easy to wipe clean. By con­cen­trat­ing the colour in one place, the kitchen acts like a piece of fur­ni­ture — I love it.”

The house also ben­e­fits from gen­er­ous ceil­ing heights (3m on the ground floor, 2.7m-high ceil­ings in the base­ment, and 2.5m on the first floor), which cre­ates an airy feel. The floor joists to the rooms above have been left ex­posed in the open plan kitchen for an in­dus­trial feel. “The steels were painted and we over­sized the joists in or­der to meet Build­ing Regs, so that the tim­ber would have a slower burn rate in the event of a fire,” says Me­lanie. “We then packed ther­mal and acous­tic in­su­la­tion on top and in­stalled un­der­floor heat­ing.”

Per­haps one of the most im­pres­sive fea­tures of the prop­erty is the large burnt larch shut­ters to the ex­te­rior, which pro­vide pri­vacy and se­cu­rity to the road­side el­e­va­tion at night, but open out to re­veal 3m x 3m slid­ing glass doors from Sky-Frame dur­ing the day. “I didn’t want to feel like I was sit­ting in a fish­bowl at night, but I love that once they are open they al­most act like blink­ers and re­ally frame the views over the green op­po­site,” she says.

The cou­ple tried to stick to their bud­get, although, Me­lanie ad­mits, they didn’t suc­ceed. “In the end we just couldn’t value en­gi­neer some of the ne­ces­si­ties that make the house what it is. We felt that we didn’t want to com­pro­mise, as we’re only do­ing this once,” she says. “Some­times a bud­get is de­fined by how much money you have; other times it is de­fined by how much the house will be worth — but of course you need the money to get it to this point. It’s about find­ing a bal­ance.

“You couldn’t have this house any­where else,” she con­cludes. “It’s been de­signed to frame the view it has and works to make the most of its po­si­tion within the street and the avail­able space on site. It’s our for­ever home, and we love it.”

The home­own­ersMe­lanie Schu­bert and Paolo Vimer­cati The projectCon­tem­po­rary self-build Lo­ca­tion London Build time 18 months Size 140m2Plot cost £150,000 Build cost £400,000 Value Un­known

Be­fore & After Friends and fam­ily ques­tioned Me­lanie and Paolo when they bought the di­lap­i­dated garage (be­low) which pre­vi­ously sat on the tight plot and had no plan­ning per­mis­sion in place.

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