We struck gold at the end of the gar­den

Rob Har­ri­son got home from work to find his girl­friend had bought land at the bot­tom of the gar­den to build a house. By

London Evening Standard (West End Final B) - ES Homes and Property - - Our Home -

DOWN an eas­ily missed nar­row turn­ing in Hack­ney, Susi Wilkin­son and her hus­band, Rob Har­ri­son, have built a fine three-bed­room, larch-clad house on what has got to be one of the most dif­fi­cult plots around.

Big, light and bright, with soar­ing roof spaces and an enor­mous open-plan ground floor, this de­light­ful home started life as an dis­used old car park space. Hold­ing just four cars, the car park’s only virtue was that it was bang at the end of Susi’s gar­den.

In 2012, Susi, 42, a univer­sity lec­turer in an­i­ma­tion, and Rob, then her boyfriend, were liv­ing in a two-bed­room gar­den flat in a big old Vic­to­rian ter­race house di­vided into four. When the car park’s owner had an ap­pli­ca­tion to build two three-storey houses on it re­jected, Susi and her neigh­bours de­cided to buy the tiny bit of land be­tween them, for an al­lot­ment.

But the price was too high for ev­ery­one for just grow­ing veg, so Susi de­cided to buy it and build her own house, some­thing she’d al­ways dreamed of do­ing. Af­ter check­ing that her neigh­bours were okay with that, she made her of­fer.

The only in­di­ca­tion she had that she might get plan­ning con­sent was an email from the local plan­ner say­ing a low-rise home, per­haps a storey and a half high, might be all right. This con­di­tion was to re­duce over­look­ing, as the site is hemmed in by neigh­bours. So Susi took a risk, though it was a cal­cu­lated one, be­cause there are three other mod­est, tim­ber-clad dwellings down the turn­ing. “Rob went to work that morn­ing think­ing we might buy a quar­ter of an al­lot­ment,” she says. “When he got home I’d bought the plot on be­half of both of us and I was busy de­sign­ing our new home.” Rob, though, is un­flap­pable. “I put the ket­tle on,” he says.

The cou­ple, self-con­fessed TV house pro­gramme ad­dicts and afi­ciona­dos of Open House Lon­don ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign fes­ti­val, knew what they wanted: a light, open, eco­log­i­cally sound house us­ing plenty of tim­ber. They hired a free­lance ar­chi­tect to draw up plans. First, they ex­plored dig­ging a full base­ment, but it was crip­plingly ex­pen­sive, so they looked at only go­ing down three feet or so, which was much cheaper. Then their ar­chi­tect got a full-time job, so they looked for an­other.

Dur­ing Open House vis­its, they’d ad­mired a house that be­longed to ar­chi­tect Stephen Blow­ers. They made con­tact, and Blow­ers sent ar­chi­tect Mark Barnard round. “We got on in­stantly,” says Susi. “Mark is very pa­tient, did lots of mood boards, and spent a lot of time go­ing to and from the plan­ners.”

There was plenty of dis­cus­sion, which proved ben­e­fi­cial. One neigh­bour ob­jected to a pro­posed roof line, so they pared it right back and sub­sti­tuted a long pane of glass. This sun-in­duc­ing fea­ture is a vast im­prove­ment. “And I drove Rob and Mark mad over the stairs,” Susi laughs. “Folded metal; open treads…” Even­tu­ally, they set­tled on a beau­ti­ful solid oak stair and handrail with stor­age be­neath and Rob’s li­brary built up one side. This is ideal. It’s well-built, easy on the eye and as a bonus, it soft­ens noise.

It took eight months for the plan­ners to agree ev­ery­thing, but even­tu­ally the cou­ple broke ground in Au­gust 2014, and the build be­gan the fol­low­ing Jan­uary.

Af­ter ex­ca­va­tion and foun­da­tion work, a steel frame went up in June of that year, just as baby Spike was born. “We came back from hospi­tal with

this eco­log­i­cally sound house is larch clad; the stair­case is in solid oak with Rob’s li­brary built up the side

Wild about wood:

Spike makes three: Susi, Rob and son at their home on an old Hack­ney car park

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