written by:
photos by:
illustrated by:
January 14, 2009
Originally published in Super Natural

Taking inspiration from barns, warehouses, Case Study Houses, and Japanese residential architecture, architect Marcus Lee and his wife, Rachel Hart—–an architectural model maker—–created a unique timber-framed home in Hackney, London. The three-story house packs within its double-height ceiling five bedrooms, a study, a music room, and a mezzanine gallery while still leaving enough space for an open-plan ground floor and garden. Lee tells us how he created such a hardworking, flexible, and desirable family home.

Londoner Marcus Lee turned a narrow lot next to a pickle works into a high-flying wood retreat with a garden out back and plenty of soaring space upstairs.
Londoner Marcus Lee turned a narrow lot next to a pickle works into a high-flying wood retreat with a garden out back and plenty of soaring space upstairs.
Photo by 
1 / 8
London house exterior
Marcus Lee and Rachel Hart’s wonderful wooden home sits at the end of a quiet London lane and politely turns its back on the workshops next door.
Photo by 
2 / 8
The second-floor family bathroom has an interior window overlooking the kitchen below.
Photo by 
3 / 8
Here, architect Marcus Lee maximized every bit of space in his London house by creating a third floor up in the eaves so that his girls—Mae, 6, Jodie, 8, and Ruby, 10—could have a study and three separate bedrooms.

<a href="http://www.dwell.c
Here, architect Marcus Lee maximized every bit of space in his London house by creating a third floor up in the eaves so that his girls—Mae, 6, Jodie, 8, and Ruby, 10—could have a study and three separate bedrooms. Read the whole story here.
Photo by 
4 / 8
The dining area benefits from the abundant natural light that pours in from the garden.
Photo by 
5 / 8
On the top floor the children have a sequence of bedrooms built into the eaves with space enough for desks and a choice of standard bed or bunk bed.
Photo by 
6 / 8
Out in the garden, Lee designed a large cupboard with a sliding door and bank of shelves.
Photo by 
7 / 8
The main living area on the ground floor has plenty of storage, bookcases, and a Danish wood-burning stove, which pivots to throw heat and light in different directions.
Photo by 
8 / 8
Londoner Marcus Lee turned a narrow lot next to a pickle works into a high-flying wood retreat with a garden out back and plenty of soaring space upstairs.
Londoner Marcus Lee turned a narrow lot next to a pickle works into a high-flying wood retreat with a garden out back and plenty of soaring space upstairs.
Project 
Hackney House
Architect 

We built the house on a garden site that we bought at auction. It was a huge risk when we bought the piece of land back in 2000 with no planning permission and no services. Rather romantically, perhaps, the garden was next to a pickle works that is now, sadly, a paint spray shop. It was a long back garden to a handsome Georgian building, so we had to get all kinds of planning approvals.

My wife, Rachel, and I jointly bought this site, and she had an interest all along in doing a house. I have to give her enormous credit. It can be hugely stressful building a house, and it is probably easier for me because I’m in the business. It’s a slow process, and you do it on a shoestring.

London house exterior
Marcus Lee and Rachel Hart’s wonderful wooden home sits at the end of a quiet London lane and politely turns its back on the workshops next door.


The whole idea of a timber frame means that you can build quickly and move into a flexible space, rather like a barn or loft, at minimum cost and then fit it out or change it as you live in it. Though the work does slow down when you move in. It’s a bit of an admission for an architect, but there’s no doubt that once you are in a place—–no matter how good your planning—–you are not fully aware of how that tree next door, for instance, might relate to the space or affect the light. When you move in you can refine things, but you risk driving your family mad in the process.
lee hart house bathroom
The second-floor family bathroom has an interior window overlooking the kitchen below.


As a family we tend to gravitate to the living room and kitchen—–that’s the focus of family life. The children tend to do their homework and drawing on the kitchen island or the dining table and watch television downstairs.
Here, architect Marcus Lee maximized every bit of space in his London house by creating a third floor up in the eaves so that his girls—Mae, 6, Jodie, 8, and Ruby, 10—could have a study and three separate bedrooms.

<a href="http://www.dwell.c
Here, architect Marcus Lee maximized every bit of space in his London house by creating a third floor up in the eaves so that his girls—Mae, 6, Jodie, 8, and Ruby, 10—could have a study and three separate bedrooms. Read the whole story here.


The Corian kitchen island unit acts as a real hub. A lot of people are surprised to find a television tucked away under the worktop, which we can watch from the sofa. It doesn’t dominate the room, though. The kids sit at the island for breakfast and other meals, and when people come they end up sitting there and talking while we are cooking. It works well. Then we have a more formal dining table looking out over the garden.

On the ground floor, we have a shift in floor level between the entrance area and the rest of the living area, which was completely to do with the difference in level between the street and garden. We wanted high ceilings and a double-height space in the kitchen area, which is to the side of the main living zone, with a mezzanine and an internal balcony above. The change in level allowed us to get the ten-foot-high ceilings, and be able to walk down into the main living space.

Downstairs is a flexible, open plan, while upstairs is more cellular. On the second floor, we can use sliding doors to section off the guest room and a small en suite bathroom. It’s a luxury in London having a spare bedroom, but when my older daughters—–Katie and Lois—–come to stay, it’s good for them to have that sense of privacy.

We maximized every bit of space by creating a third floor up in the eaves. When we first moved in, the girls—–Mae, 6, Jodie, 8, and Ruby, 10—–had a big, open, attic dormitory up there with rows of beds. More recently we divided that floor up into a study and then three separate bedrooms, each with a normal bed and a bunk bed tucked in up by the ceiling, which are great for sleepovers. There’s definitely a kids’ zone up in the attic and an adult zone on the second floor.

On the whole the house has some of the feel of a barn or a warehouse, but also of the Californian Case Study houses, like the Eames House. Japan-ese domestic architecture is also something we really admire. The wood factor fits in with that, but this is not a highly detailed house—–it’s very simple. You do get that kind of modular sense here which you get in some Japanese houses, plus the minimalism—–being able to put all the clutter into the banks of storage that we have.

In the summer you can extend the main living space by opening out into the garden. The buttress zone idea, with storage running across the side wall of the house, carries out into the garden where there is a big storage cupboard with a huge sliding door and a built-in sofa bench. It screens out the factory beyond.

Rachel takes most of the credit for the water pond. It was her idea to create this bridgelike feeling as you pass into the yard. There’s that Japanese flavor again and a few fish. In the summer the garden really adds a whole new dimension to the house, becoming an outside room.

Before this house I built another timber-framed house in Highbury for the family. My father, who is a retired architect, built our house in Hertfordshire, where I was born and grew up. It’s in my blood. I think I’ve got three houses in me, and—–having finished this one—–I’ve done two. One to go.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Chalet in the French alps
An innovative glass addition adds contrast to a timber mountain lodge in France.
February 11, 2016
Aumas' assorted collectables.
Bright colors and vintage furniture are abound in these French homes.
February 11, 2016
Kogan designed a number of the built-in furnishings, including the headboard and cupboard in the master bedroom.The cupboard is deliberately reminiscent of a mid-century stereo speaker. The vintage lounge chairs are by Percival Lafer.
Need to relax? Make your bedroom an oasis from the rest of the house.
February 11, 2016
Modern Florida seaside home with corian island, dornbracht faucet, cees braakman combex chairs and marble knoll table in the kitchen
Read more about Knoll's impressive career here, but in the meantime, explore just a few of her works in these contemporary homes.
February 11, 2016
Modern small box home in Mexico
Letting the warm climate indoors is a common thread through these diverse dwellings.
February 11, 2016
Modern white cabinets under the stairs with skylight above
What could be better than a modest-sized house in a quaintly historic city?
February 11, 2016
dining room lighting
These renovations connect rustic, classic, and modern design in Italy.
February 10, 2016
12362509 211441865858796 1743381178 n1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 10, 2016
modern outdoor garden room plastic polycarbonate
From colorful living rooms to a backyard retreat, Belgian designers reimagine vernacular forms and materials for the modern world.
February 10, 2016
Tel Aviv kitchen with custom dining table and Smeg fridge
Would you go for an out-of-the-box palette for your major appliances? See how these kitchens tackle the trend.
February 10, 2016
Exhibition view, of Klaus Wittkugel works at P! gallery, New York
On view through February 21 at New York's P! gallery, a new show explores the politics of Cold War-era graphic design with a presentation of works by Klaus Wittkugel—East Germany's most prolific graphic designer. Curator Prem Krishnamurthy walks us through the highlights.
February 10, 2016
Reclaimed cedar and gray-stucco home outside San Francisco.
The new kid on the block in a predominantly Eichler neighborhood, this Menlo Park home breaks the mold and divides into three pavilions connected by breezeways.
February 10, 2016
A third floor addition and whole-house renovation modernized a funky cottage on an unusual, triple-wide lot in San Francisco.
From modern interiors hidden within historic structures to unabashedly modern dwellings, these seven renovations take totally different approaches to San Francisco's historic building stock.
February 10, 2016
Delphi sofa from Erik Jørgensen and gyrofocus fireplace in living room of Villa Le Trident in the French Riviera, renovated by 4a Architekten.
The Aegean's all-white architecture famously helped inspire Le Corbusier; these five dwellings continue in that proud modern tradition (though not all are as minimalist).
February 10, 2016
San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016
stdaluminum 021
Since windows and doors are such important aspects of your home, it’s always a good idea to take the time to evaluate how they fit within the lifestyle you want. Whether you’re in the middle of constructing a new home, or you’re considering replacing your current setup, there are multiple elements to consider when it comes time to make the final decisions. Milgard® Windows & Doors understands how vital these choices are to the well-being of your home and has developed ways to turn the process into a journey that can be just as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. Not sure where to start? We gathered some helpful insights from their team of experts to help us better understand what goes into the process of bringing your vision to life.
February 08, 2016
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass
These houses in Broncos Country prove modern design is alive in the Rocky Mountains.
February 08, 2016
french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016