With few desirable housing lots left on the market in central London, architect Jonathan Pile decided to take his chances on an irregular walled site that developers had written off as unviable. Tucked behind a row of buildings that front Deptford High Street, the awkwardly shaped lot had been used as a car repair yard for decades, and it still retained the remains of a small two-horse stable from the late 19th century.
"Occupying a tight site in an ingenious way was probably the only way we were ever going to be able to achieve our ambition," explains Pile, who serves as the Director of Oval Partnership’s London studio. He and his partner, Katherine, were looking for a reasonably central location in a lively and leafy area with mixed community, low traffic, and good public transit options for their car-free family of three.
"But in fact, it is the constraints of the site that have led to an unusual and attractive solution that works perfectly as a family home."
Since the walled site straddles two different Conservation Areas and sits opposite the Grade I-listed St. Paul’s Church, Pile sought a sensitive design approach that began with rooting out historic photographs of the area. A photo of a timber-clad house that once occupied the site in 1890 sparked the inspiration for a black-stained timber home.
To provide a sense of privacy in the dense urban context, the house wraps around an outdoor courtyard sheltered from views and noise. The non-orthogonal building volumes—two single-story sections and a pitched-roof two-story structure—are carefully positioned so that all the main rooms open up to the outdoor space through full-height glazed doors made of steamed beech with un-lacquered brass door fittings.
"The orchestration of the views out was an important part of the design development," adds Pile, who strategically located windows with deep reveals to frame views of the outdoors without compromising privacy.
Impressively, the house is also designed to meet level four of the UK Code for Sustainable Homes, and it exceeds UK Building Regulations for energy performance and carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 20 percent. The airtight build is constructed with naturally finished, low-embodied-energy materials, and it features efficient water systems (including solar hot water heaters) and a living roof rich with native wildflowers and an integrated bat box and sparrow terrace.
"As a hidden family dwelling, it provides a strong sense of sanctuary and a rich variety of spaces to retreat to whilst simultaneously offering a modest but engaging presence on the street and improving the outlook of neighbors," explains Pile.
The project received the 2019 RIBA London Region Award, and it was lauded by the jury for making a "significant contribution to the urban quality in this area"—and for its "clever layout and use of materials."
Pile continues: "We are increasingly involved in local discussions about the future of the High Street (officially deemed a Conservation Area 'At Risk'), and the house has become a useful case study to help inform discussions about the many other sensitive infill sites behind the High Street."
Architect of Record: Jonathan Pile RIBA Chartered Architect
Builder/General Contractor: Fullers Builders
Structural Engineer: Foster Structures
Kitchen Cabinetry Design/Installation: Robert Timmons Furniture
Environmental Design: Enhabit