Land within English towns and cities is not something that we can afford to be wasteful with. And the house that stood on this plot just seemed to have a lot of things that it was not: it was not efficient, it was not comfortable and it was not beautiful. It sprawled down the sloping plot, not relating to the street or the neighbouring houses – in fact, it had dormers that seemed to stare accusingly at the next-door properties – and not making much use of a decent-sized site at all.
But the slope would be an issue – anything built on there was going to have a front door one storey higher than the garden doors. Which isn’t a problem, or shouldn’t be, except for some English people and – more importantly – some English planning authorities have a stubbornly traditional idea of how houses should work.
We also had to take into account the fact that there was a series of distinctive, locally listed buildings to one side. We knew that we didn’t want to end up with a weak pastiche of these lovely houses, but we also felt we should create something that acknowledged them and sat comfortably beside them.
Our client had worked out that there was easily enough room to replace the one house with a pair of houses. And not cramped houses squeezed onto the site – two comfortable homes with plenty of room inside and outside.
But that led to a series of questions: how do you design contemporary semi-detached houses so they are clearly two properties, rather than one very big building? And with the slope, how could we make sure that the building wouldn’t look very bulky? Creating a big bay at the front for each house made it easier to read as two houses, as well as creating lovely, light-filled rooms. At the back, dormers perform the same functions.
Using different coloured bricks helped lessen the sense of size. Since the plot narrows and the building was going to have to narrow with it, we made clever use of this by filling the flank setbacks with tall windows. The dramatic, long, sloping roof pays homage to the neighbourhood without ever being a copy.
Overall, we felt we had created a happy balance between being efficient and being generous, creating something distinctive and something that respected the local character. And it seems we were right, as the council agreed, granting us planning permission.
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