A big idea fit for a tiny lot

The vacant lot on Mildmay Park that once was a neighbourhood dumping ground might still be that if not for Mr Graham Bizley, an architect with a talent for maximising space and a limited budget.

Mr Bizley, 41, found the lot more than a decade ago while searching for property in north-east London. It had sat empty for years because of its awkward shape – a rhomboid – and the proximity of the buildings on the adjoining lots. A structure would have to conform to a height restriction and a “right to light” easement that made it illegal for new buildings to block light to existing ones.

Mr Bizley saw an opportunity: The chance to design a house on a tiny lot and learn something he could apply to future projects.

“You have to think differently about building in London,” he said. “In densely developed neighbourhoods, where vacant lots are tightly hemmed in between other homes, you’ve got to be imaginative about every inch you build.”

He bought the 645-sq-ft lot at auction in 1999 for £30,000 ($62,400). Construction began in 2001, the year he met his wife, Emily Pitt, an interior designer.

In 2005, the one-bedroom 1,050-sq-ft house was complete – the cost was £207,000. Mr Bizley named it Newington Green House after the neighbourhood.

The three-storey building is sunk three feet below street level to keep it from exceeding the height of the neighbouring Victorian structures and the floor area is narrower on the second and third levels to avoid blocking their light.

The 575-sq-ft ground floor, which houses the kitchen and dining area, is open and illuminated by a large window at the front and a string of skylights over the dining table at the back. Brick walls are painted white, and the concrete floor is treated with a pewter-coloured resin finish.

The influence of Ms Pitt, 35, can be seen in mid-century fixtures and furniture like a blue metal glassware cabinet she salvaged from a pharmacy in Bath and a 1950s Tallboy that holds preserves and canned goods.

The second level, which houses the bedroom and bathroom, is about half the size of the ground level, as is the third floor, where there is a small office and sitting area.

A few steps from the office is a utility room with laundry lines strung across the ceiling on antique pulleys that Mr Bizley bought in Venice. A rooftop garden, with agapanthus, cosmos, sage and thyme, is accessible through a window.

Because the house is small and full of tight corners, there was no room for deep closets or bulky cabinetry. So Mr Bizley devised a staircase that doubles as a library and wardrobe, with built-in compartments for coats.

“The spirit of the house is making things feel bigger,” he said. “It’s like moving through the controlled sequences of a Japanese garden. The spaces in this house are small, but the way the rooms are experienced differently throughout somehow makes you feel like you’ve travelled farther.”

Source : Today – 15 Oct 2010

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