MElanie Schubert and her partner Paolo Vimercati had no intention of buying an abandoned double garage when they were looking for a new home. In an online search, Schubert forgot to include a minimum value – “and it was the cheapest property you can buy here,” she says. As architects, the couple realized that with a building permit, this seven-square-meter garden-less plot of land in south-east London might just be a route to the best home possible for their budget.
Where the garage once stood – brick walk-in with moss-marbled tiles and fallen leaves against its doors – is a surprisingly modern three-story house. Built in reclaimed bricks, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, it was designed to meet the needs of the family – from their nine-year-old daughter Ava’s bedroom, with a skylight above her bed, to a space open plan party, and even an ingenious hidden cat flap.
The stable itself is “jumbled up, unpaved, with a friendly community,” says Schubert, originally from Germany. There are five houses and many garages on the road but their land opens onto a common garden for the municipal block beyond, which they have used since joining the residents’ association. Faithful to the original workshop spirit, the ground floor has a facade of carbonized larch shutters; these unfold into three sections. The third from the right has the carved front door, while the other two unfold to reveal a vast floor-to-ceiling window. The two panes can then slide inside the front door panel to open fully in good weather.
âSince this is a dead end and a private dead end, I could see three people spending a day,â says Schubert. “It’s super quiet and we have a lot of plantings up front.” A Fatsia japonica provides lush, shiny leaves alongside agapanthus, cherry, magnolia and more.
During the day, the remote controlled shutters are always open. “As soon as I go downstairs, I open them,” she said, “so as not to feel like I’m locked in a box.” Even when the shutters are closed, they leave a space of 1cm, which adds a surprising amount of light that floods the ground floor from the glazed landing.
The couple avoided the pitfalls of traditional cooking and installed an old Vimercati carpenter’s bench. And to the right of the staircase is a secret door leading to the basement, with utility room, shower room, office and guest room. âPaolo is Italian and I am German, and every time we have family they have their own space,â says Schubert.
They dug deeper than usual to give the basement high ceilings, and there is a 1.5 meter skylight along the front of the house – under a sturdy grid – to provide light. natural and ventilation.
Upstairs, in Ava’s bedroom, the curtains hang in front of the shelves and the office area so that at night, Schubert says, “the room gets a lot quieter because you close all the mess.” But the piece de resistance is a secret skylight in the roof above the bed, through which Ava can stand and watch: a panel slides out to reveal it. A sculpted mountainous landscape hugs the raised bed frame, while a sculpted blue sky hangs above with an equally bumpy skyline. âIt’s a nod to the mountains where Paolo comes from,â says Schubert.
The master bedroom has wood paneling, inspired by a ski hotel where the couple once stayed, and the foot of the bed sits against the wall with the huge picture window, leaving the headboard, with built-in drawers that s ‘open behind, floating in the middle of the room. âYou wake up and look outside – it made sense,â says Schubert. âWe have blackout blinds and a sheer curtain, so in the morning we pull them across and look at the tree. “
Orthodoxy continues in the bathroom. A smart box at the end of the bath conceals the toilet. âI have a complete dislike of the toilet in the bathroom,â says Schubert shamelessly. “It’s a very ugly object, and you don’t use it very much.” So they invested in a sophisticated Spanish model that includes the cistern in the rim, so that it can fit in a box. “I sit there when my daughter takes a bath, or she sits on it to brush her teeth.”
Another mysterious multifunctional box is located in front of the front door. It houses the exit tunnel for the two cats – “because the cat flaps, unfortunately, are always ugly” – but also garden tools, the letterbox and a charging station for electric cars.
It is a house designed for socializing. âIt’s great for parties because you can open it fully and have a lot of people,â says Schubert, adding that no one has fallen off the stairs yet (without a handrail). The house works great for free flowing community barbecues. âWe normally have a Christmas party for the kids, and there will be at least 10 kids on the stairs. Everyone is half seated on the steps or on the couch, all crammed into a corner. samarchitects.co.uk