A clutter-free existence

A former car repair workshop has been sensitively transformed into a flexible live/work unit with acres of storage space
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The Independent Online

Sarah and Stephen Browne first saw an old builder's yard in Dymock Street, Fulham, when it was being used as a car repair workshop. At the time, it was nothing more than a series of sheds set in a potholed landscape of oil drums and greasy gearboxes. To their eyes, though, it was heaven. Located behind a row of Victorian terraces, on the banks of the River Thames, the long, narrow site held promise.

Sarah and Stephen Browne first saw an old builder's yard in Dymock Street, Fulham, when it was being used as a car repair workshop. At the time, it was nothing more than a series of sheds set in a potholed landscape of oil drums and greasy gearboxes. To their eyes, though, it was heaven. Located behind a row of Victorian terraces, on the banks of the River Thames, the long, narrow site held promise.

Situated in an area of Fulham that has recently seen enormous investment and redevelopment, Dymock Street is in one of London's most desirable enclaves. This southernmost end of Fulham is bordered by the river, with the exclusive grounds of Hurlingham Club a short stroll away, and the diverse shops and cafés of Wandsworth Bridge Road just a few yards in the opposite direction.

The Brownes were living in a Victorian house in Ealing, West London, running their architectural practice from an office in one of the bedrooms. Business was booming, and gradually their office space spread into two further bedrooms. "We were faced with the choice of taking on a lease for separate offices, or moving to a bigger house with enough room to incorporate our work space," says Sarah.

They found the site at Dymock Street. Although the site had business usage, they bought it without planning permission to develop it as a live/work project. While the conveyancing went ahead, they worked on their design for the new building. The site was bordered on one side by a long, seven-metre high wall, which would impose a height limitation on their building if it was not to overshadow the neighbouring properties. Given the elongated proportions of the plot, the footprint of the building was clearly established. Neighbours were given the opportunity to voice their objections but, says Browne, "there was not one single objection; the previous occupant had started work at 6.30 every morning, rattling the chains on the gate and revving up his transit van, so the neighbours welcomed the idea of a residential development".

The planning stages were extremely slow. Browne felt confident that as long as they increased the square footage of the business usage within their development, they would get permission to combine it with residential use. Live/work units are notoriously difficult to place, however, and the committee stages of the application dragged on and on. Seven months later permission was finally granted.

Built around a steel frame, the exterior of the house is clad mainly in cedar, and, although the boundary walls are London brick, there was very little masonry work involved, resulting in a flexible design that could be adapted as necessary with minimum disruption. Browne used galvanised steel rainwater pipes, made by Lindab.

At ground level, there are three huge office rooms, divided by white walls with full-height doorways. A continuous wide-planked oak floor unites the spaces. The interior is lit by full-height windows, and though it is flooded with early-morning sunlight, the interior remains cool in summer.

Separated by a sliding screen from the office area, the kitchen and dining room are bathed in daylight which comes through a clever electrically-operated sliding glass panel in the roof, originally designed by Italian tomato-growers for greenhouse ventilation. Here the floor has been sunk by 18in to provide increased ceiling height. Full-height glass "concertina" doors fold back to open onto the garden.

The clean lines of the kitchen are accentuated by the glossy white cupboards and stainless steel worktops and, though the interior looks uncompromisingly modern, it hides a mass of clutter. "We are both incredible hoarders, unable to throw anything away," says Browne, "so we have incorporated acres of hidden storage space."

The building stands beneath a mono-pitched roof, a design decision that was made to ensure that the building did not overshadow the neighbouring houses. Glass lights along its length provide natural daylight to the bedrooms on the first floor. And the same material is also used to great effect in a different way in the en-suite shower-room, where the walls are clad in thick sheets of white-coated glass. You can most appreciate the remarkable length of the building at the top of the stairs, where the 22m corridor disappears into the bathroom at the far end. Close-carpeted, the striped pattern accentuates the length. "This is the perfect place for setting up a train set, and the boys have had hours of fun in this corridor," says Browne.

As a first self-build project, the house has been a success. Having previously loved the idiosyncrasies of traditional Victorian interiors, Browne now appreciates the benefits of modern buildings. "I love the incredible warmth of this house - even the floors are warm. There is hardly any dust here, either. It's a wonderfully light, comfortable and efficient building."

Next year, one of the neighbouring buildings, previously used by Chelsea School of Art, is due to be taken over by Thomas', an independent school with annexes across much of South London. For the new inhabitants of this dramatic building, with offices at home and children at school next door, there may be no need to venture out at all.

Dymock Street is for sale at £1.05m at Foxtons in Fulham (020-7565 4000)

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