Buy Of The Week: Central London

How can a three-bedroom house be slotted into a gap just 11ft-wide? Jonathan Christie explains how an architect (and a lift) solved the puzzle
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The Independent Online

or all its desirability, the London town house is not without flaws. All those stairs taking up precious space. A perfect view of your neighbours' bathroom habits. A layout that needs more RSJs than the Humber Bridge to drag it into the 21st century. And all this on a footprint of land barely big enough to build a double garage in the Shires. Yet the quest for meaningful living space in the heart of the city drives some people to look for opportunity in the most unlikely of places.

Take the architect Jo Hagan, who wandered past a derelict single-storey bakery on his way to work each day. It took a giant leap of imagination to see the potential here for a model of contemporary urban living, but that is exactly what he spotted, and the result is Clerkenwell House. "It wasn't a eureka moment," claims Hagan, "I was constantly thinking about what could be done with it. You have to look for unusual situations and see things where others don't to get a bargain in London."

The 11ft x 28ft plot was sandwiched between two established buildings and, on the face of it, more than awkward for a three-bedroom residence. "I basically designed a Victorian house without the corridor." The build required foundations that are as deep as the off-the-peg steel structure is high and used customised glazing and a secondary timber frame as in-fill. Its design is deliberately simple, owing more to the City skyscrapers nearby than any other obvious architectural language or movement. The vision and re-invention of this house didn't go unnoticed.

In 2004 it received First Prize in the RIBA "Future House London" competition and "Best New Clerkenwell Building" at the London Architecture Biennale. It was also named as one of the "Top Ten Modern Buildings" by The Independent. It seems Jo Hagan's early morning reverie was more than just a glass and steel daydream.

A planter filled with silver birch offers the only external clue to this sliver of building being residential. A flat, industrial looking door opens onto a good-sized entrance hall. Two-thirds of the way back into the space is a lift that stitches all seven floors together and right at the back is a zig-zagging set of stairs that offers the aerobic option of reaching the other levels. Down the turned staircase is a double bedroom.

This is the one room that doesn't have an entire wall of glass, instead a letterbox window draws light in from under the planter at street level. Flush cupboards and shadowgaps keep the space clean and there's an en-suite shower room at the end of a corridor next to the lift. The first-floor bedroom has a sunken bath fully tiled in limestone with the second floor having a shower room. Up again to the third floor - how are your legs? - to the kitchen/dining room which has sleek white units under a stainless-steel worktop running along the north wall.

The light floods in over the dining area and clutter is reduced with a concealed pantry that slots neatly behind the lift space. The fourth floor - the largest room at 16ft x 10ft - is the sitting room. A flush plasma screen and a few halogen spots are the only real features here, making the furniture the only competition to a view that offers the first real glimpse of the sky opposite. The top-floor layout deviates from the floors below with the staircase ending up facing the front of the house. A small study with folding glass doors opens onto a decked terrace with yet more planters of silver birch.

This is an intimate room designed for quiet thought and contemplation. At the back of the house, above the stairwell, is an almost entirely glazed dayroom that offers yet more escape and an amazing westerly rooftop view over central London. This is not a house for a young family or those with a weak bladder - caught short on the seventh floor means a dash down three flights of stairs - and when booking the removal men, check they have a crane. Most items of furniture will need to go through the front window of the floor they are intended for.

None of these concerns though are new to the town house - certain aspects of vertical living remain the same down the centuries. But Hagan's use of glazing, the configuration of the stairs and the adaptation of off-the-peg materials makes Clerkenwell House a genuine update of Wren's model. Its combination of high-profile accolades, trendy east London location and purity of vision surely make this an agreeable town house residence of more than some note.

Get the spec

What is it? Seven-storey, award winning contemporary town house.

Where is it? 125 Golden Lane, Clerkenwell, London EC1.

What do you get? Three bedrooms, three bathrooms, kitchen/dining room, sitting room, reading room, study, utility room and roof terrace.

Size? 2,000sq ft (180sq m).

Any nifty touches? Two-man lift and underfloor heating.

How much? £950,000 through Hamptons (020-7226 4688, www.hamptons.co.uk)

Want something similar? Jo Hagan on 020-8968 8111 or www.usearchitects.com

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