Property: And then there was light: Few people appreciate modern homes because they see them only from the outside. David Lawson looks inside two contemporary houses on the market

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The Independent Online
Brian Meeking has burnt his fingers on his new house. 'It's my own fault,' he admits. 'I shoved them in the cement. It's the sort of thing professionals don't do, but enthusiasts like me just get stuck in.'

He should know better; he is an architect. He has designed three homes for his family and is putting the roof on a fourth. He also created countless buildings for the now-defunct Greater London Council, and redesigned the Greenwich Theatre.

All his work is unashamedly modern; he even gave the centuries-old playhouse a new look. The gleaming white polygon in which he lives at present would sit more comfortably on a Californian hillside or Mediterranean shore than it does buried in a sedate south London suburb. But the new house he is building is more restrained because he has stepped across the boundary into the borough of Greenwich, where the planners are tougher. None the less, it boasts almost as much glass as a greenhouse.

Modern architecture is rarely employed in the world of ticky- tacky boxes and half-baked historic pastiches, perhaps because most buyers consider them to be soulless, bland or downright ugly. 'Only a tiny number of people have asked me for a contemporary house,' says Colin Mackenzie, of Hamptons estate agency. And they would not have much choice in any case: a mere 5 per cent of homes, nation-wide, fall into this category, and only a handful of these are on the market at any one time.

Mr Meeking managed to avoid living in a traditional building when, in the Sixties, he bought a tiny patch in Greenwich for pounds 600 and built his first home. His nose for odd sites stayed with him. The second house was built on spare land in the borough, behind the A2, and during the 25 years that the family stayed there, a street was created as newcomers asked him to build homes for them, too.

The site for the third home, just behind Blackheath High School, passed through three owners before it reached Mr Meeking. This was understandable, he explains, because the land fell away from the road like a ski slope. 'There was no access. It was so steep that we had to bring in the bricks with a crane.'

Like the 'Vertex' (see right), the house is designed to fit the site. Mr Meeking created an upside-down effect by placing the living areas on the upper floors to catch as much light as possible, and on top of them a glass solarium sucks in the sunlight and pours it down a circular central staircase to the lower floors.

The boxed white frontage does not exactly attract you across the wooden bridge from the pavement to the front door but, once inside, the house seems transparent, with treetops and sky filling the huge kitchen windows. 'The problem is getting anyone in to appreciate it,' says Dudley Gillham, of John Payne Residential.

Modern architecture enthusiasts might feel that pounds 465,000 was a fair price for a large, four-bedroom house, but they would probably not expect to find such a structure in an Edwardian suburb with such tight planning controls. 'Yet we had an amazingly easy ride with the planners,' Mr Meeking says. He is proud, too, of the complimentary write-up the house received from the Blackheath Society, not exactly renowned for welcoming modern developments.

Potential buyers may not be limited to modernists, however. Many home-hunters, convinced that they want a half-timbered reproduction or a comfortable old rectory, fall in love with modern houses when enticed inside, Mr Mackenzie says.

And they can rest assured that at least one centuries-old craft is holding the building together. When the house was due to be topped out, Mr Meeking suddenly envisaged a rogue wind whipping off the Thames and depositing the solarium in a neighbour's garden. So he hired a tattooed old salt from the Cutty Sark, the clipper ship that lies moored in concrete in Greenwich, to 'swage off' the glass roof with tensioned steel cables - just like the rigging of a Cape Horn clipper.

(Photograph omitted)

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