“Walking into the main living area of Ed Reeve’s house invites a sharp intake of breath. The clean, white space is dominated by a window that runs along the whole of one side of the room, looking out to the greenery of neighbouring gardens of De Beauvoir Town and letting in huge amounts of light. The leaves of an oak tree sway gently near the glass. It’s an impressive sight and one with which none of the surrounding Victorian houses could compete.
Reeve’s home, a wooden cube on three levels, is a completely different proposition to the average London residence. Large single-pane windows provide light, while sealable hatches open to provide fresh air and temperature control; the ground floor kitchen opens onto a compact, sun-filled backyard; and both living and storage space are plentiful. Reeve, a photogpraher, conceived and developed the structure himself (in collaboration with architect David Adjaye), making him one of a growing number of Londoners building their own bespoke-designed homes.
For a city that boasts so many adventurous public and large-scale commercial buildings, it is surprising that London’s residential architecture lags way behind other northern European cities. Architecturally conceived houses are a rare sight. It wasn’t always this way. Matt Gibberd is a director of The Modern House, an estate agency that solely deals with modern architecture. “If you go back to the early days of the modern movement in the mid-1930s, Hampstead and Highgate acted as a canvas for the best architects of the day,” he tells Londonist.
….there are more ‘modern’ houses in London than you might think, often hidden in mews or situated in quieter areas of town. But new and interesting residential architecture is still rare. It would be easy to assume that planning restrictions and NIMBY-ism are the root causes of this but that isn’t necessarily the case. “There’s no doubt that the planning system is difficult and people do come up against varying amounts of local opposition,” says Matt Gibberd. But when the design is good and the neighbours are handled sensitively, planning permission can come through quickly. “The council [Hackney] was very supportive because they need people to build new homes – we got planning permission in eight weeks,” says Ed Reeve. “All the neighbours were very supportive too. They knew something would get built here at some point and I think they were relieved to see something interesting rather than cheap flats.”