How a few neighbours turned a dreary, brick-walled yard into five slick maisonettes, five stylish offices and a sexy three-storey house is a tale of collaboration, ingenuity and patience that not only proves what you can achieve if you have guts and a good idea, but shows what London is so great at — and needs to do much more of.
Built on the former storage area of Islington’s famous Chapel street market, the eye-catching zinc-clad development called Godson Street has justly won a Royal Institute of British Architects London award.
This once-ignored industrial hinterland north of Angel is changing fast. Architect Jake Edgley, 44, was living in a small house he had built, which bordered the brick wall to the north of the yard. Every day he watched market traders wheel loaded trolleys to and fro, and dreamed about what he could do with the site. Then in 2009, Islington council relocated the market storage and put the yard up for sale. Jake spotted the sign.
The yard’s north wall gave him an unexpected advantage. The house of another architect, James Engel, also bordered it, as did two little houses Jack had designed for local brothers Chris and Steve Joannou. These locally born Cypriots knew everyone in the market. They had seen the “for sale” sign, too, and immediately suggested to Jake and James that they get together to develop the site between them.
The group put in an offer, only to be pipped by someone else. However, that deal fell through, so Jake then quickly bought the site and divided it with the others. He bought it without planning consent. Because of the huge risk, that is always much cheaper. “I only ever buy land without planning,” he says. That’s a very confident attitude. You have to buy for cash, too — because no bank will lend against it.
The Joannou brothers were happy to let the others design what went in the space. Once, there had been seven narrow old terrace houses, demolished in the Seventies. James, the other architect, suggested a Georgian terrace format, though in a modern way — narrow, four-storey houses with semi-basements, and a stair hugging one spine wall.
At first, the council only wanted offices, but as Jake explains, councils like occupied buildings, so the planners then agreed to some flats, too. Jake designed a terrace of six double 800sq ft maisonettes: offices below, apartments above. The council liked that, but wanted the end property to have a lower roofline, so he changed this bit to a three-storey house. The council agreed.
With 80 neighbours round the plot, right-to-light issues created a headache, but also brought opportunity for ingenuity. The solution was angled window placement, plus a fine steel mesh over some windows, to blur the view.
RESISTING THE BLING
At one point, Jake did a model that gave the houses shiny gold cladding, which local residents loved, but his partners thought was “a bit bling”, so they went for subtly tinted zinc instead. In 2012, planning was granted. It had taken two-and-a-half years.
Meanwhile, the gung-ho Joannou brothers got a digger and started excavating the site. They put up the retaining wall, and steel work to support the houses. By doing it at their own pace they saved a lot of money. “We found all sorts of things, such as kitchen ranges, down there — all squashed,” Jake says.
The main build began in 2013. The lower levels are cast concrete, with stairs down and lightwells front and back that bring plentiful light to the basement. There are huge picture windows front and back. Above, the living area is all made of laminated timber, clad in seamed zinc.
The fronts stick out and overhang, rather like 17th-century London houses. Amazingly, these top parts are cantilevered in wood, not steel, so the structures are super-light. The rooflines are interesting, dipping up and down like traditional butterfly roofs.
Inside the maisonette flats, exposed fair-faced concrete, polished concrete floors, attractive birch ply detail and sliding doors create clean, modern, desirable canvases, with loads of light at all levels. Fittings are sleek, Fifties-looking brass.
Jake has his practice in one property, with James’s next door. The streetscape makes a creative, connected community with everyone getting to know one another.
Taken all together, the best word for this is ... exciting. It’s no surprise that all five flats rented almost immediately, and by now, the house is probably sold.
This is exactly the type of innovative, well-designed and economical project that we need all over the capital, using our brilliant design skills. And planners and councils need to actively get involved in helping to make it happen.
What it cost
Price of plot in 2009: £400,000
Building costs (excluding architects’ fees and digging out): approximately £1.9 million
Value of three-storey house: £1,295,000
Get the look
- Principle architects: Jake Edgley and James Engel of Spaced Out Architecture Studio
- Builder: Cape Construction (including polished concrete)
- Glass: Saper Glass
- Concrete consultant David Bennett
- Zinc cladding and roofing: by All Metal Roofing and VM Zinc
- Sliding doors: Velfac
- Brass door handles: Trapex
- Paints: from Lakeland Paints
‘It’s the best flat I’ve ever seen’
Management consultant Jonna Kloow and her boyfriend, Johan Lantz, both Swedish, moved into Godson Street in March from a flat in Notting Hill. “We spotted it by accident online,” says Jonna.
“The pictures didn’t do it justice but we risked it and came to view anyway, and the flat was just amazing. We’d seen more than 30, and, honestly, this is the best flat I have ever seen.
“We really liked the modern design, the feel, and the light. I tell my friends about living in London, and that since we moved here, it has improved our quality of life 100 per cent.
“We aren’t bothered by the offices — they are there during the day, we’re there in the evening.”