Two years later, you’ve got a light, slightly Scandinavian-style modern house with four courtyard gardens, just five minutes’ walk from the Overground in the rapidly gentrifying, yet still affordable, borough of Newham, E7.
The good news is that many backlands or brownfield developments such as this will soon qualify for automatic planning for homes, under proposed new regulations.
Geometric genius: East London's pocket-plot courtyard house
Geometric genius: East London's pocket-plot courtyard house
1/8 Award-winning project
The Courtyard House in Newham won the RIBA London regional award and New London Awards’ housing award this year. David Pierce, of young architecture practice Dallas Pierce Quintero, is seen here at work in the house he helped create.Photographs: David Butler
2/8 First impressions
Walk into the yard and facing you is a blank wall of stylish black bricks, undulating cement board and some more, angled, black bricks that create an unusual geometric surface. The main doors are glass.
3/8 It's about saving space
Based on a five-page wish list produced by Tom Gildon, the architects dispensed with hallways and corridors to create an L-shaped home with a bespoke run of Douglas fir stairs, keeping things bright with plenty of full-height glass and white walls.
4/8 A very individual look
The floors are grey poured resin and the deep ceiling joists have been left exposed, oiled pale white. Immaculately done, they make an attractive pattern that, with huge square windows, white walls and midcentury furniture, reinforces the Scandinavian look. The courtyard areas allow light to flood in.
5/8 Team with vision
Juliet Quintero, Jon Dallas and David Pierce, of DPQ architects, were pretty sure they could get planners' go-ahead for a home on the hemmed in, derelict plot, and made some quick sketches that convinced Gildon to buy the land for £90,000 in February 2013.
6/8 Sensible savings
The side-sweep of kitchen is furnished with Ikea units, but with bespoke surfaces. Sticking to the space-saving doctrine of dispensing with "wasted" corridors and hallways, you walk straight into this part of the open-plan ground floor.
7/8 Geometric genius
The thoughtful design uses this long plot brilliantly. To reduce the sense of length, the space comes in sections — there’s a tiny front yard, then a small studio, then a garden, then the main house, which has a further two little courtyards off it.
8/8 Block party
Staffordshire blue bricks, regular and shaped, were used to give walls style and texture. Now neighbours have a gentle, modern house to look out on to and appreciate, instead of a grotty yard and a tumbledown shed - everyone's a winner.
Tom Gildon, who works in the photography industry, was living in possibly Britain’s most famous council block — the brutalist Trellick Tower in Ladbroke Grove, west London, designed by Ernö Goldfinger. But Gildon wanted to build his own home.
So he started his search, stumbled across the advert for the builder’s yard in E7 and went along with his architects to see what it looked like. What they saw was a narrow, deep sliver of land hemmed in tight by seven neighbours. It had once been part of the builder’s garden. At the back, where it widened out a bit, there was a shed with a high-pitch roof, full of more rubbish.
Getting the go-ahead
While it’s a good idea to have preliminary chats with the planners, it won’t guarantee that you’ll get permission. Nevertheless, the architects were pretty sure they could get the go-ahead, and made some quick sketches that convinced Gildon to buy the plot for £90,000 in February 2013.
Once the site was cleared and the shed demolished, the long, thin triangle looked more promising. And, because the boundary on both sides had high walls, Gildon could build right up to them, but he wanted some outdoor space, too.
“In fact,” says David Pierce of DPQ, “Tom produced a five-page document of what he wanted, with a Pinterest board of 400 images, showing furniture styles as well. It was really useful.”
Based on this, the architects created lots of sketches of an open-plan L-shaped home, with a bespoke run of Douglas fir stairs at the far end, a bedroom and a little en suite bathroom. After months of preparation, they went to the planners. Despite one objection, the application went through.
Being neighbourly was important to Gildon, so when work started in June last year, the builders went round and said hello to everyone, and all the neighbours were soon on good terms.
The thoughtful design uses this long plot brilliantly. To reduce the sense of length, the space comes in sections — there’s a tiny front yard, then a small studio, then a garden, then the main house, which has a further two little courtyards off it. It is geometric genius, and the neighbours now have an attractive, gentle, modern house to look at, rather than a grotty yard and shed. Everyone wins.
From the moment you walk through the front gates into the yard, the experience is magical. Facing you is a blank wall of stylish black bricks, undulating cement board and some more, angled, black bricks that create an unusual geometric surface with a gate at the side that leads to Gildon’s studio, with a library and desk for working at home.
This looks on to the big surprise — the main courtyard garden, a herb-filled, paved sanctuary, flanked by the high walls to the left and right. Beyond this quiet and fragrant retreat is the glass door to the main house.
Four outside spaces
The architects dispensed with all the things that waste space — halls and corridors. So you walk straight into the kitchen area. There’s a long central unit and a side-sweep of kitchen, all from Ikea, but with bespoke surfaces.
The whole space has grey poured resin floors. The deep ceiling joists have been left exposed, oiled pale white. Immaculately done, they make an attractive pattern that, along with huge square windows, white walls and mid-century furniture, reinforces the Scandinavian look.
There is a small bathroom, a space that can be curtained off as a spare bedroom, and even cupboards under the stairs. What you are not prepared for is that the living area has not one, but two further courtyards off it. One is a small triangle, viewed through a picture window, with a specimen olive tree. The other, at the back, features a paved courtyard for dining or barbecues, reached through French doors.
By deciding not to build right up to the boundary walls, Gildon has the incalculable benefit of four very different outside spaces — and lots of light. He has also gained a fantastic house of about 1,200sq ft that many of us would fight over.
You may need vision, luck, pluck and some cash up front to transform a scrapyard, but for those who take such a plunge, it’s a rewarding journey.
What it cost
Land without planning consent: £90,000 in 2013
Costs, including architects’ fees: £320,000
Value now: £550,000
The Courtyard House has won the RIBA London regional award 2015, and New London Awards’ housing award 2015.
Get the look
- Architects: Jon Dallas, David Pierce and Juliet Quintero of DPQ
- Builder: Brookes Contracting
- Grey resin floor by Creation Flooring
- Hexagonal tiles in bathroom in Chorus SP C77 Matt by Strata
- Profiled black cement board by Cembrit
- Staffordshire blue bricks, both regular and shaped (Umbra Sawtooth), by Ibstock
- Kitchen units by Ikea with laminated plywood worktops by Baldwin Plastic Laminates
- Douglas fir staircase by builder (see above)
- Timber joists finished in Osmo Wood Wax Finish Creativ: 3172 Silk
- Krusin lounge chairs from Knoll
- LED lights in Spotnic 2 3033 from Delta Light
- Windows by Velfac
- Bathware from Duravit
- Steelwood bar stool by Magis