Wonder Woman armour makers' Dalston home transformation:from backyard brick box to live-work house with futuristic-style rooftop cactus garden

Give two celebrated movie leather specialists a backyard box and it will magically become a stunning live/work home. 

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Unbeatable London creativity combined with the right architect can produce truly innovative results.

Designer-artisans Paddy Whitaker and Keir Malem, both 52, who made 160 Amazonian battle outfits designed by costume-designer Lindy Hemming for this summer's movie blockbuster, Wonder Woman, have created an extraordinary two-storey live/work home in Dalston.

With a futuristic stepped, ziggurat-style green roof covered with 800 succulents, this amazing 1,090sq ft property is full of natural light from three sides, and has two courtyards and a winter garden as well as a workshop.

What it cost

Original studio: £48,000
Cost of main build: £305,000 excluding all fees
Cost of buying the backyard in 2015: £50,000
Value now (estimate): £1,125,000

Yet it started life as a dreary, single-storey backyard brick box used as a photographer's darkroom.

Paddy and Keir's distinctive, detailed leatherwork, particularly in film and art, has ranged from Madonna's crocodile leather cuirass to Halle Berry's wide leather belt, both in Die Another Day.

Wonder Woman: the pair made 160 Amazon battle outfits for the film, designed by costume designer Lindy Hemming (Alex Bailey)

The pair understand shapes and volumes and how to achieve them and have astonishing attention to detail. Such a client would challenge any architect — until they met Nick Hayhurst and Jonathan Nicholls.


Both men went to fashion college: Keir in Maidenhead, Paddy at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, just after John Galliano. When they met in 1986, aged 21, Keir helped Paddy to design a wedding dress for the wife of David Bowie's manager, and after that, Paddy's career took off.

In 1997 they were hoping to buy a home. Cycling back one day from their leather merchant in Dalston, Keir spotted a small To Buy or Let sign "tucked down the side of a house". The light industrial unit with a flat roof was grim.

They asked Hackney council if they could convert it to live/ work space, but Hackney said no, on account of noise.

Then the vendor, knowing that their work only involved one sewing machine, persuaded the planners to visit Paddy's studio and listen to his machine, and permission was granted.

With a tiny budget of £5,000 and the help of Paddy's parents, they painted it white, punched a picture window at one end, built a basic bathroom and kitchen, and a platform bed.


That was all they could afford, and they lived and worked there for 18 years.

Paddy says: "We wanted something bigger but we love the area and didn't want to move, so we wondered about adding another storey."

They were on the Tube when they saw a Homes & Property feature on a house by Hayhurst and Co, and liked the style. The architects were local to them.


The planners said they would consider an upper storey if the building had architectural merit. Architect Nick Hayhurst thought an ecological green roof would help. Paddy and Keir wanted a gallery to show work and have clients round, and a feature staircase.

The bright, wood-lined workshop upstairs has a door to the roof terrace (Charles Hosea)

Nick's design meant digging down eight feet. He also planned to extend a bit at the front, creating a winter garden/lobby with a glass roof and polished steel to bounce light around.

Inside, a floor of marble pammets, complemented with oak veneer, creates a big living space with a practical bespoke kitchen. Nick put the bedroom next to the winter garden, opening to it with sliding-glass windows.

A folded-steel feature stair is striking, while an inset bathroom has sophisticated mustard-yellow tiles, and a movie screen pulls down from a bespoke shelf running down one flank.

The wood-lined workshop is upstairs with a tiny but cute wetroom, and a wide door to a small roof terrace.


But it's the roof itself that really wows. Keir suggested steel gutters running around, stacked one above the other, on top of the fibreglass roof. The gutters drain down into each other like old-fashioned champagne glasses, which helps with watering. Keir planted hundreds of succulents single-handed.

Help with watering: the 'Champagne glass' roof (Charles Hosea)

The build took a year, and the detail in this sunny house is extraordinary. There are lots of complex angles and shapes. Everything is perfectly fitted, every inch used and the roof is a design one-off that tops off a fantastic home in real style.


Architect: Nick Hayhurst and Jonathan Nicholls at Hayhurst and Co 
Builder: Woodbar Ltd
Limestone floor tiles: from mandarinstone.com
Bespoke steel stair: fabricated by Force5 Fabrication 
Yellow unglazed porcelain mosaic bathroom tiles: from Waxman
Leather sofa: from Natuzzi
"Cuts" folded coffee table: from ligne-roset.com
Plants: from Gedney Bulb 
Audio unit: designed by Paddy Whitaker
Costume, fashion and art: by Paddy Whitaker and Keir Malem at whitakermalem.co.uk 

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