Star architect's timber-framed house in Hackney

Terminal 5 architect Marcus Lee, with a family of five daughters, was determined to get value for money when he built his house in Hackney
For two decades Marcus Lee worked on some of the biggest monuments to modern design in London.

As associate director at the Richard Rogers Partnership, his projects included the Lloyd's building and Heathrow Terminal 5. But it is a wedge-shaped house built with an eye to the bottom line that is the closest expression of his personal approach to architecture.

'As the kids grew up I know our needs would change. The house is finished in a sense, but it is also still evolving'

When Lee, now director of his own practice, Flacq (, spent £70,000 on a plot behind a line of Georgian town houses in Hackney, it was a wasteland.

"There was no planning permission, and no services, so it was high-risk," says Lee. "We bought it on the basis that we just had a feeling we would be allowed to build a house of this size. By London standards it is a large site - 30m by 9m - and in 2000 Hackney was very much the back of beyond as far as transport was concerned, so you could get more for your money. The general area is gritty but we felt this was a bit of a backwater."

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Marcus Lee
Marcus Lee outside his Hackney home
He and his wife, Rachel Hart, did not start building for four years. During that time Lee designed a three-storey, timber-framed house, negotiated the local planning system and commissioned a flat-pack home of his specification in robust Siberian larch.

The build was astonishingly fast. Work began in March 2005, when drainage was dug and foundations installed. The frame arrived on a lorry in May and the family - Lee has five daughters aged eight to 28 - moved in that August bank holiday weekend.

The project cost £300,000, and the resulting property looks compact from the outside but is inside surprisingly spacious. "As an impoverished architect you want to get as much space as you can for the money, and come up with a piece of architecture that is an example of what you do," says Lee.

"Lots of architects build their own houses to express themselves but you have a limited amount of money to do it with." The ground floor is given over to a large, open-plan living-dining area. The layout is influenced by Japanese design, with storage arranged along the side walls hiding everything from the washing machine to - on the first floor - a narrow shower room.

The Frame House, Hackney
Glass is used extensively around the house to let floods of light in
For a high-end architect, Lee is not too grand to shop in the high street. The stainless steel kitchen units are Ikea, and the room is brightened up by a pop of orange, courtesy of a curving work surface in acrylic composite.

Huge windows light the back of the house, giving views out on to the garden where a fish pond sits flush to the back wall, blurring the line between inside and out.

A wooden staircase runs through the centre of the house and the rooms radiate off it. "There are no cul-de-sacs in the house," says Lee. "There is also no dead space. I hate corridors."

The second floor contains two bedrooms, both ensuite, with a gallery overlooking the living room to take advantage of its floor-to-ceiling glass. The top floor, beneath the pitched roof, is the domain of the three younger children still at home. It is divided into a row of private bedrooms. Every inch of space has been utilised, neat bunk beds installed right up in the eaves with storage cupboards.

Because there are no load-bearing walls inside the house, it is a relatively simple job to alter the layout. The attic was originally a large dormitory, the separate rooms a newer addition. Similarly, Rachel recently set up her own haberdashery business ( so an office space was hived off for her on the ground floor.

The Frame House, Hackney
The kitchen is brightened up by a pop of orange, courtesy of a curving work surface in acrylic composite
The house's versatility meant that Lee has taken a fluid approach to the project, playing things by ear rather than mapping out every inch in advance. "This is a family house and I knew that as the kids grew up, our requirements would change," he said.

"It was experimental. I would never do this with a client, but the idea was to build the volume and then fit it out as we could afford. There is nothing like getting into a building and then seeing the views as the light falls. It is finished, in a sense, but it is also still evolving."

Photographs by Daniel Hambury and Kevin Lake

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