A tale of transformation: Greenwich garage block becomes ultra-modern glass house

Architect Suzanne Brewer took a block of rubbish-filled Greenwich garages and created a light-filled, child-friendly home for her young family.
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What do a fold-down ironing board and Hercule Poirot have in common? They both feature in the story of the ingenious house that architect Suzanne Brewer has built for  her family, on a former fly-tipped garage block tucked away behind some baggy Victorian houses in Greenwich.

The ironing board, along with a ceiling hung “laundry maid” airer, is something Brewer, 40, always likes to include in new homes, in what she calls her favourite room of  the house.

And Poirot? In this L-shaped, ultra-modern, glassy house set round a crisp lawn, enclosed by old walls and a magisterial chestnut tree, there’s an Art Deco mirrored dressing table that starred in several episodes of the TV series featuring the moustachio’d fictional Belgian sleuth. Brewer’s parents owned the dresser and their flat was used as a set. The piece adds sparkle and character.

Brewer has worked on 10 houses in as many years, as well as, currently, nine new townhouses overlooking a park. That’s a good record, particularly when two babies arrived during the decade.

She says she loves designing houses and bringing them in on time and budget — which is everyone’s big worry when they commission the most expensive purchase of their life.

Clearly, Brewer also loves detail. The new house is a honed exercise in clean lines and a considered Scandinavian palette of neutrals and white. “Neutrals are easier to live with,” she says.

Softly oiled timbers feature throughout, “to add warmth”. There’s herringbone oak parquet in the hall, for example, stained darker, highlighting its strong grain; cedar external Venetianstyle blinds, which are hard to get here but very common in Australia, and do a smart job of filtering the sun; a walnut Habitat dining table, and a circular rosewood table, now in Brewer’s office, that was bought for £20 for dining at her first house.

But she isn’t a slave to wood — this isn’t a shed. The floors in the glass-sided living room are polished concrete, tinted a warmer colour, softened further with what looks like a fitted carpet but is just a cheapish piece “with its edges whipped”, says Brewer, “any carpet supplier can do it.”

The end wall of the living room is made of the same slim Danish bricks that were used to build the house, giving a distinct photo shoot look. The effect is enhanced by a double-aspect wood-burning stove which also heats the office beyond.


Texture is key: the kitchen the worktops have been finished in suede, which Brewster says is a surprisingly hardy material

More great textures include the suede finish kitchen worktops, actually a very hard resin. “Just because it looks porous doesn’t mean it is,” Brewer explains.

Ever alert to costs, the door to the living room, a pivoted floor-to-ceiling number covered in wooden slats, is a regular door-blank with pine slats fixed on by her joiner and stained. The cost? Less than half the price of off-the-peg.

Similarly, she uses Bathstore showers, loos and sinks — handsome, but much cheaper than big names. “When we did our first house we didn’t have any money,” she says. “So I know the anxieties people go through.” At the time, Brewer and her husband, banker Andrew Sheehan, who she met at school, hadn’t started their family, but when Jarvis, now seven, and later Beth, four, came along, a family home became important.


Scandinavian style: the house takes influences from the region with neutral colours, exposed brickwork and wood featuring throughout

In 2008, Brewer got speculative planning permission to convert six garages into a low-lying house for a client. Recession bit, three years passed, and the permit was about to lapse, so in November 2011 the foundations were laid to keep the permit active. The client, however, decided not to proceed.

That December, Brewer made an offer. And at that point, she discovered that the access everyone had used for years wasn’t actually in the deeds. “Even though Lewisham council never said no, it still took a whole year to get the drive contractually,” Brewer says.

But she’s no quitter — that comes through loud and clear. Once she had legally acquired the drive, the build started in June last year, and finished in June this year. 

The curious thing is that this house sits so well on its plot that it feels as if it has always been there.

That is largely because of the massing — the house follows the old garage pattern, with one leaf of the sliding glass doors for each old garage door, while the overall height is similar to the original steeply pitched garages, so the neighbours are happy.

Because of its garage history, this house is single aspect, but there is so much light inside, added to by roof lights, that you never even notice.

The children, who didn’t have a garden before, now have a football-friendly lawn and a swing attached to the great chestnut.

They also get their own playroom in the foot of the “L”, a room that doubles, by means of a sliding pocket wall, as a big guest bedroom with a James Bondstyle wall-folding bed — a svelte disappearing act of which Poirot would surely have approved

What it cost

Plot in 2011: £550,000
Building costs (remember there are no architect’s fees included): £550,000. 
Total cost: £1.1 million. 
Estimated value now: £1.8 million.
Architect: Suzanne Brewer at www.suzannebrewerarchitects.com

Suzanne’s tips

  • You don’t need a whole laundry room. A walk-in cupboard with washer, drier, laundry maid from www.pulleymaid.com and fold-out ironing board from www.hafele.co. uk is enough. Put the laundry space near the bathroom rather than the kitchen.
  • Get all your sanitaryware from the same place, such as www.bathstore.com and negotiate a discount.
  • Triple-track sliding windows give you more window and less mullions than bifolding windows, and look much sleeker. From www.i-d-systems.co.uk
  • Pocket doors are cheap and easy for a builder to make from a regular sliding door, and make a huge difference.
  • Wall-mounted beds save space in a multifunctional room. From www.bonbon.co.uk
  • Use external blinds instead of internal plantation shutters. Get them from www.tidmarsh.co.uk
  • Run cheap LED ropes along shadow gaps instead of having skirting boards.
  • Suede worksurfaces from www.silestone.co.uk suede worksurface are matt and softlooking, but very tough.
  • Get see-through logburner fireplaces from www.kindlestoves.co.uk
  • Narrow handmade Danish bricks were bought from www.petersen-gruppen.dk

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