When Melanie Schubert and her boyfriend Paolo Vimercati were searching for a new house, they didn’t intend to purchase a dilapidated double garage. Schubert claims she neglected to specify a minimum value in one internet search – “and this was the cheapest property you could buy here,” she says.
As architects, the couple realized that with planning approval, this seven-meter-square site in south-east London with no yard might be the finest house for their money.
A shockingly contemporary three-story mews home now stands where the garage previously stood — single-story masonry with moss-mottled roof tiles and heaps of dead leaves against its doors. It was intended to suit the family’s requirements, from their nine-year-old daughter Ava’s bedroom, with skylight above her bed, to an open-plan party area, and even an ingeniously hidden cat entrance, and was built of reused bricks with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
According to Schubert, who is originally from Germany, the mews is “higgledy-piggledy, unpaved, with a friendly community.” On the road, there are five houses and many garages, but their plot overlooks a common garden for the municipal block beyond it, which they have used since becoming members of the residents’ association.
The bottom level features a façade of burned larch shutters that fold out in three parts, keeping with the original workshop atmosphere. The entrance door is cut into the right-hand third, while the other two fold out to expose a large floor-to-ceiling window. In nice weather, the two panes may slide within the front-door panel and open fully.
“Because it’s a dead end and a private mews,” Schubert adds, “I might see three people passing by a day.” “It’s very quiet, and we have a lot of landscaping in front of the house.”
Along with agapanthus, a cherry tree, a magnolia, and other plants, a Fatsia japonica offers rich, glossy foliage.
The remote-controlled shutters are constantly open throughout the day. “I open them as soon as I go downstairs,” she adds, “so you don’t feel like you’re in a box.”
Even when the shutters are closed, there is a 1cm gap that lets in a startling amount of light from the glass landing below.
Vimercati’s old carpenter’s bench was placed instead of conventional kitchen trappings. A hidden entrance to the basement, with a utility room, shower room, study, and spare room, is located to the right of the stairs.
“Paolo is Italian, and I am German, so they each have their own space when we have family over,” Schubert explains.
To offer the basement lofty ceilings, they excavated deeper than usual, and there is a 1.5-metre light well down the front of the home — beneath a strong grill – to allow natural light and ventilation.
The curtains in Ava’s room hang in front of the bookshelf and desk area so that, at night, “the room becomes a lot calmer because you close off all the mess,” according to Schubert. The pièce de résistance, though, is a hidden skylight in the ceiling above Ava’s bed, which she may stand up and gaze through: a panel slides up to expose it.
A carved mountainous terrain spans the length of the elevated bed frame, while a blue carved sky with a similarly uneven horizon line hangs above it. “It’s a nod to Paolo’s hometown of the mountains,” Schubert explains.
The master bedroom has wood paneling, which was inspired by a ski hotel where the couple had went, and the foot of the bed is positioned against the wall with the large picture window, leaving the bed head, which has built-in drawers, floating in the center of the room. “You wake up and look outside – it seemed reasonable,” Schubert explains.
“We have blackout blinds and a sheer curtain, so we pull them across in the morning and gaze out at the tree.”
In the restroom, the unconventionality continues. The toilet is hidden behind a clever box at the end of the bath. Unapologetically, Schubert says, “I have a total aversion to toilets in the bathroom.”
“It’s an unsightly object that you don’t use very often.” So they bought a beautiful Spanish model with the cistern built into the rim so it could be stored in a box.
“I sit there while my daughter takes a bath or when she brushes her teeth.”
Outside the entrance door, another strange multipurpose box rests. It not only contains the two cats’ escape tube – “because cat flaps, unfortunately, are always ugly” – but also garden equipment, a post box, and an electric vehicle charging point.
It’s a house built for entertaining. “It’s great for parties because you can open it up completely and have a lot of people,” Schubert adds, adding that no one has ever fallen down the (banister-free) steps. For free-flowing communal barbecues, the home is ideal.
“We usually have a Christmas party for the kids, and there will be at least 10 kids on the stairs,” she says. Everyone is heaped up in the corner, half on the stairs or on the sofa.”