IT'S MY OASIS; A Timber Extension in an East London Back Garden Shows How Thoughtful Architecture Can Transform Lives, Says Philippa Stockley

The Evening Standard (London, England), August 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

IT'S MY OASIS; A Timber Extension in an East London Back Garden Shows How Thoughtful Architecture Can Transform Lives, Says Philippa Stockley


Byline: Philippa Stockley

Relaxed: Lizzie Treip with her daughter Helena, enjoying the beautiful garden from the deck WHEN Sotheby's medieval manuscripts expert Lizzie Treip was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the Nineties at the age of 35, it was a shock. London isn't an easy place to get around at the best of times, and nor are some of its quirkier old houses.

Treip, her architecture critic husband Rowan Moore, and their children, Helena, now 20, and Stella, 17, were living in exactly that type of house -- made from a joined pair of late Regency cottages in east London, in one of the few terrace streets left unscathed by Second World War bombs.

With their graceful iron balconettes, these tiny houses, now listed, ooze charm. But the staircases inside are steep and narrow, and if you have difficulty walking, the front-door step, steps down to the garden, or a step between two rooms will be a problem.

The street was derelict in the Seventies and the local council offered people the right to pairs of houses for PS400. Treip's double house was bought by a couple who, she says, had been to art college before the man became a builder and did all the work himself.

In 1992, just married, Treip was on the lookout for a home. "Somebody at work told me about this street so we came to have a look and rather fell in love with it." When she and Moore bought the house there was no central heating, the wiring was "home-grown" and there were very different levels between the houses where they connected.

Across the back of the property, the garden was half a storey lower than the front, so the do-it-yourself hero had made a balcony on enormous concrete pillars, with rickety wooden steps to the garden. "He overengineered or underengineered," Treip says. Nevertheless, they bought the house, made their own improvements, planted the doublewidth garden with climbing roses, and raised their children.

However, as Treip's MS slowly progressed, she realised major changes would be needed. It became impossible for her to climb the stairs. "I had a chair lift, but they are so ugly. I loved the garden, but couldn't get down to it for two years, as I didn't want a fall. We had been thinking of doing something for years, and went through endless variations."

In 2011 it was time for action, so they drew up a shortlist of six architects, and interviewed three. "6a were the best by miles. They are very nice people -- and that matters hugely."

Slowly, the idea emerged of a timberclad building undulating gently down the north flank of the garden, with its long southern side basking in sunlight, looking on to the remaining half of the plot and curving around a mature sumac tree. The French doors to the balcony were taken out, and the balcony itself was glassed in and made to slope gently to the start of the new building.

CORRIDOR TO CALM The moment you step from the colourful family kitchen through to the new part, all is calm and awash with sunlight. The walls are white, the floor is plywood painted white and is softly pitched so that Treip's motorised chair can travel down it easily. …

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