Montague House – the infill challenge

Never shy of a challenge, Debbie Callow decided she wanted to build a house in south-east London. Well known for its high property prices and limited land availability, Debbie knew she would have to take an unusual approach if she were to find land and build a home in this very desirable part of London.

The site Debbie found was an end-ofterrace Victorian property, fronting Lordship Lane in Dulwich. The house had a good sized garden with a block of four derelict garages and a small workshop at its end. However, the site also bordered a pavement that led to a local school, an electricity sub station, a basketball court and a very sensitive neighbour’s property.

Debbie purchased the whole ‘eye sore’ site, with its run down Victorian property, graffiti covered garages and dumped rubbish and then employed design and build contractors, Feeling Homes, to create her planned new property.

To make the custom-built house viable, the plan was to convert the Victorian property into an apartment building, selling the new properties to fund the new build that would take place on the footprint of the garages.

Having developed a good relationship with Southwark Council and embracing the nextdoor neighbour’s numerous requirements, the planning process was fairly straightforward. With planning permission granted work quickly started on the extensive conversion and renovation of the original house to create four one-bedroom apartments, which were all subsequently sold with long leases.

Space restricted imaginative design

Having separated the commercial element in the old property from the new house, Debbie created an individual title through land registry for the land on which she was to build her new home.

Given the constraints of the site, a very imaginative design and build that maximised the living space within the garage footprint, while minimising the visual impact had to be employed. This was achieved by designing the new home so that it reduced the square meterage on each floor as the building rose to the top level.

Due to the land on the site being bordered by some real challenges, Feeling Homes had to come up with some unusual build solutions. In total there were six party walls to contend with. The wall that now forms part of the kitchen is also the wall to the local electricity sub station and required a fire stop wall to protect the new home.

The safe construction of the new property, effectively right next to the sub station, also demanded the delicate construction work around twenty crucial cables, which supplied power to the local neighbourhood. This task was safely navigated without any interference to the existing community’s electricity supply.

As the property’s front door opened onto the pavement, a special footpath closure had to be agreed with the council to allow for scaffolding and safe working. However, half way through the build the road closure had to be adapted, with the scaffolding being restructured, to allow mothers to take their children to the local school. Other party walls included one backing onto a school’s basketball court and a partially collapsed Victorian wall covered in mature ivy.

Serious build schedule

To ensure the cooperation of the neighbours, whose property had to be accessed to allow the build to take place, the Victorian wall had to be stabilised and the ivy replaced. This required a complicated engineering solution to be employed to ensure the structure not only remained intact during the build, but also continued to enhance and soften the overall look of the new property when viewed from the neighbours’ homes.

Due to the necessity of moving materials over the neighbour’s property, a build schedule had to be agreed which meant the whole project including:

  • Piling over hanging structures

  • All groundworks

  • All groundworks

  • Roof coverings

  • Striking scaffolding

  • Erecting new fences

  • Landscaping the new garden areas; and

  • Re planting the neighbour’s 6 foot mature ivy had to be completed within 16 weeks.

The new 161 sq metre brick and block home had to both sit comfortably within the street landscape, while contributing to the improvement of the derelict garage site. To achieve this a yellow stock brick was used on the upper part of the house to contrast with the natural white render on the ground floor. This was used to ensure the new property was reminiscent of a Georgian townhouse, while the grey powder coated aluminium full height windows make it clear that this house is a contemporary home.

Given the planning challenges of building onto the pavement and taking into account ‘overlooking issues’ the lounge has become a ‘light box’ with a glazed roof and bi-fold doors leading to one of three outside spaces. The glass roofed kitchen leads to a fully enclosed totally, private courtyard, which takes full advantage of original party walls, which were updated and incorporated into the design by using the same render as the house. The new building also used the same flooring tiles as the Victorian property to ensure a seamless smooth flow between the two buildings.

As well as the ‘secret’ courtyard garden that leads off the kitchen the new home has a small garden off the living room and a second courtyard that can also be used as a driveway.

The benefits of using an expert contractor

Debbie knew that the creation of an infill property in the densely built London suburb of Dulwich would be a challenge and that she was going to need help.

Having successfully purchased and renovated a run down Victorian property and then created a new house in a space where many homebuilders would fear to tread, Debbie explained:

“I knew where I wanted to build my new home and realised that it would not be easy. The site, neighbours and actual build proved to be a real challenge, but nothing a bit of imagination, a flexible approach and great building partner can’t conquer. We were lucky to find and work with Feeling Homes Ltd. They took on and overcame every build challenge thrown at us and I am sure I could not have created the property without them. Feeling Homes certainly make a very good case for employing someone to build your home rather than try and do it all yourself.

“None of the planned work would have been possible were it not for the professional and friendly expertise of the Feeling Homes team, with them dealing with all that a problematical site of this nature could conjure. I actually ended up enjoying the experience and will certainly join forces with Feeling Homes to do it all again – but in the future.”

By David Mote, editor