When Tim Lucas searched for a family-size property under £500,000 on his local estate agents’ website, he was offered a crumbling collection of stables that hadn’t seen a horse since Queen Victoria was on the throne.
This was London after all, what did he expect for that money? Most househunters would have shrugged their shoulders at this point and widened their search to another borough.
Being one of the city’s most well-regarded structural engineers, Lucas saw potential and bought the land in the Kew Green Conservation Area for around £400,000 in 2009. Seven years later, it’s an award-winning local treasure that has architecture and design fans queuing around the block on open days. Now, it’s on the market freehold for £3.8m, a pretty profit by anyone’s standards.
“We found it by accident,” says Lucas, who lives in the house with fellow engineer and wife Jo and their two daughters, Rosalind and Alex. “We already had an offer in for a house in Kew but the one we wanted got stuck in a chain so we had to start looking at other options. The stables weren’t even really fit for habitation.”
To transform the space, Lucas needed a little help from his friends. He’d worked with some of the world’s leading architects and artists on buildings, bridges and sculptures as a partner in engineering consultancy Price & Myers, whose recent work includes the 78m-long metalwork sculpture Slipstream, created for the opening of a revamped Heathrow Terminal Two.
Fascinated by the possibilities offered by a holistic, “kit-of-parts approach” and digital fabrication, Lucas enrolled the help of friend and architect Stuart Piercy of Piercy & Company, whose Clerkenwell office development, Turnmill, has just won a RIBA National Award.
The firm was a much smaller affair back in 2010 when the pair put in an ambitious planning application to connect two gabled living wings with a glass circulation block based around the central courtyard.
Once it was granted, Luca’s brother Sam, a joiner, fitted all the parts together in a workshop he set up in the basement. Now it’s a children’s play room, complete with wooden slide that runs from a square hole at the top of the stairs all the way down to the artificially turfed basement.
“We wanted the buildings to flow more than anything,” says Lucas, “for the children to be able to run around and find lots of ways for getting around the house.”
Set in a sunken courtyard with natural daylight streaming in through skylights, there’s potential for the basement to become a self-contained flat or even a swimming pool. The two main opposing wings are linked by a steel staircase encased in a glazed glass block, and the industrial chic materials don’t end there. Fittings include bespoke birch ply units and oak cabinetry, walnut worktops and a brick and oak-lined living room with its own wood-burning stove.
Natural light is also given ample opportunity to shine, not least in the wings clad with pre-fabricated weathered steel, each sheet smattered with holes, allowing the rays to mimic the effect of dappled light from the branches of trees. “The house works a bit like a sun dial – you can tell what time it is just by the way the sun lights up different rooms throughout the day.”
Seven years later, the result is a truly unique family home that was shortlisted for RIBA’s House of the Year Award 2015. And it’s onto the next project for the Lucas’, who hope to use some of the expertise they’ve learnt building Kew House to create cheap, sustainable housing – possibly in east London – for young people unable to get onto the housing ladder.
“Since we built our house, there have been six other new builds here in Kew, all completely traditional pastiche stuff. It’s fine for what those developers want to do, but we just really like building places to live in with great architecture.”
Kew House on Cambridge Road is on sale for £3.8m with The Modern House. Visit themodernhouse.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3795 5920