Small plot eco homes in south London
Bill Bradley transformed his carpentry workshop in Dulwich into two eco-homes
Bill Bradley’s Grand Designs project involved transforming his Dulwich carpentry workshop into two eco-homes. The self build, which aired back in 2007, was notable for its pioneering eco-credentials, and for overcoming the problem of an awkward plot size overlooked by lots of neighbours. The project was a success, and the couple later sold both properties. So what did Bill and Sarah Bradley get up to next?
What have you been doing since you finished building the Dulwich eco homes?
‘After much deliberation we sold both the houses in Dulwich and relocated to Cornwall in 2013 to enjoy a different pace of life. We found an idyllic barn conversion in a tiny hamlet and the family loves the change of scene. During the week I commute to London to run my company, Ecoism, making bespoke, environmentally friendly furniture and joinery.’
What inspired you to take on this project?
‘It had been a long-held dream to build my own home and it would have been impossible to buy such a green house at that time. I was absolutely determined to prove that it was possible to create a modern, stylish home without damaging the planet. I hope our project encouraged other self-builders and developers to think more carefully about their actions and their choice of materials.’
Did the build have any particular challenges?
‘Once we’d decided to build an eco-friendly home, it was hard to find sustainable materials that were fit for purpose. Back then most eco products were so new that we had to do a lot of our own testing. Another difficulty was the thin shape of the plot – it’s squeezed into a triangular space between the gardens of two Victorian terraces, with a 1.5-metre access path. We had to use a tiny digger and carry all the materials in from the road by hand. On top of that, we built two homes, planning to sell one to pay for the other, which added an extra layer of pressure.’
Did you enjoy living in the finished house?
‘Yes, both houses were fantastic to be in. Everything in them was natural, from the bamboo floors to the eco paint, so it felt wonderfully fresh. Living there was a hugely uplifting experience; visitors often commented on the sense of well-being and relaxation.’
Which was your favourite design element?
‘All the glazing faces into a central courtyard, which was a stroke of genius from our architect. As we had so many neighbours, we needed to find a creative solution to avoid being overlooked and our home overlooking them, so we built a huge double-height glass atrium in the middle of the house and added up-and-over windows in the roof to allow in extra light. All the vents on the outside of the building were disguised behind shutters that were concealed within the cedar cladding to provide privacy for everyone.’
Do you have any tips for people attempting something similar?
‘The main thing is to be confident and have the courage of your convictions. Consider how you want your home to feel when you are living there and buy the most sustainable products you can afford. You are creating a legacy to pass on to your family and future generations, so aim to leave a property you are proud of for all the right ethical reasons.’
Will you ever attempt another self-build?
‘We are busy refitting our new home at present – this year we’re adding an outdoor kitchen and solar heating; we’re aiming to make ourselves as self-sufficient as possible. My joinery work is busier than ever as more people are switching over to green building. I’m pretty sure we’ll build ourselves a home here in Cornwall at some stage, too. It would be churlish not to utilise everything we learned from the first project, after all!’