The Secret Garden Flat wins the Don't Move, Improve! 2023 award

The Secret Garden Flat wins the Don’t Move, Improve! 2023 award

Nic Howett created an extra bedroom and garden studio for his growing family

By Jason Podesta |

The Secret Garden Flat was created with the intent that architect Nic Howett and his family needed more space in their one-bedroomed south east London property and the efforts resulted in winning the ‘Don’t Move, Improve!’ 2023 award.

Don’t Move, Improve! encourages great design in everyday life, celebrating the newest and most innovative home improvement projects from across London. The annual competition – now celebrating its thirteenth year – showcases the diversity and character of homes being re-designed in London.

The family refined their home to shy away from the hustle and bustle of their busy location and focus on the green sanctuary to the rear of their property situated behind a shop on the Camberwell Road.

The Secret Garden Flat

Photo: Henry Woide

The couple wanted to expand their family but didn’t want to relocate. Increasing the living space of their current location would look more appealing to adoption agencies.

The flat was altered to shift focus away from the front of the property to the secluded and serene rear of the home. In the renovation the flat gained an extra bedroom as well as the studio.

The studio was created as a test for the potential bedroom extension. This helped Nic gain the skills needed to create a highly crafted and affordable family home.


Photo: Henry Woide

Thankfully they had been keeping the garden well cared for and the surrounding spaces is enveloped by neighbouring trees but the location was also overlooked by another property by way of a balcony and there was an unloading spot around 100m away which resulted in design limitations.

To add to this, gaining permission from the freeholder took a couple of years as well as needing authorisation from Thames Water for a build-over agreement regarding drains shared by neighbouring residents.

The Secret Garden Flat

Photo: Henry Woide

The type of materials used were based upon their building knowledge and desire to lower the budget due to rising labour and material costs. Access was an issue too so a lightweight, timber structure was chosen to be set into the minimal concrete foundations but the addition is highly crafted and secure.

The low sedum roof prevents 75% of rainwater from reaching the sewer and compliments the cared-for garden. Nic and his partner grow flowers, pollinators and food for themselves in their quiet garden oasis hidden from the busy street.


Photo: Henry Woide

As much nature is brought in as possible with large, high performance glazing and the new structure has been heavily insulated. For a cost of only £300, recycled larch boards were bought to clad both buildings. The build cost came in at £60,000 and adds 25sqm to the property.

Although feeling the process was emotionally draining, the couple feel as if they learnt new skills beyond their initial capabilities and consider the project a fulfilling endeavour considering this family home was built with their own hands.

The Secret Garden Flat

Photo: Henry Woide

Lead Image: Henry Woide