A seven-level, 4.8m wide home in La Butte Bergeyre, Paris, by Ajile

10 city homes with big ideas

Innovative self-build and renovation projects that triumph over the challenges of urban living

By Emily Brooks | 28 March 2022

According to a survey by The World Bank, more than 80% of people in the UK live in cities. This steady rise in urban living is reflected all over the world. Homes in the city come in many guises, from an apartment in the heart of the action to a characterful converted warehouse. Will the post-pandemic exodus to the countryside continue? The following projects might prompt a rethink.

1. Courtyard new-build

Quality over quantity of space was the ethos behind this three-bedroom home in Vancouver, Canada, built for two lawyers and their two children. Despite the urban setting, local architecture firm Leckie Studio incorporated views of nature. Full-height glazed panels and sliding glass doors look out on an internal courtyard garden, and there are mountain views from the first-floor windows.

The timber-clad, street-facing side of the house features a row of vertical battens on the ground floor, which creates a sense of privacy for the living room. At the rear of the house the second storey cantilevers over a portion of the patio, acting as solar shading to prevent the interior from overheating in the summer months. The 232 sqm house cost around £1.18 million to build.

A three-bedroom home in Vancouver, Canada, by Leckie Studio

A three-bedroom home in Vancouver, Canada, by Leckie Studio. Photo: Ema Peter

2. Shell scheme

East London-based Emil Eve Architects remodelled this second-floor warehouse apartment in Clerkenwell, central London, for a couple who work in tech and finance. The £235,000 project saw the architects take a 172 sqm empty shell and transform it into a home that teams the original industrial features with contemporary design.

The open-plan living, dining and kitchen areas are at one end of the flat. Elsewhere, the layout has been divided, creating a pantry off the kitchen, a library, bathroom, main bedroom with en suite bathroom and dressing room, and a second bedroom. Bespoke oak joinery and lime-washed birch ply kitchen cabinets bring a clean-lined look that contrasts with the brick walls and concrete pillars.

A second-floor warehouse apartment in Clerkenwell remodelled by Emil Eve Architects

A second-floor warehouse apartment in Clerkenwell remodelled by Emil Eve Architects. Photo: Mariell Lind Hansen

3. Warehouse reworked

Architect Helen Chong of FOF Studio refurbished a ground-floor, two-bedroom apartment for a young couple. The Grade II listed warehouse in Bermondsey, south London, used to be a paper mill and tannery, and retains features such as cast-iron columns, timber beams and exposed brickwork.

The couple had two requests: to have a bigger kitchen with an island, and to make the flat brighter. A solid partition leading to one of the bedrooms was replaced with bi-folding glazed doors to improve the amount of light – a curtain provides privacy.

The kitchen was made larger by taking space from a bathroom, and a new clerestory window between the two rooms lets the daylight in. The palette of materials includes oak-framed secondary glazing, whitewashed oak flooring and neutral-coloured concrete. The cost was around £2,200 per sqm.

Grade II listed warehouse in Bermondsey, south London, refurbished by FOF Studio

Grade II listed warehouse in Bermondsey, south London, refurbished by FOF Studio. Photo: Biel Moreno

4. Tiny timber home

A 51 sqm, one-bedroom house, built on vacant land in central Tokyo, Japan, was designed for a friend of project architect Hiroyuki Unemori of Unemori Architects. The timber structure has roof trusses that are exposed inside and clad in corrugated iron on the outside.

From the entrance, the house drops down half a level to a semi basement containing the bedroom and bathroom, then rises to an open-plan kitchen and dining area on the first floor. The upper storey is a void with ceiling heights reaching 4.7m, giving impressive vertical space and light for such a tiny footprint. The house cost around £154,000 to build.

A 51 sqm home in central Tokyo, Japan, by Unemori Architects

A 51 sqm home in central Tokyo, Japan, by Unemori Architects. Photo: Kai Nakamura

5. Contemporary terrace

This two-bedroom new-build in south-east London replaces unused garages. The plot was bought by an architect and his sister. He then set up the practice 1200 Works to steer the project through to completion.

Now home to the architect and his wife, the 110 sqm house has a sunken ground floor and is spread over three levels. The Victorian homes on the street inspired the bay window and the horizontal lines that make up the front door and window lintels, while the crisp lines and lack of ornamentation ensure the look is contemporary.

The structure is fibre-reinforced concrete, designed to use a minimum of steel reinforcement, with a skin of bricks that complement the neighbouring properties. An attic living space could be turned into a third bedroom in the future. The project cost £265,000.

A two-bedroom new-build in south-east London by 1200 Works

A two-bedroom new-build in south-east London by 1200 Works

6. Extended semi

Sligo-based Noji Architects created this addition to a semi-detached Victorian house in Dublin, Republic of Ireland (pictured below). The interiors were overseen by Kingston Lafferty Design. Owned by a couple with four young children, the three-bedroom house gained two more bedrooms, on the first floor and in the attic, and now totals 433 sqm.

Because of the urban setting and nearby neighbours, the extension peaks in the middle to minimise the height on the boundaries. The angular living/dining space features white-painted timber slats on the glazing to soften the natural light. The extension was constructed from a steel frame, with a blockwork ground floor and timber- frame first floor erected around it.