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Worth its wait The house that Marcus Lee designed for his family took a long time to realise, but will adapt to most future needs BY SUSAN DAWSON. PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID GADSBY

Marcus Lee spent his childhood in a Modern house designed in 1953 by his father, an architect with the pioneering Hertfordshire County Council. Many years later Lee, himself an architect with Richard Rogers Partnership, designed and built his own house in which he now lives. It had a long gestation period. The site, in North London, was bought in 1981 and comprised 17m of back garden with a derelict four-car garage but no services. It took until 1987 before services became available and work started.

The resultant house, T-shaped in plan, is a two-storey column-and-beam timber-frame with a pitched attic roof, erected by Lee, a carpenter, family and friends at weekends and when finances permitted. The 150mm-square columns are bolted to 150 x 225mm beams (see axonometric) and braced by joisted plywood floors. The frame is set between solid masonry party walls which were buttressed on both sides with returns of London stocks.

While the house was at design stage, Lee was working on Lloyds. 'The idea of served and servant spaces was a very important concept. The plan is organised so that kitchen, general storage, bookshelves, bathrooms and wardrobe spaces are all contained within the buttress walls, freeing the living spaces from clutter and allowing them to be flexible,' he says.

Living room and kitchen are on the ground floor, with a wood-burning stove set between them to give heat to both areas. Upper floors are reached by a squared spiral staircase of old pitch pine. Both the east elevation, facing the street, and the west elevation, which overlooks the garden, are glazed on the ground floor with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors to maximise daylight and, on fine days, to allow the inside space to merge with the outside. Other parts of the walls are clad with stained plywood panels or translucent glass for privacy. The columns and beams are exposed between the floors, walls and ceilings and the junction is expressed with a shadow-gap detail so that, in Lee's words, 'the structure is fully legible wherever you are in the house'.

During the day the sun moves from the east-facing front of the house to the rear, the wall of which is cut back to make a south-facing sun spot, floored with timber decking. A small but luxuriant garden is paved with cobbles. At the front another cut-back creates an entrance courtyard with slatted gates.

As the ground had poor loadbearing qualities, 3.5m-deep strip foundations were required. A basement has been excavated to contain a laundry, workshop and storage spaces. The ground floor is beam-and-block precast concrete overlaid with natural slate flags. The absence of internal loadbearing walls allows the addition or removal of floors and partitions as required.

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