Derwent Close

Haysom Ward Miller Architects, Cambridge, 2018


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A relatively low budget house on an overlooked infill site in the middle of a 1960s housing development

Inevitably, many one-off houses designed by architects are highly specified projects on fantastic sites – this is different. The owners bought the site with consent for an uninspiring single-aspect 2-up, 2-down; our brief was to try to show that a modest house, built to a modest budget, could still offer delight. The basic scheme is very simple - a wall of rough brick set in coarse mortar wraps around the site and a flat roof is laid on top, leaving a couple of open courtyard gardens. A “loose fit” between the roof perimeter and the external walls of the house gives some welcoming covered outdoor space.

To avoid dominating its street or neighbours the perimeter walls are low. Nevertheless, the heights inside are in proportion to the modest spaces - helped by pushing the ceilings up to the top of the joists. Over the heart of the house the roof is raised further to provide a real sense of generosity.

The tall and airy central hall (with secondary spaces arranged as alcoves around it) and long views across the plan (linking the courtyards to each side) make the house feel spacious. Straightforward materials are expressed and celebrated. The plaster has a gritty, hand-worked finish, picked out by the glancing sun.

The exposed joists are left unpainted while, around the perimeter, a birch-ply band accommodates services and extra insulation. The exposed aggregate concrete paving in the entrance porch is refined where one enters, honed inside as the main floor finish. This is a relatively small house - around 85m² - built on a tight budget on a constrained and overlooked site. Nevertheless, it manages to be a calm, gracious and generous home.

Photography by Richard Fraser


  • Begun: Jan 2017
  • Completed: May 2018
  • Floor area: 85m2
  • Sector: Retail
  • Total cost: £220,000
  • Funding: Private
  • Tender date: May 2016
  • Procurement: traditional; JCT Minor Works
  • Address: Derwent Close, Cambridge, CB1, United Kingdom

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