December 2009

Street News

6 ft House for £1/2m

6ft house.jpgA house in west London has gone on sale for more than half a million pounds, despite being only 1.8m (6ft) wide.

In estate agent speak, the house for sale in Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush, is "historic and enchanting" and "internationally recognised for its unique character".

But to most £549,950 is a lot to pay for a property which is no wider than a disabled toilet cubicle, however enchanted they may be by its idiosyncrasies.

The five-floor property is being sold by estate agents Faron Sutaria, who with clever photography have managed to suggest that anyone swinging their cat in the living room would not give their pet a nasty bang on the head.

But there is no disguising that the bedroom is so thin you can only climb into the built-in bed from one end.

Despite its width, however, the little house packs a lot in. It boasts two reception rooms, a dining room, an extremely narrow kitchen in the basement, a bathroom, shower room, two bedrooms and a study.

The price reflects the property's novelty value, according to Simon Beatson, of agents Faron Sutaria. "It's unique," he said. "For pounds per square foot it's actually incredibly good value."

He is confident of reaching a good price as a shortage of stock across London and low interest rates continue to drive prices up. The last time the house changed hands, three years ago, it cost £61,450 less

Design Highlights

curve house 1.jpgShell House

Hovering above the ground, stark white against the surrounding greenery, this Shell Villa by ARTechnic seems like a space cruiser from the future frozen in time and in a foreign place.

While it stands out sharply from its surroundings this stunning structure also deforms, wraps and curves to its environment in remarkable ways.

The exterior curves of this remote retreat arc around a central tree in the interior courtyard area. While this curious form makes for an interesting visual object it also informs how people move in, through and around it – in arcing, organic and naturalistic paths left by the voids inside and out.

curve house 3.jpgThe interior of the home is as organic as the exterior, flowing and curving as the shell would suggest from the outside and with furniture, furnishings and fixtures that also conform to the ebbs and flows of the building’s shape.

In some places, rectilinear design objects are set against the ever-present curves but they are still tucked within the overall rounded theme.

The rounded shell itself provides protection from the elements for each interior space.
Each space flows into the next, with the common elements of white (for the shell and some furniture) and wood (for virtually everything else) tying the experience together. Likewise, natural ventilation carries throughout the whole house.

curve house 4.jpgThe shift from day to night in the structure is a remarkable one, as the ribbon of the building edge becomes a kind of border between the light glowing within and the ever-darkening surrounding skies and forest around.

The net result at night is a sense of comfort and enclosure – a connection to the elements through a copious use of glass mitigated by a thick, wrapping exterior shell. All in all, the results are somehow a blend of ultramodern and completely contextual.
 stone house.jpg

Stone Home

It seems too strange to be real; a home emerging from a set of giant stones, seemingly cut out of the rock itself. Yet there it stands in rural Portugal with the pictures to prove it. No, it is not an optical illusion nor a fancy photo-editing job, this is the real deal.

As the photographs show, the home is truly bordered by two boulders that inform the interior spaces but it is also filled in with smaller stones to finish the effect.

Crooked windows complete the curious picture on the outside while rough-cut log furniture, stairs and railings add to the organic feel of the interior spaces.

Of course, this design is naturally eco-friendly as it incorporates local materials and more natural elements requiring less energy to turn into structural supports, finishes or cladding.

Modern Log Cabin

prefab log pile.jpgAs much a conceptual work of art as a practical portable prefabricated piece of architecture, this modern take on the traditional log cabin has a very clear idea carried to completion.

A stack of logs is ‘broken’ in the middle (snapped liked twigs, perhaps) to create two separate-but-related pieces of a whole.

prefab log pile 3.jpgThe break is not without its reasoning: transporting, lifting and setting each unit is much easier with two small structures  than it would be with a single large building.

The entrance to each volume faces the other, providing views out in either direction and through slits along the sides.

Floating house

Floating houses sound great in theory, but there are upkeep costs – not to mention the price of parking one in the first place.

The parallels end quickly, to be fair, but this core structure of this home does appear at first to float on air – or at least on the thin glass partitions on the ground floor – and despite its unique appearance it was relatively cheap and easy to construct.

floating house.jpgThe design concept by Kraus-Schoenberg Architects is actually (and rightly) driven far more than by use than by exterior appearance, however, revolving around a lower-level open family living space with individual rooms above separated as needed and allowed to ‘push’ the ceiling below into this area only as needed. Despite the functional aspects of the design, though, it is hard to escape the sense that everything is upside-down.

floating house 2.jpgCut into the ground, the first floor gives one the sense of being cozy and enclosed but also provides views out in all directs to the lawn, garden and forest beyond.

More limited fenestration on the upper levels grant greater privacy.

What is perhaps most compelling is that the materials and construction methods are remarkably simple and inexpensive, yet the net result is a home sure to be unlike any other on the block.

Crumbling Concrete

mundic.jpgMundic block, a risk of crumbling concrete can cut 25% off the value of a property in Cornwall and Devon.

Thousands of homeowners in the south-west are discovering their properties may be worth 25% less than they thought because they have "infected" concrete.

These homes, built between 1900 and 1950 using cement mixed with waste from tin, lead and copper mines, are said to be "mundic" a Cornish word for chemical pyrites embedded in the waste and which turn to sulphuric acid when water penetrates the concrete.

The acid then causes the concrete to crumble.

The affected properties are in Cornwall and parts of west Devon.

No one knows the exact number but one mortgage firm has put the figure at 10,000.

"I've had two cases recently. One was a young couple who bought their home a few years ago and secured a mortgage because the lender agreed to the loan without a formal survey," explains Wayne Tieken of Stimson & Tieken, a Penzance-based firm of chartered surveyors.

"Now they want to remortgage but lenders are more rigorous today. So a full test was undertaken, the problem discovered and the remortgage application refused."

The problem has also hit some second-home buyers who paid cash and did not bother commissioning full structural surveys which would have tested for mundic.

"I hadn't even heard of this until I tried to remortgage. Then I was told the house had lost a quarter of its value, as well as a drop because of the market downturn.

I'm incredibly annoyed," says Paul Fishwick, a Birmingham shopkeeper who owns a two-bedroom holiday home built near Camborne, Cornwall, in the mid-1930s.

Sue Anderson, of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, says surveys for lenders are undertaken purely to protect the loan and, in the past, may have been less thorough than they are now.

"But they're never meant as a bill of health for the property. For that, we'd recommend a full survey commissioned by the buyers," she says.

This year, estate agent Bradleys had a mundic house on sale near St Ives. Its price had been cut from £449,000 to £375,000 and its details stated: "Cash buyers only."

To make it more appealing, the agent floated the idea of its demolition and replacement by one large or two small homes.

If a house has substantial volumes of tainted concrete in its walls or foundations it can be demolished or, in some cases, the mundic material can be cut out by engineers.

If only the foundations are affected, walls can stay in place and the ground beneath the house can be removed and replaced over a period of months.
Lenders and surveyors, with the help of a test devised by the Building Research Establishment, have devised a grading system.

Any home with Class A concrete is stable and mortgageable; Class C has seen the pyrites start reacting and is unmortgageable.

Two other classes – AB and B – have different levels of pyrites and buyers of these homes may, in some cases, get a mortgage but will probably have to undertake remedial work as a condition of the loan.

"The answer is for a homeowner, or anyone considering buying, to have a mundic test. It costs about £300 but that's a tiny, tiny amount compared with the consequences," suggests Tieken.

To make matters worse for homeowners in the affected areas, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics)warns that cowboy firms are advertising mundic tests but do not conduct them to the standard required by lenders.

Any owner, or prospective buyer, relying on them then gets a shock when a separate survey undertaken on behalf of the lender shows an unexpected problem. The Rics says owners and prospective buyers should use only those surveyors on the panels approved by different lenders.

More mundic block cases are expected to surface if the housing market recovers further next year, when more homes go on the market.

"At that point they'll realise they may not be able to sell for anything like the price they anticipated. It's very sad," adds Tieken.

Free Architects Places

Westminster University is offering 1,500 free places on career development courses for unemployed, or under-employed, architects and other built environment professionals.

The Build Up programme consists of three strands: networking and career development workshops; formal courses on skills such as project management, finance and inclusive design; and collaborative, interdisciplinary projects.

Typical third strand mentored projects last for eight to 10 weeks, involving a team of 15, and involve local authorities and not-for-profit organisations. They aim to promote and develop inter-professional working and identify new ways of looking at urban issues.

Current projects include a diagnostic of the northern section of Borough High Street, and public realm improvements in Haringey.

Jeremy Till, dean of Westminster’s School of Architecture & the Built Environment, commented: “The recession has hit built environment professionals particularly badly and this new programme offers a cost-free opportunity to many to reposition themselves for when the upturn comes."

The scheme is aimed at built environment professionals, with a minimum of around two years’ professional experience. Part II graduates with relevant experience are eligible to apply.

To be eligible for a free place, applicants must be full-time resident in the UK and either unemployed, under threat or notice of redundancy or on reduced time working arrangements.

Build Up is funded by a variety of organisations including the Higher Education Funding Council and the Westminster Works program. It is supported by relevant industry bodies, including RIBA.

Growth of the Smaller Business

Small businesses are innovating and growing, a new survey by ICM Research has revealed, but still need support to sustain a full recovery.

More than half of businesses have resisted the worst of the recession by innovating and creating new products and services, according to a new survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and ICM.

The FSB-ICM ‘Voice of Small Business’ Annual Survey 2009 reveals that 53 per cent of businesses introduced new or improved products and services last year, and 51 per cent intend to continue innovating next year, showing that small businesses are keen to grow and develop, despite the tough times.

More than 80 per cent of new jobs have been created by small businesses in the five years to 2007, said the FSB.

Survey respondents said 27 per cent of the 10,000 respondents said their profitability increased over the last year and 30 per cent said their sales volume had increased over the last financial year.

Credit conditions continue to be tough, however, with a third of survey respondents who have borrowed finance in the last year paying a higher rate of interest, with the vast majority paying over one percentage point more.

Half said they had not taken out any loans at all in the last 12 months, which could be a sign that they were put off by the prohibitive cost of finance.

Three in 10 said a cut in employers’ National Insurance would improve their economic prospects in the recession. Respondents identified growing their business (42 per cent), employing more staff (19 per cent) and coming up with new services and products (23 per cent) as the key things they would invest in with the savings from a tax cut.

Other uses include capital investment in the business (35 per cent), marketing (32 per cent) and increased wages (28 per cent).

Three out of ten business also said that if banks were to lend more, or more fairly, that would improve their prospects.

The FSB said the banking system in the UK continues to deny firms the finance support needed and called for a renewal of the Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme when it runs out in March and suspension of tax increases, including a freeze on employers’ National Insurance Contributions, and a National Insurance rebate for new jobs in small business.

John Wright, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “With half (48 per cent) of businesses expecting to expand their client base and one in five (19 per cent) intending to employ more staff in the coming year, this is no time to pull the support for this vibrant sector, which is at the heart of economic growth.”

Eco Chic

Insulating wallpaper is just one of the items that could make homes more environmentally friendly. This finding comes in a report from the Future Laboratory, the trend forecaster for multinationals such as L’Oréal and Tesco.

The report also mentions the possibility of transformable furniture that can multi-task and of the time when the home becomes “an efficient machine”, rather than the source of high levels of carbon emissions.

However, there are increasing signs that homeowners do not want to wait for such technological advances and want to ensure that their properties are more energy-efficient now and that furnishings are ethically sourced.

Sean Allam, the head of product sourcing at John Lewis, says that the majority of customers are now interested in a product’s provenance but know little about what to look for. “Energy consumption and wood usage are high up on consumers’ list of worries, so we focus on these areas,” he says. “The store is, for example, phasing out PVC from its packaging.” Allam’s top three insider tips for buying furniture responsibly are:

1. Look for rubberwood, a byproduct of the rubber industry. Also bamboo which grows fast, replenishing itself.

2. When buying furniture, look for a label that explains where the timber comes from. If there is no information, the wood may well be irresponsibly sourced.

3. Avoid an excess of PVC packaging, which is still common, although PVC is virtually non-recyclable.

The following websites can help homeowners to identify how much work and expenditure are needed to transform a draughty semi into an
“energy-efficient machine”: lists environmentally aware builders, and has details of eco-conscious architects, gardeners and interior designers, organised by postcode. compares and reviews green building materials, while and are specialist eco-home estate agents., and have tips on generating your own electricity, water conservation and household carbon emissions.

For more eco options and green living, visit the Eco Home exhibition
(until Feb 7) at the Geffrye Museum, London E2,

 A Streetwise Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas to all of our readers.

Feedback on the articles has been very positive and has helped shape future content so thank you. 

Please keep it coming.

Of course we would also like to thank our Streetwise customers for their business in 2009. No doubt our great value pricing has helped! We look forward to helping all of you with your maps and plans in 2010.

Now for some fun...

Count the number of black dots, 4 or 5?


Now that you're dizzy you may need a glass or two to settle the nerves!


For those looking for some good value and different wines this Christmas you could do a lot worse than trying the following:

Viña Tarapacá Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

The exceptional depth of this red is thanks to cool coastal breezes. They promote a long, slow growing season for the grapes, which leads to powerful concentration of fruit. It also owes its superb flavours to star winemaker Cristian Molina, who has brought a very modern and enthusiastic approach to winemaking here.

Since its launch on the international wine stage, Chile has proved itself with its Bordeaux style reds - wines with a lovely ripeness, but still with firm underlying tannins to lend the wine structure and balance.

Award-winning winery Viña Tarapacá was founded in the Maipo Valley (at the foot of the Andes) in 1874. Pioneering businessman and francophile, Don Francisco de Rojas y Salamanca, started the venture off.

The vineyards lie in a horseshoe shape - bordered on one side by mountains and the other by a winding river. In 1992, the Chilean Match Company invested in the company, enabling it build a new chai and an underground barrel hall with over 4,000 barrels. The vineyards were increased by 2,600 hectares, so the cellar now has the luxury of using only estate-grown fruit.



Current offer for new customers of £40 off when spend £99.99 or £25 off when spend £69.99 or more using WINEDIRECT and DIRECT2 codes on checkout.

2007 Spinyback Pinot Gris, Nelson, New Zealand

This is a delicious example of new-wave pinot gris, the Alsace grape variety, from Nelson on the north-western side of New Zealand's South Island.

It's extremely rich and concentrated with lovely fresh pear and spice characters and a honeyed opulence, and while it's powerful stuff (weighing in at 14.5 per cent alcohol), it wears its alcohol lightly thanks to the saving grace of its maritimederived freshness.

Wine Rack - £9.99, or £6.66 buy two get one free

Mandrarossa Fiano 2008

Attractively golden in the glass with some hints of green around the edges. The palate is inviting, exotic and generous, displaying aromatic tropical fruits and hints of minerals. Medium bodied and dry with balancing acidity keeping the tropical fruits clean and refreshing, finishes dry, textured and crisp.

Excellent as an aperitif and perfect to pair with anti pasti, a selection of cold meats or tapas. Will compliment oily fish admirably and can be drunk with full flavoured white meats.

The vineyards are situated between 200 and 250 metres a.s.l. around the town of Menfi. The vines are planted with a density of 4200 - 4500 per hectare and yield around 80 hectolitres per hectare.

Harvest is manual between the 10th and 25th of August and the grapes are immediately cooled in contact with the skins to around 5 and 8°c for a short period of maceration. After a gentle pressing, the must is fermented in stainless steel at a controlled temperature of between 15 and 18°c for 15 days. Bottled in February of the year following vintage with no oak contact. 



6ft House for £1/2m

A house in west London has gone on sale for more than half a million pounds, despite being only 1.8m (6ft) wide.


Design Highlights

Hovering above the ground, stark white against the surrounding greenery, this Shell Villa by ARTechnic seems like a space cruiser from the future frozen in time and in a foreign place.

Crumbling Concrete

Mundic block, a risk of crumbling concrete can cut 25% off the value of a property in Cornwall and Devon.


Free Architects' Places

Westminster University is offering 1,500 free places on career development courses for unemployed, or under-employed, architects and other built environment professionals.


Growth of the Smaller Business

Small businesses are innovating and growing, a new survey by ICM Research has revealed, but still need support to sustain a full recovery.


Eco Chic

Insulating wallpaper is just one of the items that could make homes more environmentally friendly.




Thank you and Merry Christmas to all of our readers.


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