When Lara and Dieter Lessmann found themselves faced with a house that no longer suited their needs and without the funds to adapt an existing property in the area into an accessible home, Lara was struck by the idea of self building at the bottom of their garden.

Lara and Dieter found an architect who lived on the road next to theirs and came up with a specific brief. “We needed absolutely everything to have level access and wanted the house to be as spacious and light as possible with no narrow corridors,” explains Lara, who is a wheelchair user. She had specific ideas for the interiors and asked her close friend, interior designer Verity Woolf, to help realise her vision of ‘modern decadent goth’ on a budget.

Project Notes

  • Project: Accessible self build
  • Location: London
  • Plot cost: Already owned
  • Build cost: £375,000
  • Build time: Oct 2014 – Feb 2016
  • Current value of property: £850,000

kitchen with gloss black acrylic cabinets from IkeaThe kitchen is a gloss acrylic design from Ikea. Due the sloping ceilings, the rear of the wall units were cut and made deeper; matching side panels were custom-made. The 800mm-deep worktops are quartz and the splashback was created using a
‘crushed stone’ wallpaper covered with Perspex. 

Working within the constraints of their small corner plot, they took 7m from their existing garden along with the old garage and a design was formulated for a two bedroom, two bathroom home, set over two floors — one of which would be below ground.

Their architect worked with the shape of the plot and took into account Lara and Dieter’s love of contemporary design. A zinc roof defines the look of the white-rendered house, set at various angles. The flat section of roof is offset by two pitched areas, creating high, sloped ceilings throughout the open plan kitchen, dining and living space. “Once the frame of the roof was built, photovoltaic panels were inserted into it,” adds Lara.

living space in a home built with accessibility in mindThe entire layout has been kept completely level in order to make life in a wheelchair easier, including the threshold between the living space and the terrace through the sliding doors. The flooring inside and out is timber-effect porcelain. Underfloor heating keeps the house at a comfortable, constant temperature.

The open plan living space is accessed from the front door at ground floor level, along with a guest bathroom and office area. A staircase, lit from above by a lightpipe, leads down to the basement floor.

On this level the opulent master bedroom with equally luxurious en suite can be found, along with Lara’s physiotherapy room. Access to the sunken courtyard is though large slimline sliding doors leading from both the bedroom and the physiotherapy room. “The basement doesn’t feel like a basement at all,” says Lara. “There are large amounts of natural light everywhere.”

Lara and Dieter Lessman in their self build home

“This has been the most difficult and yet the most amazing thing Dieter and I have ever done together,” says Lara. “For many wheelchair users, the only way to get an accessible home is to self-build. We really are so grateful for the appeal process because the local council were not much help — it’s a real social problem for those with mobility issues out there.”

through floor lift in an accessible self build homeLara can access the basement using a clever compact ‘through-floor’ wheelchair lift – just the size of Lara’s wheelchair – which comes down into the second bedroom/physiotherapy room.

master bedroom with access to a courtyard gardenThe master bedroom has direct access to the internal courtyard space through sliding doors. The striking recessed panel in the ceiling was designed by Lara — hidden lighting brings the eye-catching feature to life.

statement freestanding bath on a plinth for easier accessIn the en suite, the striking acrylic bath has been set on a plinth for easier access. Waterproof panels on the walls protect them from the spray of the ceiling-mounted rainshower.
The glazed ceiling section has been fitted with electroplated glass, bringing in light while maintaining privacy.

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