Plans for a simple timber building grew into this Swedish-inspired Hackney hideaway
The exterior of writer and editor Alex Bagner’s new-build timber and glass family house, tucked behind a discreet gate at the end of a London Fields cul-de-sac, offers plenty of clues about the owner’s Swedish heritage: clean, simple lines, charcoal grey painted window frames, open plan, laid-back living. What you don’t expect, as you head to the back of the house, is the sight of a one-bedroom cabin at the corner of a triangular-shaped garden.
“We were living in Primrose Hill, but then decided we needed a change, so bought this place in Hackney three years ago,” explains Bagner who, alongside her husband Chris, owns and runs the recently opened Rose Hotel in Deal, Kent. What was an unoccupied, somewhat bland, property that had sat on the market for more than a year became, with Alex and her husband’s keen eye and taste, a characterful family home. However, missing from the house where they now live with their three young children was an extra room for family or friends to stay.
“I’ve always loved the idea of a guesthouse and maybe it’s a Swedish thing – my mother is Swedish – but it’s common if you have land, to put outhouses on it,” says Bagner. “Also, we’re full in our four-bedroom house – and the garden was big enough, so we figured either we’d put in a climbing frame or build something.”
What Bagner hoped might be the straightforward installation and reasonable expense of a pre-fab garden room turned into a more complicated project. The space, which more or less fills the apex of the triangle at the foot of the garden, is awkward, and everything had to be designed from scratch as a result. The couple called in the Riba award-winning architect Marcus Lee of Leep Architects, who had already helped them renovate the main house. “We met him because we came close to buying his house near here a few years ago,” she explains. “The deal fell through, but it began a friendship. When we bought this place, we asked if he would help us renovate it in the style of his house, which he did. Then his office designed the cabin, too.”
The cabin was completed a year ago and both its exterior and the interior – which Bagner designed with her interior stylist sister Sarah Bagner and interior designer friend Michelle Kelly – are thoroughly pleasing. Clad in charred Japanese larch wood “for no other reason than we think it looks nice” and with wide, concertina glass doors which open on to the landscaped garden, it’s effectively a self-contained one-bedroom house.
While the building itself has an air of Japanese-meets-Swedish design, not for a second do you forget you’re in the heart of east London. “It was really important to me that you could still see the trains and know where you are,” says Bagner of the railway tracks that are just visible (and audible) beyond the perimeter wall. “We wanted to really use the garden and the whole space,” she continues. “The cabin, because of its position, doesn’t get much sun, so we needed to ensure the inside would get enough light, hence all the glazing and a skylight. Also, we’ve painted the exterior in the same shade of grey as the main house to make it feel connected.”
Inside, the cabin feels surprisingly spacious. Through the front door you enter an open-plan living room and kitchen, and beyond the space-saving sliding door is a double bedroom and en suite. Confident swathes of colour and vintage textiles, which sit alongside vintage furniture and objects, make it homely. “When I thought about a cabin I imagined it being Swedish – panelled and cosy inside,” says Bagner. “But then it felt a bit fake. It’s a new build, we’re in Hackney, so I wanted it to feel modern, but still have that sense of cabin.”
Smart touches, such as a panelled painted ceiling and a Marmoleum vinyl floor in 1950s-style colour blocks, inspired by designer Martino Gamper’s sunburst flooring at The Marksman pub in Hackney, draw you in. Furniture in the main room is simple and stylish: Bagner’s aunt’s 50-year-old wooden dining table and matching chairs, which have been recovered in Svenskt Tenn linen, a sideboard sourced from eBay for under £100 and an old Ikea sofabed, which Bagner is desperate to replace. The kitchen was made using reclaimed science lab wood panels from Architectural Forum as a worktop, while a local carpenter made the cabinets.
In the bedroom, a divan bed comes to life with an orange velvet-upholstered headboard, “which I think cost about £6 from eBay. I upholstered it myself.” The bathroom is a compact, practical wet room with a feature corner of joyous yellow tiles and a slick-looking matt black showerhead and taps.
“I’ve not been strategic about designing the interiors, but have let it evolve,” admits Bagner. “I’m an eBay trawler, which does take over your evenings a little bit, so I have to stop myself. The truth is we spent much more on the build than we expected, so that meant there wasn’t much left for the interior.”
Though, initially, Bagner imagined it as a place to work and for friends to stay, she also sees her children – aged nine, six and two – enjoying future sleepovers. For now, though, it functions mostly as an AirBnB rental. “The costs spiralled, which is why it’s become more of a business than we planned, but it works really well as guests have free reign and a private entrance through the gate so they come and go as they please.”