There are easier ways to make a living from home building but Michael Hammill is not interested in any of them.
“I like a challenge. I have no interest in building a pastiche. I'm getting older and I want to build something I can be proud of,” says Michael, 63, who has helped pioneer the construction of contemporary design-led houses in York.
He has just completed his third – a conversion of a semi-derelict garage/workshop on Heslington Road, Fulford, which is now on the market with Carter Jonas for £1.4million.
The Black House has been talked about but thanks to greater appreciation of modern architecture, it hasn't stopped the traffic like his first strikingly modern build did.
Zero House, constructed ten years ago in Clifton Green, was a hot topic of conversation on the buses that passed by and it wasn't unusual for Michael and his wife, Erica, to look out of their bedroom window on a Sunday morning and see several pairs of eyes staring back.
The avante-garde home has a gull wing roof and is covered in larch and white Arpa cladding. It is more L.A. than YO30 and it took Michael two years to get planning permission for it.
When it came to sell, it didn't reach the price he expected, although its value has performed very well since.
“When I built Zero House I thought it would attract a premium because it was so different but back then most people buying in York wanted a traditional Georgian or Victorian house.
“Since then Grand Designs and Amazing Spaces have had a big influence and a number of contemporary homes in York have been built speculatively and have sold, although I can count them on one hand.
“It's a lot easier to get planning permission for a traditional looking house and there are other barriers with a contemporary build, like paying more for construction insurance.”
Michael bought his latest site with planning permission in place to turn it into a home, though he changed the layout to give the interiors more wow factor. The former garage, which sits between two existing houses, is described by estate agent Louise Hirst of Carter Jonas as “like a New York loft”. It is far bigger than it looks from the front facade, with 3,200 sq ft of space and four bedrooms and design reflecting the building's past.
“It's contemporary but it's honest and it doesn't shout out at you from the road. It's not a bling house,” says Michael.
The front is painted black and you drive in through a garage door, which has a remote-control roller shutter. An £18,000 turntable swivels the car round to face front ready for driving back out.
For a bit of added fun Michael has installed a projector to turn part of the drive into a big screen. “It's a drive-in movie theatre – you can sit in the car and watch a film if you want to,” he says.
Inside it is an “upside down house” with most of the bedrooms on the ground floor.
“The original planning permission was for the conventional bedrooms on top and living space below but I went back to the planning authority because I realised that there was an amazing roof structure that was going to be hidden by plasterboarded ceilings in the bedrooms.
“I knew the first floor would make a fantastic open-plan living space and opening it up also gave us the chance to put roof lights in and bring more natural light into the building.”
Getting light into what had been a dark building also involved uncovering original openings and using glass floors and walkways to transfer daylight.
Before the conversion started, the pigeons had to be evicted, a new roof was put on and the whole place insulated.
“The pigeons had created a lot of mess and when we had cleaned up, I put a model of a pigeon on one of the trusses. It's so realistic one of the contractors spent an hour trying to shoo it out,” says Michael, who had the internal red brick walls sandblasted and took a piece of original pointing to a lab in Middlesbrough to get a new batch perfectly colour matched.
The property, which comes with an extra 1,000 square feet of parking area, garage and workshop, now has an entrance hall with stairs leading to a large, two-tiered living space. This lower tier is a sitting area with full-height glazed sliding doors that give access to the walled roof garden.
The upper tier is a kitchen and dining room designed with sight lines and elevated views over the living area towards the roof garden
A reclaimed oversized timber sliding door gives access to the guest suite, which has fitted wardrobes, a dressing area and an en-suite with twin showers.
There's another room in part of the roof space above, which could be a home office or studio. On the ground floor, there are two large double bedrooms, a house bathroom and a master bedroom suite, which has access to a private courtyard.
Connecting the two floors is a cantilevered, metal staircase with a sculptural balustrade.
“That pushed the boundaries but I found a company in Sheffield that did metal sheeting with holes in. I added some blue into it to give a bit of colour in what is a predominantly grey, black and red brick interior,” says Michael, whose next project is an Arts and Crafts bungalow in York.
He plans to modernise it while paying tribute to its history. He's also working on a “Grand Design” by the river for a wealthy individual.
“It's all interesting and that's what I like,” he says.
*The Black House, £1.4m with Carter Jonas, tel: 01904 558200