The Secret Garden Flat named London’s best new home renovation

A renovated flat by studio Nic Howett Architect that “feels like an oasis” has been named London’s best new home improvement project by Don’t Move Improve! 2023.

Named The Secret Garden Flat, the ground-floor home by Nic Howett Architect was selected as the overall winner from a shortlist of 15 revealed in April.

It was praised by the jury for demonstrating “how a very high standard of craftsmanship can be achieved with a low budget”.

Interior of The Secret Garden Flat by Nic Howett Architect
The Secret Garden Flat has won Don’t Move Improve! 2023

“The Secret Garden is full of surprises,” said judge Marie-Louise Schembri, who is sustainability director at engineering consultant Hilson Moran.

“This beautiful home in a very busy and dense urban part of London feels like an oasis and has consolidated the existing neighborhood and family communities,” she continued.

“The transformation process tells a story of vision, perversion, collaboration and organic growth.”

Wood-lined interior of London house
The renovated flat was designed by Nic Howett Architect

Now in its 13th year, Don’t Move Improve! Awards is an annual competition held by New London Architecture (NLA) to celebrate the best home improvement projects from across the UK’s capital.

The design of this year’s winning project, Secret Garden, was led by its founder Nic Howett who lives there with his family.

bedroom of The Secret Garden Flat by Nic Howett Architect
A bedroom was added as part of an extension

The project involved the remodeling of a small awkward flat in Southwark, with the aim of maximizing space and shifting the focus of its primary living areas from the road to the garden.

It includes an extension with a bedroom as well as the addition of a secluded garden studio for working from home, all self-built by Howett and his team using a palette of simple materials including timber.

London garden studios
There is also a garden studio

“Before the build our garden and basement flat were disconnected,” explained Howett.

“Now indoors and outdoors interact in a way that makes them inseparable, providing an outdoor family living space in the summer, a quiet and serene workspace sheltered by neighboring trees, and immersion in the changing seasons from the comfort and warmth of our bed.”

Alongside The Secret Garden, seven other shortlisted projects were awarded special prizes.

These include the Environmental Leadership Prize, which was given to Low Energy House that Architecture for London designed for its founder Ben Ridley, and the Unique Character Prize, which was won by CLT House by Unknown Works.

Workspace at The Secret Garden Flat by Nic Howett Architect
The design is intended to create a connection to the garden

Meanwhile, R2 Studio received the Materiality and Craftsmanship Prize for its project Brückenhaus, A Small Studio won the Urban Oasis Prize for Kitchen in the Woods and Studio Naama took away the Compact Design Prize for the Lubetkin Apartment.

The final two awards were the Transformation Prize, awarded to Elizabeth Mews by Trewhela Williams and Best Project Under £100K, which was given to Color Casing by District Architects.

Alongside Hilson Moran’s sustainability director Schembri, judges on the panel this year included Buro Happold associate Anna Beckett, Coffey Architects director Phil Coffey and Wallpaper Magazine’s architecture editor Ellie Stathaki.

Previous winners of the award include a “practical and playful” refurbishment by Little Brownings and The House Recast by Studio Ben Allen.

The photography is by Henry Woide.

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