This eco-friendly prop­erty in the Sur­rey Hills now has a salt­wa­ter pool and in­dige­nously planted gar­den to match, art­fully blur­ring the bound­aries of the land­scape be­yond


Brim­ming with indige­nous plants, this eco-friendly de­sign blurs the bound­aries with the Sur­rey coun­try­side be­yond.

So many gar­dens are just an or­na­men­tal frame to a pre­dictable build­ing, but I wanted to cre­ate an up­side-down house with an in­side-out gar­den,” says Agne Nilsson. “I set out to blur the bound­aries.” The Nor­we­gian busi­ness­man, who has lived in this coun­try for many years, lists de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture as his favourite hob­bies, so when he ac­quired a derelict Dutch barn in an un­spoilt par­cel of Sur­rey coun­try­side, he quickly made plans to con­vert it into a con­tem­po­rary eco-friendly home.

“I grew up in the woods in Nor­way, so I love be­ing at one with na­ture, but I think it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that just be­cause you live in the coun­try, you don’t have to wear muddy wellies all the time. You can love the land and still en­joy an el­e­gant and beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment.”

The barn has stun­ning views across the Sur­rey Hills, and to make the most of them, Agne de­cided to in­vert the tra­di­tional lay­out by putting the main liv­ing spa­ces on the first floor and all bed­rooms at ground level. “I still wanted that link with the out­side so, at an early stage in the project, I brought in land­scape de­signer Rae Wilkin­son to help cre­ate a gar­den that would flow seam­lessly from the house.”

The brief Agne handed to Rae in 2012 was to cre­ate a sus­tain­able gar­den within the wider eight-acre site. “Sus­tain­abil­ity is an im­por­tant is­sue for me,” says Rae. “Work­ing with indige­nous plants to forge a vis­ual ink with the sur­round­ing land, man­ag­ing rain­wa­ter run-o≠ and en­cour­ag­ing wildlife are all fun­da­men­tal. We put in lots of na­tive hedg­ing and trees, seeded parts of the site with a tai­lored wild­flower mix, and made a lake out of an ex­ist­ing drainage ditch.”

Closer to the house, Rae and Agne drew up a rec­ti­lin­ear

de­sign that would look good even in win­ter, pro­vide a dry walk­way around the build­ing (to avoid the need for muddy welling­tons) and en­close the dis­tinc­tive pool where Agne swims daily from March to Septem­ber. “Here, we put in a hedge of elaeag­nus backed by or­na­men­tal grasses to shel­ter the deck from the strong winds, and it has made a huge di≠er­ence,” says Agne. “I love to run straight from my bed­room, jump into the pool for a few lengths, then fin­ish with a hot out­door shower. Thanks to the wind­break, we have been known to open up the pool at Christ­mas.”

With Rae’s care­ful se­lec­tion of plants, the gar­den is full of in­ter­est even in De­cem­ber. “I put in a lot of or­na­men­tal grass, which looks good for most of the year, and many of the sum­mer flow­ers, such as the Rud­beckia fulgida var.

sul­li­van­tii ‘Gold­sturm’, have an at­trac­tive skele­tal pres­ence in the win­ter months,” she ex­plains.

It is on a sum­mer’s day, how­ever, that the gar­den re­ally comes into its own. Look­ing down from the glass-balustraded roof ter­race, the blocks of yel­low rud­beckia, blue aster and bright pink astilbe read like a minia­ture Mon­drian paint­ing sand­wiched be­tween the vast blue sky and green fields.

In the mid­dle dis­tance stands a Modernist sculp­ture of a man made in Corten steel, which fea­tured in an RHS Chelsea Flower Show gar­den in 2015, just as Agne’s gar­den was near­ing com­ple­tion. Both Rae and Agne agreed that the piece would make a per­fect fin­ish­ing touch, al­though Agne had strong views about its lo­ca­tion. “It was im­por­tant that he be placed at a dis­tance from the house,” says Agne. “It is part of blur­ring the bound­aries. You look at what the statue looks at. The view is al­ways out­ward.”

ABOVE FAR LEFT As part of his “in­side out” phi­los­o­phy, Agne wanted all the bed­rooms, which are on the ground floor, to have di­rect ac­cess to the gar­den. The path down the north side of the house is punc­tu­ated by care­fully spaced re­call­ing the woods...

ABOVE LEFT AND BE­LOW The roof ter­race al­lows a bird’s-eye view of the block plant­ing in the pool gar­den and sweep­ing vis­tas of the coun­try­side. The Corten steel sculp­ture, called The Guardian, was de­signed by Wil­son Mcwil­liam Stu­dio and made by Toby...

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