Serene, restful and cheap as chips
A north London couple with a passion for a low-energy, healthy home seized their chance at a Somerset auction, says
LONDONERS don’t think anything beats The Smoke — but see a house like this one, set amid fields dotted with sheep just 20 miles from the Somerset coast, and you’ll think twice. Architect Graham Bizley and his wife Emily, an interior designer, finished building it in 2014 and it was shortlisted for the following year’s RIBA Grand Designs: House of the Year.
The green oak-clad structure on slim oak pillars appears to float in the vivid green landscape, its big windows protected from the glare by deep, timbered verandas. The wedge-shaped structure nestles into a steep hillside. From the road almost all you see is a softly pitched, raised-seam roof. But go around the side and down the steep garden path, among wild flowers, crocosmia and purple salvia, and you see the rest of the house below — its lower layer — and the family’s pet chickens scratching contentedly about at the bottom of the garden.
There’s a hint of chalet. Graham, 48, and Emily, 40, went to Switzerland for inspiration and loved the modesty and snug homeliness of those timber buildings in their landscape. With the Bizley chalet, though, the local station is an hour and a half from Paddington, so they can zip up to the London office when necessary.
In Newington Green in north London in 2003, Graham was building himself a house. He’d only recently met Emily, so while she had some input, it was his design. After a few years they began plotting a house to co-design, while scouring the auction catalogues. Emily’s family are from Somerset and the couple fixed on the county early in their search but kept an open mind about exactly where, as they already had a detailed wish list.
Top of this list was their commitment to building a Passivhaus, conforming to strict energy standards. This meant finding a site that would take a south-facing house, for maximum solar gain. They wanted to create something “serene, restful to look at and to live in”. With their understanding of country planning rules, they looked for something to “tear down” — because, Graham explains, permission to build a house on virgin fields is pretty rare.
They sold the London house in 2010 and moved into a flat while searching. By pure fluke, their dream site was the first they visited. A Twenties bungalow, full of rot and asbestos, stood on a steep hill a few miles south of Glastonbury — and was ripe for demolition. They bought it at auction that November.
The Bizleys filled a book with drawings and submitted plans in February 2011 for a house built right into the slope, with concrete foundations and retaining wall. Dug down like this, their 2,280sq ft, two-
Our very own Grand Design: architect Graham Bizley and wife Emily, an interior designer, created their innovative family ho