Dare to be dif­fer­ent (but mind the rules)

How do you build a strik­ing home that also blends into its nat­u­ral sur­round­ings? Cherry Maslen heads to the Cotswolds to find out

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Self-build -

If you have a fan­tas­tic plot with spec­tac­u­lar views, why would you want to build an or­di­nary house? It’s a big is­sue for home own­ers, ar­chi­tects and plan­ners alike – how to cre­ate a home with a de­sign that’s wor­thy of its beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion but won’t be seen as a blot on the land­scape.

Get­ting the bal­ance right is tricky. It in­volves lay­ers of plan­ning rules and the neigh­bours’ sub­jec­tive opin­ions, not to men­tion the con­sid­er­able ex­pense as plans, ma­te­ri­als and sched­ules get al­tered along the way. But de­spite the in­evitable com­pro­mises, few self-builders of well-de­signed con­tem­po­rary homes re­gret the ex­pe­ri­ence.

The own­ers of Ely­sium, an award-win­ning house in a su­perb spot in the Cotswold Hills just above Chel­tenham in Glouces­ter­shire, are proud of the strik­ingly bold new home they have cre­ated.

Built on a slop­ing meadow sur­rounded by open coun­try and graz­ing live­stock, it has ev­ery­thing a ru­ral lo­ca­tion has to of­fer – and the lively town, renowned for its arts fes­ti­vals and Re­gency ar­chi­tec­ture, is just a few min­utes’ drive down­hill.

Views are truly panoramic from both inside the house and from the raised ter­race, where there’s noth­ing to ob­struct the gaze across oaks and fields all the way down to Chel­tenham’s fa­mous race­course. In con­trast to the soft green land­scape, the house’s low, stone-clad rec­tan­gu­lar de­sign is al­most bru­tal­ist, its sharp cor­ners and flat roof seem­ingly pay­ing no homage to the tra­di­tional pitched-roof farm­houses and barns in the area. But up close, Ely­sium re­veals its secrets. Its walls are clad in the same honey-coloured Cotswold stone as s some of Chel­tenham’s finest h houses and cot­tages in the nearby vil­lages and the farm build­ings that dot t the hills. Each stone has b been po­si­tioned by hand, re­flect­ing t the dry­s­tone w walls that have e en­closed fi fields and mead­ows in t this re­gion for c cen­turies. It’s this, and the com­par­a­tively mod­est scale of the build­ing, with the lower o of the two lev­els em­bed­ded in the hill­side, that helps an­chor the house in the land­scape.

“We never in­tended to build our own home, we just wanted to move to the Cotswolds,” says Pi­lar Al­bert­son, who bought the Six­ties house where Ely­sium now stands with her hus­band, Scott, in 2008.

“I imag­ined liv­ing in a Ge­or­gian house, but when we saw this lo­ca­tion we were mes­merised. We knew it was where we wanted to be.”

The Al­bert­sons moved to Eng­land from their na­tive United States after their three chil­dren left home. Scott’s work as a petroleum engi­neer of­ten took him to north Africa, and Pi­lar had de­cided to wind down her an­tiques and de­sign busi­ness, so the cou­ple were free to re­lo­cate to the UK.

“We thought of re­mod­elling the ex­ist­ing house, but our ar­chi­tect rec­om­mended build­ing from scratch,” says Pi­lar. “The im­por­tant thing was to make the most of this very spe­cial lo­ca­tion. We have the most amaz­ing views day and night, and the sun­sets are re­ally won­der­ful.”

The Al­bert­sons moved into a flat in Chel­tenham and be­gan the ad­ven­ture of build­ing the house, a process that lasted sev­eral years. They had never at­tempted a self-build be­fore.

The hill­side is in an Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty and plan­ning per­mis­sion alone took more than six months. “We were for­eign­ers with no idea of the com­plex­i­ties of the plan­ning sys­tem here,” says Pi­lar. “One im­por­tant de­ci­sion we made was to en­gage a plan­ning con­sul­tant, which I would rec­om­mend for any­one in our sit­u­a­tion.”

Us­ing the ar­chi­tect’s tem­plate, the Al­bert­sons hired an ar­chi­tec­tural tech­ni­cian to pre­pare de­tailed draw­ings for the builders. The house is close to the ar­chi­tect’s orig­i­nal de­sign, though Pi­lar in­sisted on an open-plan lay­out and it’s easy to see why.

Com­ing into the house via a se­cluded court­yard garden, you are im­me­di­ately en­tranced by the wide views from the open liv­ing space through full-height slid­ing doors, which lead out to a large sun ter­race peer­ing over the slop­ing rear garden.

A sec­ond set of slid­ing glass doors opens onto the court­yard, leav­ing the cen­tral din­ing space flooded with light from both sides.

And yet the glaz­ing doesn’t dom­i­nate the house; the kitchen and study windows are large but not full height, fram­ing the views for a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. The kitchen and din­ing area is par­tially sep­a­rated from the soft seat­ing space by a spec­tac­u­lar

con­tem­po­rary dou­ble-sided fire­place, cre­at­ing two dis­tinct zones for re­lax­ing and en­ter­tain­ing. The mas­ter bed­room suite – com­plete with a bath from which there’s yet an­other bu­colic vista – plus a large util­ity/boot room com­pletes the ground floor.

The lower ground floor con­tains two more en-suite bed­rooms, a cosy fam­ily room and a large gym which could be­come an­other bed­room.

The in­te­rior is stream­lined – sleek Ital­ian kitchen, pol­ished lime­stone floor tiles and high ceil­ings – but ev­ery room has quirky an­tiques, colour­ful art­work and per­sonal trea­sures col­lected from years of travel. If any prop­erty proves that a 200-year-old chan­de­lier can look right at home in a con­tem­po­rary house, it is this one.

The house was fi­nally fin­ished in 2012, with the stone­ma­sons’ work on the ex­te­rior alone tak­ing 18 months. “We had the gift of time,” says Pi­lar. “We didn’t have to get the build­ing fin­ished by a cer­tain date, so we could take the time needed to get things right.” The Al­bert­sons far ex­ceeded their orig­i­nal bud­get for the build – by around 40 per cent – but nei­ther re­grets ei­ther the time or ex­pense.

Us­ing his en­gi­neer­ing skills, Scott spent long evenings work­ing on the struc­tural in­tegrity of the build­ing and help­ing to project-man­age the build from his base in the Al­ge­rian desert. “Scott al­ways said, ‘If you’re go­ing to do some­thing, do it right. It must stand the test of time,’” says Pi­lar. “We went be­yond the build­ing reg­u­la­tion re­quire­ments for in­su­la­tion and glaz­ing be­cause we wanted a very sus­tain­able home.”

De­ci­sions on the in­te­ri­ors, from the high-spec kitchen and bath­rooms to the floor­ing and light­ing, were mainly Pi­lar’s. “I wouldn’t let Scott near my in­te­ri­ors,” she says, smil­ing.

En­gi­neer­ing and ground­work fees alone came to more than £350,000, and the Al­bert­sons re­served an en­tire sec­tion of a lo­cal quarry to make sure they’d have enough Cotswold stone for the walls. It was cut and chipped on site by six stone­ma­sons, at a cost of around £165,000.

Scott is plan­ning to re­tire soon, and with chil­dren and grand­chil­dren in the US, the cou­ple have de­cided to leave Ely­sium. “We’ve had five won­der­ful years in this house,” says Pi­lar. “Now we want to free up our lives and spend more time with our loved ones.”

The house, which sits in 1.8 acres, is on the mar­ket with Sav­ills for £3mil­lion. Chris Jar­rett, sales di­rec­tor at Sav­ills Chel­tenham, says the value re­flects the sub­lime lo­ca­tion as well as the de­sign, crafts­man­ship and high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als inside and out. “It’s rare to find a house with this com­bi­na­tion of lo­ca­tion and de­sign qual­ity,” he says.

An­other strik­ingly orig­i­nal house in an idyl­lic set­ting cur­rently on the mar­ket is a Grade II listed Six­ties house near Ke­nil­worth, War­wick­shire. In­spired by mod­ernist ar­chi­tect Frank Lloyd Wright, the lin­ear stone and tim­ber build­ing’s liv­ing space is all on the up­per floor, to make the most of views over hills and fields. The orig­i­nal owner asked his ar­chi­tect for a home that would “still look mod­ern in 20 years”. The five-bed­room house is for sale at £1.395mil­lion through the Mod­ern House.

In an el­e­vated spot over wood­land and wa­ter is Ge­n­e­sis, an ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tem­po­rary house near New­bury, Berk­shire, with sub­stan­tial glaz­ing and large ter­races from which to ad­mire the views. The six-bed­room house has an in­door pool and Moroc­canin­spired palm room, and is for sale at £1.95mil­lion via Jack­sonS­tops & Staff.

At Home House, a tim­ber­clad house de­signed as a se­ries of rec­tan­gles near St Al­bans, Hert­ford­shire, the roof ter­race is the best place to take in the ex­ten­sive views.

Court­yards and a gal­leried walk­way add to the inside-out­side liv­ing space at the four-bed­room house, which is avail­able for £1.75mil­lion through Strutt & Parker.

Home: Ely­sium’s Pi­lar and Scott Al­bert­son

Her­culean: it took the Al­bert­sons four years to build Ely­sium, their three-bed­room Chel­tenham home

Light the way: the mod­ern in­te­rior is full of quirky an­tiques, in­clud­ing a 200-year-old chan­de­lier

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