Harsh lines hide a warm heart
An uncompromisingly bold architectural design can also be a family-friendly home, finds Cherry Maslen
Two dark grey boxes intersect, their geometric angles reminiscent of an installation in an art gallery. Perched on an escarpment above a Surrey village, this structure has this year been shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects’ illustrious awards, celebrating the country’s best new buildings.
While described by its designer as “a serious piece of modern architecture”, Sandpipers, just outside the pretty village of Frensham, a few miles from Farnham, is also a beautifully designed five-bedroom family home.
It has glorious views over the Wey river and valley from inside the austere grey boxes. Outside, a low hedge masks an outdoor infinity swimming pool. “I was blessed with the ideal site and the ideal client,” says the London-based architect James Gorst. “We had a very enjoyable collaboration to create this house.”
Gorst’s practice has won previous awards for its modernist homes, taking inspiration from pioneering 20th-century European architects such as Mies van der Rohe. “What we’ve been doing is creating domestic architecture that’s an exploration of abstract form, that doesn’t hark back to traditional porches or pitched roofs,” he says.
There are none of those tropes at Sandpipers. “I’m particularly pleased with the approach to the house. Through a large sheet of glazing you can see the oak staircase and catch glimpses of framed views from the interior over the landscape,” says Gorst. Instead of a porch, the upper storey cantilevers over the lower, creating a sheltered section that appears to invite visitors to enter. “I was playing with blocks when I designed this house,” explains Gorst. “I didn’t want too much glazing, but to create a balance between solid mass and the door and window openings.”
The house pays homage to one of Gorst’s previous projects. Ironstone, in Northamptonshire, is a contemporary interpretation of a country house based on a series of interlocking blocks, which won a Riba National Award in 2016. Like Sandpipers, it was designed to make the most of its setting, framing views across an uninterrupted rural landscape.
Inside Sandpipers, Gorst has designed the house to be easy to live in, a series of spaces that flow from one to the next in a circular route from the entrance hall. There are no corridors and you can walk through the whole of the ground floor without opening a door.
Instead of being completely openplan, each room is divided from the next by partial wall sections, so you can see through to the neighbouring room but still have a sense of separation. Whenever anyone in the family wants a quieter private space there are concealed pocket doors that slide out from the central wall sections, so a closed room can be created instantly.
All the rooms are linked by the same polished concrete floor, which seems to flow through the spaces. But each space has its own character: the library/family room’s oak bookshelves, window seat, and leather armchairs give it a cosy intimacy, contrasting with the open lightness of the sitting room next to it with its contemporary fireplace and huge views through the full-width glazing.
Next is the oak-panelled dining room, and finally a spacious kitchen and breakfast room with a long white marble island. Behind the kitchen are a marble-worktopped utility room and separate boot room with an outside door, both with ample storage allowing the kitchen to remain detritus-free. “It’s important to design a house that allows the inhabitants to live without piles of coats and shoes cluttering a hallway,” says Gorst.
Upstairs the five bedrooms are matched with four marble bathrooms. All the bathrooms are internal, but have roof lights that let soft, natural light cascade down. No space is redundant in this house; the landing, lit by another roof light, has a long built-in seat with storage space underneath.
It took the owners a long time to find this site, and even longer to get planning permission for such a strikingly unusual design, which replaced the Sixties bungalow on the plot. “It was an absolute joy to see this house finished,” says James Gorst. “I believe it will still look modern 20 years from now.” The house was only finished last year, and it is with great regret that the owners now need to move away from the area.
“It’s not just a beautifully designed and built house, it’s a home that facilitates a happy family life,” says owner Arthur Young. “From a family point of view my favourite room is the oak-panelled library, where everyone seems to gravitate. But architecturally it’s the dining room, where one corner is completely glazed. There is no pillar where the two glass walls meet so you get wonderful open views.”
Sandpipers, which sits in about an acre, is on the market with Savills at £2.5m (01252 729002; savills.com).
Contrast: a sharp design and glazed walls, main, give way to a softer environment in the library, right
Light and airy: a wall of windows, above; the outdoor pool is masked by a low hedge, left