Harsh lines hide a warm heart

An un­com­pro­mis­ingly bold architectural de­sign can also be a fam­ily-friendly home, finds Cherry Maslen

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Ar­chi­tec­ture -

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

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