THE SHOCK OF THE NEW Caro­line Mcghie

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Ahouse that shocks, con­jures with light and plays with our ex­pec­ta­tions and spa­tial aware­ness is like a three-di­men­sional work of art. You need to be brave, vi­sion­ary and a bit ruth­less to make one of th­ese your­self. But those who do are likely to leave be­hind the col­lec­tors’ houses of the fu­ture. Richard and Cathy Thorne fell for the plot first, up Daisy Bank Road in Leck­hamp­ton, Glouces­ter­shire, where there was an old pre­fab and a view that you could sell tick­ets for. They both wanted to build a “con­tem­po­rary house” with good eco cre­den­tials in the mid­dle of an Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty. “We didn’t have plan­ning per­mis­sion. We took a bit of a flier,” says Richard. He runs a build­ing com­pany in Leck­hamp­ton, work­ing for celebri­ties and ar­chi­tects, and he thought: why not build a big house for him­self? Like F Scott Fitzger­ald’s Great Gatsby, he made Hill Villa a party house, ap­proached over a moat filled with koi carp. It is buried in the hill­side with liv­ing rooms to catch the views, and four bed­rooms be­low. A spec­tac­u­lar stain­less-steel spi­ral stair­case skew­ers it like a gi­ant cock­tail stick. In the bow­els are a cin­ema, steam room and gym. It is a feat of en­gi­neer­ing, made of can­tilevered con­crete with ter­races every­where, big win­dows and lime­stone floors. Out­side is a stone ta­ble and bar­be­cue, and a rooftop wild-flower meadow full of cowslips and poppies. “What do my friends say? ‘When is the next party?’” says Richard. The cou­ple are sell­ing through Sav­ills (01242 548000) at £1.5m be­cause their three grown-up boys are now mov­ing on, and they want to build an­other house. Mod­ernism now takes all sorts of forms, but it al­ways aims to make peo­ple stop and think. Zero House in York is known as “the most talked about house” in the city, sit­ting just out­side the his­toric walls, clad in Siberian larch and alu­minium foil, and with an un­usual gull-wing roof. Char­tered sur­veyor and builder Michael Ham­mill made it hap­pen with the help of ar­chi­tects Bramhall Blenkharn. It re­placed a Thir­ties peb­ble-dash In the Six­ties and Seven­ties, glass pavil­ions were still pi­o­neer­ing struc­tures, in­tro­duc­ing a whole new vo­cab­u­lary to the land­scape. Ketelfield House, at Higham in Con­sta­ble’s beau­ti­ful Stour Val­ley, was de­signed by the ar­chi­tect Peter Ald­ing­ton in 1974. It is an ob­long of glass perched on steel legs float­ing a me­tre above the ground. It has three bed­rooms and nine acres, val­ued at £1.9m by Fine & Coun­try (01206 545476). Ald­ing­ton was in­spired by the early-20th-cen­tury masters of min­i­mal­ism, such as Mies van der Rohe and Le Cor­bus­ier. semi, and at first the city plan­ners were shocked. “It took two years to get plan­ning per­mis­sion,” says Michael. “We changed it a lot in that time, but in the end they took us se­ri­ously and be­gan to ap­pre­ci­ate our ar­gu­ment. I just wanted to make a dif­fer­ence in York. It is full of lovely old build­ings and I didn’t want to do a pas­tiche.” He and his wife Erica are now sell­ing through Blenkin & Co (01904 671672) at £1.25m, be­cause they too want to take on an­other self-build pro­ject. Zero House has five bed­rooms, open-plan liv­ing, a snug and a garage. Un­usual de­tails in­clude a slip­per bath on a bed of peb­bles in the bed­room, and a piv­ot­ing cloak­room door just like the one in the Hem­pel Ho­tel de­signed by Anouska Hem­pel and used by the stars. It is not quite zero-car­bon but is as close as you could get when it was built seven years ago. You could say that will­ing­ness to em­brace new ideas is typ­i­cal of our en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. Nigel Mitchell had a quite or­di­nary white brick home called Prospect House, built in the Eight­ies, on Sion Hill which over­looks Bath. He is a busi­ness­man by day but has al­ways nursed an ad­mi­ra­tion for Bri­tish de­sign­ers such as John Paw­son, and had a de­sire to leave his own mark. “I ac­tu­ally had plan­ning per­mis­sion to knock the house down and build some­thing very dra­matic. But in the end we took the house back to its bare es­sen­tials and made some­thing en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive and for­ward-think­ing. It was re­ally im­por­tant to me not just to pro­duce some­thing like a de­vel­oper would.” He worked with ar­chi­tects Dow Jones. They wrapped the house in dark zinc, in­stalled ex­cep­tional en­ergy-sav­ing val­ues, laid Amer­i­can white oak floors, dropped in glass win­dows and put pol­ished con­crete in the kitchen. “Not ev­ery­one would want dark zinc, but it ap­pears like a stealth house, and when you en­ter the views ap­pear and it is all about light,” he says. Prospect House has four bed­rooms and a home of­fice, and is sell­ing through Sav­ills (01225 474550) at £1.85m be­cause Nigel also wants to build again. “I en­joy the process enor­mously, work­ing with peo­ple who have good ideas, be­ing made to think how I want to live,” he says. For ar­chi­tects, a com­mis­sion like this is a chance of a life­time. Fraser Brown MacKenna was asked to de­sign Grove House at Radlett in Hert­ford­shire af­ter work­ing with the owner, Sean Bres­lin, on a ren­o­va­tion of the Slade School of Fine Art, where Bres­lin, founder of the fi­nan­cial ad­viser Giss­ings, was a spon­sor. It knocked down his old house and made a star­tling villa shaped

Party house: the Thorne fam­ily, above, are sell­ing Hill Villa; serene views from the liv­ing room; the cen­tral stain­lesssteel stair­case is in keep­ing with the minimalist style through­out

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