Weather Re­port

Richard Wil­son and Ben Baglio’s con­tem­po­rary self-build on this wild tract of Suf­folk marsh­land al­lows them to en­joy all the drama of a rapidly chang­ing land­scape

Homebuilding & Renovating - - Contents - Words Ali­son Wall Pho­tog­ra­phy David But­ler c/o Mole Ar­chi­tects

One cou­ple’s new con­tem­po­rary home in Suf­folk makes the most of the awe-in­spir­ing coastal land­scape

If you’re lucky enough to have a dra­matic site to build on – in this case, an eerily beau­ti­ful tract of marsh­land lead­ing down to a river es­tu­ary in Suf­folk – then em­brace it. So thought Ben Baglio and Richard Wil­son, who com­mis­sioned Mered­ith Bowles of Mole Ar­chi­tects to de­sign their coun­try re­treat (their other home is in Lon­don) on this four-acre site.

The re­sult is a sim­ple zinc and brick­clad lin­ear build­ing that faces south-east, straight into those es­tu­ary views and pre­vail­ing winds — al­low­ing Ben and Richard to en­joy the un­fold­ing drama of the weather as it changes hour by hour.

The story of this dis­tinc­tive self-build isn’t quite that sim­ple, of course. Plans for the new con­tem­po­rary home, a re­place­ment for a 1970s flat-roofed dwelling, needed to be sen­si­tive to neigh­bours, who didn’t want their own views spoiled.

To deal with this, the wedge-shaped house ta­pers, with two storeys at one end and one storey to­wards the neigh­bours. Viewed from the one-storey end, the build­ing ap­pears to start from noth­ing and grow or­gan­i­cally — an ef­fect that is en­hanced by a sin­u­ous, twist­ing roofline. “The roof is my favourite fea­ture,” com­ments Richard. “When you stand on the north-west cor­ner of the plot you can see how it curves and twists in two di­rec­tions.” Ben agrees: “It’s a strik­ing part of the de­sign,” he says.

Main­tain­ing the neigh­bours’ view of the es­tu­ary was not the only de­sign chal­lenge. The new home needed to cope with an es­ti­mated one-in-a-100-year flood­ing risk from the river; as such, it’s on higher ground than its 1970s pre­de­ces­sor. This has al­lowed the ground floor level to be 1.8m higher than pre­vi­ously, tak­ing the new house out of the flood plain. New flood de­fences were also con­structed to pro­tect the gar­den and meadow in 2015, fol­low­ing the fail­ure of a nearby river wall in 2013.

Plan­ning was an­other po­ten­tial ob­sta­cle. The site is lo­cated in an area of out­stand­ing nat­u­ral beauty, and as such is sub­ject to stricter plan­ning rules than nor­mal. The de­sign of the house and the need to re­lo­cate the house up the plot meant that it would be sig­nif­i­cantly higher than its pre­de­ces­sor at the east­ern end. Luck­ily, the lo­cal plan­ning com­mit­tee ac­cepted the de­sign in full. With plan­ning out of the way, Richard and Ben could start the build, with a be­spoke tim­ber frame be­ing con­structed off site to save time. “While the pil­ing and foun­da­tions were go­ing on, the frame could be pre­fab­ri­cated in the work­shop,” says Richard. The build time was just 15 months from start to fin­ish, with a mere five months from break­ing ground to wa­ter­tight shell.

“One of the draw­backs of the pre­fab­ri­cated struc­ture is that it is dif­fi­cult to make changes dur­ing con­struc­tion,” points out Ben. “For ex­am­ple, we wanted a wall strength­ened to sup­port a large book­case, which caused com­pli­ca­tions. For other self-builders, I’d sug­gest avoid­ing changes to the lay­out, de­sign and spec­i­fi­ca­tion dur­ing the con­struc­tion process, as this can lead to de­lays and in­creased costs.”

Scan­di­na­vian In­te­ri­ors

For the in­te­ri­ors, the cou­ple were look­ing for com­fort­able, mod­ern spa­ces with a mid-cen­tury Scan­di­na­vian feel. A dou­ble-height liv­ing area al­lows for the largescale en­ter­tain­ing they both en­joy, while smaller spa­ces fea­tur­ing lower ceil­ing heights, tim­ber cladding and brick pam­ments (floor tiles) pro­vide cosier spots to re­lax else­where.

The cou­ple, both lovers of fine fur­ni­ture and de­sign, brought in in­te­rior de­signer Elaine Wil­liams of In­te­rior Couture. They’d worked with her on a cou­ple of other projects and, luck­ily, she had re­lo­cated to Suf­folk from Lon­don. “The orig­i­nal plans had the wood­burn­ing stove on the east­ern wall of the liv­ing room,” re­mem­bers Ben. “That’s not the di­rec­tion you would nor­mally face — you want to sit and look out over the south to­wards the views. Elaine was able to fig­ure out a way of mak­ing a fire­place work on the south­ern wall.”

“When you stand on the north-west cor­ner of the plot you can see how the roof curves and twists in two di­rec­tions”

Richard and Ben also ap­pointed land­scape ar­chi­tect Todd Longstaffe- Gowan to de­sign the gar­dens. He has re­tained the orig­i­nal marsh­land, adding gorse and other shrubs, along with sev­eral pine trees and a mixed flower meadow that reaches to the house; the meadow has paths through it, cre­ated by Ben.

Ther­mal Com­fort

“One of the draw­backs of our pre­vi­ous house [an Ed­war­dian Arts and Crafts prop­erty] is that it would take ab­so­lutely ages to heat up,” says Ben. “This is pur­pose-built with top grade in­su­la­tion. We now spend 60 per cent of our time here, which cer­tainly wasn’t the case with our pre­vi­ous house. I’m semi-re­tired and I can put more time into mak­ing ce­ram­ics; the stu­dio is warm all year round.”

Heat for the house is drawn from a ground source heat pump, while wa­ter is drawn from a spring, via a bore­hole, and pre­pared for house­hold use with a fil­ter sys­tem.

“The house has ex­ceeded our ex­pec­ta­tions and takes full ad­van­tage of the fan­tas­tic site,” says Richard. “We love the house and re­ally en­joy spend­ing time here.”

Liv­ing Space

The main liv­ing space ( right) pro­vides a gen­er­ous en­ter­tain­ing space with plenty of room to show­case the cou­ple’s art­work and mid-cen­tury fur­ni­ture. South-fac­ing glaz­ing pro­vides spec­tac­u­lar views and al­lows the win­ter sun to en­ter the space. Dur­ing the sum­mer months, the al­most com­plete lack of glaz­ing in the up­per part of the room re­duces over­heat­ing (and also brings a wel­come sense of en­clo­sure). The ex­posed slop­ing and twist­ing roof rafters, mean­while, add vis­ual in­ter­est here and else­where in the house. Ply­wood pan­els be­tween the rafters have been routed to en­hance the fea­ture’s de­tail­ing.

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