The house was originally the local Victorian girls school and latterly a single storey home that had been lived in by the same owner since the 1970s (the clients mother). The original layout was almost monastic: one large room with a single corridor off it with cell-like bedrooms and bathrooms to one side.
Our brief was to strip the building bare and produce a scheme which delivered three things:
• An increase in the sq/m of the house
• A more interesting set of spaces, taking best advantage of the building form
• Accommodation over two storeys
The final scheme resulted in three bedrooms, two bathrooms, one loo, an open plan living space and an additional Study/TV Room which is a smaller and more intimate space off the double-height kitchen. The first floor bedrooms and bathroom were not there before. We were able to fit two storeys into the existing building envelope by utilising space which had been previously ignored. The original ground floor was sitting above a one metre void, and the original ceiling had been suspended from the roof joists by a considerable distance. By claiming back these untapped voids, and with a generous existing ceiling height of three metres, we were able to deliver two storeys without underpinning the perimeter walls or increasing the height of the roof structure.
We knew from early on that part of the building would have two floors (the bedroom end), and part would be double-height (the living end). The key question was: how will these two ends relate to one another?
The open plan living room sits below a bedroom at first floor level and has a low ceiling height as a result. It was important that the bedroom above was completely suspended from the roof structure to prevent any supporting walls or columns from compromising the living room. This was achieved by concealing the bedroom structure wherever possible and, where this was not possible, it was disguised by using painted steel sections that were indistinguishable from the existing timber roof structure. The result is a deceptively simple ‘floating’ room that seems to defy logic and lends a wonderful sense of drama to the double-height kitchen.
The house was never meant for day-to-day living and is intended to be used for holidays, weekends and short holiday rentals. The building is in the countryside and on a short break people typically tend to congregate in one focal space – so it was important that the kitchen and living room were tied together and formed the main room of the house.
The principal living space is almost church-like in scale and arrangement, so befitting a pure and restrained selection of materials. Birch plywood, concrete, wood wool and brass are used through-out, and recycled wood/concrete blocks create a structural spine wall which forms the stairwell to the bedrooms above and provides a backdrop to the more intimate living area. The materials used are honest, hard wearing and low in cost. They have all been left in their natural state - ‘as found’ – and, together with the pleasing rhythms of the original building, combine to make a scheme of conceptual simplicity and spatial purity. We designed all the joinery and everything is bespoke and hand made locally.